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Retreating to Advance

For years now, our team has been going on an annual, weeklong retreat. We close our offices, power down our phones and blackberry’s and head to a wonderful house on the ocean in Wareham, Massachusetts. There, we spend the week retreating. I used to hate that word, because I felt like it meant we were going backwards. For awhile, I even tried to get everyone to call it our annual advance so that we could envision the time as an opportunity to look to the future and move forward.

For years now, our team has been going on an annual, weeklong retreat. We close our offices, power down our phones and blackberry’s and head to a wonderful house on the ocean in Wareham, Massachusetts. There, we spend the week retreating. I used to hate that word, because I felt like it meant we were going backwards. For awhile, I even tried to get everyone to call it our annual advance so that we could envision the time as an opportunity to look to the future and move forward.

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Well, that didn’t stick and it took me all this time to realize that retreating is exactly what we need – to settle back, ponder, think, talk, listen, reflect, discuss, debate, learn. It occurs to me that we can only advance when we first retreat. I just returned from our adventure and this year was no exception. The post retreat week always finds me in serious reflection of what we learned and how we came together as a team. It is an intense time. Imagine a house full of facilitators, spending 24-7 together, not only thinking about the business, but cooking, eating, cleaning and living together! Come to think of it, it would make a great reality show.

I always come home exhausted, but in a good way, like when I just had a vigorous workout. I always come back with good ideas and lots of learning about how we should change, shift and reconfigure our business. Most importantly, although aside from the learning, we connect as a team. We recommit to our vision and each other. We take time to find out what we have missed in each others’ lives while we were dashing from one client to another. We see how our lives have shifted and how we can bolster each others’ wants, needs and dreams. We relieve fears and concerns – how we can accommodate a new mom, health issues, an elder parent. It is truly amazing what this does for all of us and how much more committed we come back as a team. Believe it or not, it strengthens our business. It grows our business. It reduces turnover. It energizes the team. And yes, all of that leads to better results, better profitability.

Some of you do not believe in retreats.

I know some of you are reading this with skepticism. I’ve had several CEO’s tell me that retreats are a waste of time, not valuable, an opportunity for employees to complain or worse…team build! I had one such leader say to me, Why can’t everyone just do their job and sing Kumbaya on their own time? Yes, I am sure there are some retreats that are poorly run and without focus and they are a waste of time. However, when done well, they provide great value and I am going to show you how.

Not all a group hug.

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Despite my gushing words and glowing reports at the end of our retreat, it is certainly not all a bed of roses. We do battle. We argue about the direction of the company. We talk about financials and productivity, who needs to be doing more and how they are going to get there. We talk about growth, margins and expectations. We have rigorous conversations concerning performance. Most of the retreat is not for the faint of heart, but all of it leads to an outcome of strength. It requires balance, including conversations about everyone’s accountability to the business and everyone’s commitment to the business and each other. So if you are thinking it’s all about yoga, chanting and levitation, you could not be more wrong!

Establish a focus:

The first step is to ask yourself, What do I want to walk away with that would create value for this team/organization? Does it concern customers, strategy, service, commitment, creativity, connections or sales? It can be anything you want, but remember that it’s not a lecture or a seminar; it’s a discussion and an opportunity for engagement. It’s all in the balance. Ask your team what they want, even if they look at you funny, push for clarity on what would bring real value to your team.

Once you have a focus. Choose a timeframe and establish an agenda. Most companies do not do a weeklong retreat. If this is new to you, go for just two days and one night. Pick a location. Do something social as a team, as well as business discussions. Do something different, not just dinner, go white water rafting, do a community service project or go mountain hiking.

Create expectation and excitement:

Set the expectations for the your team. Tell them what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Tell them what their piece of the retreat is. Create excitement around the event and be enthused. Be sure that you are really “showing up” both mentally and physically. Don’t let outside distractions get in the way of your time with your team. Ask them to do the same. Think about hiring a facilitator at least for the first time so you can be in the retreat instead of running it. It also helps to get a model of how to run a successful one.

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Leave with actionables and follow through:

Be sure you leave your retreat with commitments of what you will do differently when you go back to the mayhem of daily work-life. Don’t commit to too many actions or none will be accomplished. Two or three would be great. Most importantly, whatever you say you will do in that retreat, do it and follow up. Nothing’s more of a downer, than leaving a retreat, on a high, with expectations of changes or improvements and nothing happens and no one follows up.

One Last Thought:

Call it a retreat, an advance, an offsite-whatever gets you to do it. What is the worst that can happen, it doesn’t produce the value you were looking for? Okay then you don’t have to do it again. But imagine the possibilities if it does produce the value it so clearly can. Think about it and ADVANCE!

Grace Andrews • Executive Coach/Corporate Healer • President, Training By Design •www.training-by-design.com