The kids are out of school, which means a lot of moms and dads will be packing them off to camp where they'll spend weeks out in the wilderness, communing with nature and getting a taste of freedom away from their parents.

I'd be jealous, if I weren't going to camp myself.

Let me explain. Vacations are one thing, but we can't be on holiday all the time (unless you're Australian--sorry, mates). Even in the context of work, a little time breathing non-recycled air and being away from staring at the same four cubicle walls can help us be our best, most creative selves.

Companies are starting to recognize this. Amazon and Apple are keeping their workplaces on the cutting edge, and they're turning to nature to do it. Amazon's new offices in Seattle will feature as many as 3,000 species of plants spread across three 'spheres' and meeting areas called treehouses, while Apple is getting ready to move 4,600 trees--yes, move existing trees -- to its future Cupertino headquarters.

But much as we all love the outdoors, most business owners can't compete with that kind of perk--at best, you might able to build a living wall, or at least provide a plant or two. That's why I'm a big believer in taking groups of people away from the office for short periods of concentrated time together as a team. Some people call them off-sites; at my company, we call them camps. After running many different kinds of purpose camps, leadership camps and connection camps over the years, I've learned how 'camp' time with colleagues can actually help you meet your company's business and culture goals. Here's how:

1. Get your people, and you, out of your daily routine.

When people think 'off-site meeting' they usually imagine a hotel conference room across town, with bad lighting and deadly dull slide shows. At G Adventures, we've held camps at beautiful locations in China, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Tanzania and just this month, Northern Thailand. It takes more work and costs more to actually bring select members of your team together, far away from their homes, but it's worth it in order to get their full, undivided attention and to show them that their ideas and energy are valued. They'll also know that you're serious about leading the kind of change your organization needs. An added perk? Science shows that spending time in nature can reduce stress, spark creativity and inspire kindness and happiness.

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2. Choose a place with purpose.

Nobody will ever object to going somewhere sunny in the winter on the company's dime, but there are other opportunities to inspire people outside the meeting room. When I wanted to focus on shaping the customer experience, I brought our leadership team to France. Why France? Because that's where Disneyland Paris is--a perfect example of a brand that transcended its industry by creating an immersive experience that they could package and export. It was just what we needed for inspiration.

3. Inspire some healthy competition

As a travel company, it's pretty safe to say that all of the members of our global team love to get out and see the world as often as they can. But many also spend a fair amount of time at desks, on sales calls and behind computers, much like any other business. What better way to motivate employees to engage and grow in their jobs than to offer travel opportunities that require them to earn the chance to go? For our recent Connection Camp in Costa Rica, participants had to form a team of people from across our global organization and together and compete in a series of creative and social challenges that built on our company's values. More than 300 people entered; fewer than 70 won the chance to go. Those winners enjoyed five days of outdoorsy, team activities in the jungle that built many new working relationships and connections. Our Next Generation Camp in Thailand, designed to help emerging leaders hone their powers of persuasion, had a personal video pitch as the criteria for eligibility. Don't make camp a given. Invite your team to compete and shine.

4. Make it clear that you're there not just to talk, but to listen.

For some of our camps, we invite people from across the organization to apply, and choose the people who really want to engage with the company culture. What we discovered when we started holding these camps was that these people had incredible insights on everything from customer service to functioning as a social enterprise, and they wanted to share them. It also helped us identify the rising stars among the next generation who can take our company to another level. I guarantee that if you give your top performers a chance to contribute more, you'll be amazed at what they come up with--and how it deepens their relationship with the company, and the customers.

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5. Think like a kid, and have fun!

At G Adventures, I've hosted a top-secret kind of camp which I've playfully dubbed "the Zombie Apocalypse". The idea behind it is to gather the top thinkers, innovators and performers in my company whom I'd most want to save and rebuild the business with, if we had to survive a Walking Dead type of world. A group of employees receive an email telling them that they are the only 'survivors' and that they have to arrange two days off work for a secret trip from Thursday to Sunday, and that they can't tell anyone else in the office about it. It's one of my favorites--and it's a blast. But it's also been a highly effective way to get my A team together to brainstorm disruptive solutions and evolve the business.

Some entrepreneurs worry that if they make their off-sites too much fun, they won't get any real work done. What I say to that is, if you don't trust your best people to contribute even while they're enjoying themselves, you've got bigger problems. The whole point of trips like these is to inspire people, and part of that involves giving them the freedom to create happiness.

So go green at your office, by all means. But also consider camp as a way to cultivate happiness, leadership, connection and performance among your team. It works.

Published on: Jul 18, 2016
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