Gotta Get Away

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:35 pm

Whether your management group has three people or 30, an annual management retreat can be a powerful tool for increasing your company’s effectiveness and productivity.

This month, I’d like to provide a template to create your own retreat. At TEC (The Executive Committee), we’ve been hosting annual retreats since 1985. We have, over the years, also assisted and facilitated many member retreats. In the process, we’ve learned what works and what should be avoided.

Step 1: Carefully consider who should be invited. The first tendency is to be too restrictive. Include anyone in a major supervisory position, anyone who has major customer or vendor contact and anyone who is a major contributor to your company’s infrastructure. Most importantly, all participants should be expected to play a role at the retreat.

Step 2: The timing, duration and location of the retreat are important considerations. Consider fall or spring. A day and a half of focused retreat activity works best. A "get-away" location is a must.

Step 3: Establishing the retreat agenda is best done by creating a retreat-planning team, preferably not headed by the CEO.

Planning should take about a year. This entails agreeing on a universal theme for the retreat (we will use "Becoming ‘Good to Great’ in 2006," in our simulation below). Then the team should use the dart-board "post-it-note" approach to toss out ideas and see which ones will stick. Eventually, a solid agenda will result.

Step 4: Next to the retreat itself, this is the most important step. It requires that the retreat-planning team do a mock trial run of the retreat at the offsite location-a walk-through, if you will, of the facility, meeting rooms, dining areas and so on. Major disappointments have occurred when no one took the time to do this beforehand.

A simulation

OK, this is the template, so let’s put it to work as I guide you through a simulated retreat. Our retreat will begin on a Wednesday and end after lunch on Friday. Not a good idea, by the way, to do retreats over a weekend.

Wednesday arrival

Two to a room is customary. I recommend that employees who normally don’t have close contact with one another share a room. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with single rooms if you can afford it.
A social adjustment hour followed by dinner kicks off the retreat. We want to have an after-dinner speaker, and we have selected a comedian for this purpose. We have planned an early evening, since we will begin working early the next morning.

Thursday

Following breakfast at 7 a.m. and a brief morning walk around the grounds, we begin at 9 a.m. Our first speaker is the CEO, who embellishes the theme "Becoming Good to Great in 2006." Our CEO also details specific retreat objectives and reviews the retreat agenda.

Next, the CEO introduces our keynote speaker. We have deliberately selected an industry professional whose experience and accomplishments are good matches for our retreat theme. She uses a combination of audio/visual tools and props to illustrate her message. She also involves our retreat participants in the process so that major points can be tailored to the needs of our company.
After a short recess, from 11:15 to 11:45 a.m., we break into small, randomly assigned groups. Each group has the same assignment: to discuss how the keynote address can be turned into action plans to be implemented by our company following the retreat. A chairperson leads the group and records its deliberations on a flip chart. (Note: if the number of retreat attendees is five or fewer, then work as one group.)

From 11:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., each group reports its conclusions back to the group as a whole. The group agrees which conclusions, subject to post-retreat review, are worthy of serious consideration. (Note: if the number of retreat attendees is five or fewer, then the earlier group discussion is simply extended for another 30 minutes.)

From 12:30 p.m. to 1 p.m., lunch is served, preferably deli style. From 1 p.m. to 1:30 p.m., employees have free time. A breath of fresh air will be welcomed.

From 1:30 to 2:30 p.m., individual department heads are asked to meet with their subordinates in breakout rooms to develop specific operating tactics to implement the recommendations from the morning session. For example, sales might review the existing sales plan and assess it according to the suggested action plans.

From 2:30 to 3 p.m., department heads present their departmental summaries to the group as a whole. (Note: with five or fewer retreat attendees, this process amounts to a "mini" operational planning meeting).

Following a short break, from 3:15 to 4 p.m., an appointed moderator leads a discussion on this subject: "If we had a major customer and a major vendor in our presence, what five questions about their relationship with us would we want them to answer?" The group reaches a consensus about the five questions.

Day 1 adjourns at 4 p.m. Either free time or a special event such as a harbor cruise or competitive team event will follow. This is followed by or includes a dinner and a recap by an appointed "historian" from the retreat planning team who shares a hopefully factual but also humorous recall of the day’s events.

Friday

The same early morning routine applies. As the group arrives in the meeting room everyone is surprised to welcome the company’s key customer and key vendor representatives.

From 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., these guests participate in a panel presentation on customer and vendor expectations, and respond to our five questions. We briefed our department heads the night before, so we make sure they’re prepared to start a positive discussion along with the panel, by involving them as resources for asking the five questions.

From 11 a.m. to 11:15 a.m. we break and bid our guests farewell. We then perform a "plus-delta" until noon. That is, we review our retreat content and process, and discuss improvements that can be made at future retreats. We also ask all participants to complete an individual evaluation form and a "personal action summary" which indicates what they will personally do to help our company get from "Good to Great" in 2006.

We conclude with lunch and adjournment.

I’ll guarantee you’ll have one bunch of bonded associates eager to get on with it. Until next month, here’s to good retreating.

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