team retreat

Team retreats: time suck or useful tool?

October 28, 2013
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team retreat Team retreats: time suck or useful tool?

Are team retreats useful, or a waste?

We’ve all been there-stuck in a room for a full day team building when we could be doing real work! I was recently stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Having a diverse team that’s spread out over different time zones and countries and being in our busier season forced me to come face to face with my attitude about team retreats.

I knew on some level they served a purpose, but I’d never seen once executed well. In the past, I’d always sat through them, on my blackberry answering what I thought were “more important than this” emails. I vowed I’d never force my team to sit through anything this painful and wasteful. I began to think seriously about the point and purpose of a team retreat and research how I could effectively achieve my goals.

Below, I’ve outlined the big 3 steps that led me to hosting an effective team retreat.

Step 1: Identify the point and purpose

Some managers have retreats just because, and others forgo them all together. The most successful retreat I’ve hosted was due to the fact that I had a purpose in mind. I identified the main goal of the retreat: to cast the vision for the next 12 months.



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This meant that by the time we all left our one-day remote off-site (yes Skype and Google+ work great for remote retreats!), we would all have the same mission and vision. In doing so, I was able to focus all of our activities around our priorities for the upcoming year. In many unsuccessful retreats I’ve been to, there was no clear purpose or just a hodge-podge of random ice breakers.

Step 2: Prioritize Your Agenda

This is an area in which you as a manager and leader can really shine. You don’t have to lead all the sessions yourself. In fact, inviting others to participate creates a certain gravity to the retreat that let’s your team know how important this time together is. You may be the world’s leading expert on conflict resolution or effective team building, but I would strongly encourage you to bring in a guest.

Your team may hear and receive the same message better from someone else. Having a well thought out, time-conscientious agenda also shows that you respect and value your teammates’ time. This is even the time when a working lunch can prove useful. Go the extra mile and purchase lunch for the team or pre-order for them. If remote, be sure to factor in various lunch hours as they vary from country to country.

Step 4: Recap, Recap, Recap

Lastly, I’m a big proponent of what I call the 1, 30, 90 plan. After any big important meeting or dissemination of information, I like to follow up the same day, 30 days later, and then 90 days later to make sure we’re on course. At the end of the retreat, go around and ask your teammates what they understood the big picture items to be. If they can provide some of the filler detail, even better. Then, as part of the recap, have them self-assign tasks in order to reach those goals. Not only will this prompt engagement but also give them some onus and accountability to the outcomes that everyone is working toward.

Monica Moffitt, founder and Principal Cultural Consultant at Tianfen Consulting, Inc., has traveled the world and enjoys linguistics and all things culture. Having split her career between project management and business analytics, Monica merges logic, fluency in Chinese and creativity in her new role as cultural consultant. She received a Bachelor of Arts in East Asian Studies/Chinese from Vanderbilt University and a Master of Business Administration (International Management and Marketing) from University of Texas at Dallas.