More and more startups are doing it. They're spending anywhere from $10,000 to over $100,000 a year for it. And for remote companies like ours, it's indispensable.
I'm talking about the off-site company retreat.
It's a chance to step away from the hustle and bustle of our daily to-do's to get aligned on the big picture of our work. It's also our chance to get to know each other better after months of emailing, Slacking, and video conferencing. We expect big things from the company retreat, and when planning one, the temptation is great to cram as much high-impact activities into it as possible, to squeeze all the goodness you can out of it.
This can easily lead to the biggest mistake companies make: not giving people down-time to recharge.
To avoid this mistake, consider these three things when planning your corporate retreat:
1. Have a balance of activities for extroverts and introverts.
Retreats can be tough on introverts (like me), who are energized by being alone. Interacting with many people for an entire day can be exhausting for us. And unfortunately, most group activities are designed for extroverts. After a few days of large-group contact, you could end up with burned out introverts - who may dread the next company retreat!
Avoid this by planning plenty of one-on-one interaction, alone time, and downtime to allow introverts to recharge (you'll be surprised how many extroverts need this time, too). Design brainstorming and planning activities in a way that doesn't require people to speak up in front of everyone. For instance, let staff write their thoughts on cards or share in small groups. And simply make it okay for people to retreat to their rooms when the stimulation gets too much - even if it means eating solo instead of joining everyone for dinner.
2. Plan for unstructured time.
Don't feel that you have to plan and micro-manage every minute your staff is together. One of my student advisors, Jessica Glendinning, says the best bonding happens "over meals, board games, and late night conversations around the fireplace."
Make space for some spontaneity and don't over-plan! This means giving team members plenty of free time so they can self-organize. Give them long lunch breaks, for example, and don't organize all your evenings together. You could even make some of your "working" sessions less structured. Divide participants into small groups, give each group a goal, and let them work out how they will accomplish their target.
Also, be flexible enough to deviate from your plan. Sometimes the group will organically come up with a different activity than you planned for. That's a good sign of a cohesive team.
3. Don't make it all academic or cerebral.
Since you're away from distractions, the retreat is the perfect time to focus on the company's vision, strategies, and goals. Ari Iny, our Ad Traffic Lead, says the retreat is a time "to take a collective step back from everyone's day to day work and be able to see the bigger picture." Project Manager Maureen Lauder left her first retreat with a better understanding of "what the long-term plan for the company was, and how the things we're working on today are leading us toward that future."
But the retreat program shouldn't be purely abstract. Make sure action plans are in place for whatever agreements were reached. And take advantage of the synergy you have when your team members are physically together, to actually get things done and build momentum for post-retreat work. Take the case of the startup Buffer, which goes on retreat every five months. They built most of Buffer for Business during one such retreat, and launched it one week later.
Company retreats are good on so many levels: interpersonal, strategic, and practical. As my team members have said, the benefits run the gamut, from revisiting "why we're doing all this" and making concrete plans, to getting "jazzed up about our work" and "creating inside jokes." The challenge is striking a balance so the retreat will be enjoyable, productive, and meaningful for everyone.