The Work Retreat. It’s a concept that has been mercilessly ridiculed in comedies in recent years. If those two words have you thinking group tug of wars and hiking, then maybe it’s time for a fresh approach. Recently HR Central went away for our annual retreat, or as some people refer to it as an “off-site”. As Chief Communications Officer, I am really glad we did.
The HR Central team is in a period of growth, and as we all know, with growth comes change. Our client base is expanding, and whilst we have been able to grow our team to support this expansion, we also must continue to deliver a consistent quality of service to our existing clients. In a smallish team as ours, this requires people to be stretched a bit more, be adaptable, and for some, be pushed out of their comfort zone. In addition, adding new staff means a change of dynamic within the existing team. As a result our recent retreat came at a great time for us. We focused on communication, and as we experience change – how we address change and handle it – both individually and as a whole. It was a fantastic opportunity for 3 new team members to get to know everyone better and we have come back a far more connected and confident group of individuals working together.
One more point that I would like to mention. This year we engaged with a guest speaker. Some organisations do this, choosing comedic or inspirational speakers to help loosen everyone up and/or support a message during the retreat experience. We were lucky to have the latter (well, actually he was funny too), an inspirational speaker called Perry Cross , a C2 quadriplegic, injured in a sports accident 1994. He was the perfect start to our retreat with our theme about change and communication, as his own life has been a living example of dealing with change and communicating how he coped initially, and continues to do so. Our team were thoroughly absorbed in Perry’s story (he’s a great story teller!), and felt it set the scene and started people thinking from the very start of the retreat. If you are planning your work retreat, consider including a guest speaker at some point, as it can help to reinforce your purpose and be a great addition to the agenda.
Regular blog contributor, Sarah Tidey outlines some considerations for having a staff retreat for your team.
Retreat is the key word here. This is an opportunity to step away from the day to day of your business and get some stuff done. It’s work but with some fun thrown in. the reasons for a work retreat vary but might include:
A great opportunity for a pick me up for a team that has become tired and jaded, or conversely an opportunity to capture the positive spirit in the workplace and work out how you can maintain that momentum.
This is the perfect situation for staff to get to know one another without the daily pressures of work and life outside of work. It might be a chance to resolve conflicts, introduce new team members, or celebrate and rejuvenate a team that is working well already.
Use this to carve out time to do some serious planning and goal setting or to tick off a particular project that can’t be covered in a meeting during work hours. It also provides attendees with the head space to think creatively.
What do you need?
A clear purpose
- Two days away from the office playing table tennis and cooking barbecues with your colleagues might be fun, but without a clear idea of what you are trying to achieve any feel-good benefits will soon evaporate once the grill has been wiped down and you are back in the office.
- Formulate a team with the key players in your business and sit down together to prepare an agenda. The agenda should be circulated prior to the retreat to give staff the opportunity to provide input beforehand about anything they would like to discuss.
- The agenda should be flexible enough to ‘go off road’ but discussions should still be related to your key purpose. It’s important to be realistic about what can be achieved and prioritise the topics that you really need to cover.
- Assign tasks to attendees beforehand so that they have some ownership of the agenda and the opportunity to have their say.
- Most importantly, after the retreat circulate a summary of what took place and have different attendees take responsibility for following up what needs to happen next.
Detailed information for staff
As a workplace is made up of all personalities, some staff may jump for joy at the opportunity to get out of the office, or have a dedicated time to air their opinions. However, some staff may be very reluctant to attend such an event, and it may even be the cause of some anxiety for them. A good idea around this is to inform your staff of what is happening and give them plenty of opportunity to speak in confidence if they are feeling apprehensive. Some staff may feel that there will be a requirement of them to “perform”. If you have staff that are feeling like this it is important to re-iterate that this is not a pressure situation, rather a time to work on strengthening as a team and breaking down barriers in a gentle yet effective way. Remember that there are many varied personalities in a team, even in a small team.
It might be tempting to turn off the phones and host the retreat in the office – don’t! A change of setting is beneficial for all sorts of reasons – it encourages a change in group dynamics and gets people talking to others they may not know well, it encourages creative thinking and allows attendees to shake off the stress of the work environment and forget about home life as well.
The cost of using an outside venue doesn’t need to be prohibitive – at a previous workplace we had a retreat at one of the directors’ holiday homes. A hotel or function centre is a good choice because they will usually be equipped with the resources you need – whiteboard, internet access etc.
Appointing a facilitator can be a great way to manage the flow of discussion productively and encourage different points of view. An independent facilitator is skilled in eliciting the participation of a broad range of personalities and will not have pre-conceived notions about outcomes. They also bring a fresh approach to existing issues – without agenda.
(The facilitator should set the ground rules of the retreat before it begins – how each session will run and for how long, and who will be presenting. They should also encourage participation and respect for one another’s viewpoints. For HR Central we used the skills and talents of Alon Cassuto from Composure Group
A sense of fun
Whilst the purpose of a work retreat is just that – work, this is an opportunity to have some fun too and to get to know one another better in a relaxed environment. There are a host of different icebreakers, games and activities you can enjoy but often the simple things are what people enjoy the most – cooking together in the evenings, taking a walk in between sessions or a morning coffee at the local café.
Wishing you a productive retreat!
If you would like to find out more about the Perry Cross Foundation, make a donation, or contact Perry, visit http://www.pcsrf.org.au/support-us.php