Maintaining a successful, engaged team requires trust, passion and a unified vision of where the business is going. Cue the team retreat --a way for employees to connect, explore the deeper issues often overlooked in the day to day, and set motivating goals.

While the concept of a team retreat sounds like a fun chance to get out of the office and bond, a lot of work and thought is imperative to avoid wasted time and resources. As a leader, it's your responsibility to plan a retreat that challenges, unites and accelerates your team. The following are five ways to create a successful, deeply impactful retreat.

Bring in a pro

Hiring a seasoned facilitator levels the field of hierarchy and creates a neutral environment for the team to feel safe in opening up. Keep in mind, they're not necessarily there to set goals for you, those ultimately are still yours, but they may help you think differently about goals or identify new paths for achieving them.

There are varying types of facilitators, so do your homework. Some focus on guiding your team through purpose and vision, while others dig deeper navigating conscious and subconscious work (and home) habits.

Every facilitator will have their unique point of view and you'll want to find one who aligns with your vision and values, and helps you get to where you are trying to go, but who also challenges your team to explore new realms of possibility. This will ultimately come down to your goal for the retreat. At our most recent retreat, for instance, we brought in someone to help us understand how being present, big listening, relationship building, purpose impact how we show up at work and at home.

Take it outside (of the office)

Changing the environment and getting your team out of their usual settings can make all the difference for a retreat. In fact, it's essential. Whether you rent a conference room nearby or take a road trip to a new city, it's important to get away from the hubbub of the day-to-day.

Going off site reduces the probability of interruptions that might occur in your normal conference room, and also shows your team how seriously you're taking this coming together. Spending the time and money to bring everyone together is a clear indicator that you're all in.

That's not to say you have to travel for every retreat, especially if you do them quarterly. You might consider holding your an annual retreat outside of the city, semi-annual retreats offsite, but in the same city, and quarterly team check-ins onsite.

Check leadership egos at the door

One of the biggest mistakes a leader can make in a team retreat is encourage honest communication and then immediately add commentary or divert concerns. A key benefit of the retreat is the deepening of team trust, which depends heavily on the leader's ability to not deflect raised concerns or engage in the blame game.

This time is about "big listening" to understand how your team thinks and feels about the organization in its current and future state. To encourage big listening we follow a practice in which we respond to one another with perceptive phrases like, "What I just heard you say..." then repeat back what we interpreted. This shows you are listening to understand and helps in deepen team trust.

Plan intentionally for team bonding

You might be picturing trust falls, "kumbaya" circles and cheesy games, but this is actually the part in which your team deepens their connections --and that has a positive ripple effect company wide. There are various ways to go about it, and it doesn't have to be elaborate or adrenaline-inducing activities like a ropes course.

For example, our recent retreat was a two-hour drive outside of the city, which required us to divide into a few separate vehicles. We had an inkling of how the groups would naturally form (workplace friends would naturally flock together). In an effort to encourage new connections, we assigned the groups, intentionally making sure to place employees with those they may not talk to as frequently.

Each vehicle had a few extra hours to explore wherever they wanted before we were all required to meet at the final destination. This gave them the opportunity to build their own adventure, and when we reconvened, we all had stories to share about the paths we took and our experiences.

Create the game plan

This is the part where words become action and all of your time spent together is tied up into an effective game plan. Don't let your team leave the retreat feeling like they accomplished very little and have a hazy view of the year to come.

Review the goals for the year to come, where you want to be and how the team can work together to get there. Set dates for the following retreat and what should be accomplished by then.

After the retreat, send a follow-up survey to the team for feedback. This will help you plan the next one. Don't wait too long after the retreat, as you want the team to vividly remember anything they might have changed, or distinctly remember was great.

Bottom line, the retreat is a time to deepen connection, trust and culture, but also emerge with a solid game plan that motivates the team to achieve new heights. It shouldn't feel forced, and it won't as long it aligns with your organization's vision and values.

Published on: Aug 29, 2017