A few months ago, I flew to Vegas, where I was loaded onto a bus with about 20 other CEOs to go glamping.
A mutual investor paid for the trip. We were driven to Zion's National Park, one of the most breathtaking places in the world, where we quickly discovered that it was going to be one of those off-the-grid adventures. No Wi-Fi, television, cell phone signals, it was just us and nature.
There were 18 of us in total, all executives of tech companies, all a little irritated to find ourselves suddenly--even heartlessly, it seemed--denied of every form of technology worthy of the name.
Turns out, our investors wanted us to get to know each other. They wanted us to talk. They wanted us to share war stories and tales of success, to make ourselves vulnerable, and in the process, form friendships and help each other out.
It was surprisingly therapeutic. I was a little cynical at first, but in the end, I walked away from the experience with at least six new chums. It got me thinking: if something like this could succeed with relative strangers, what might it mean for a company, a band of brothers and sisters who fight the good fight on a daily basis?
Here's what I came away with about the benefits of holding a company retreat:
1. It will show your employees you care.
It's important to show your employees that your feelings for them run deeper than the ebbs and flows of work. Doing so will instill loyalty and help reduce temptation when talent scouts come sniffing around. We all appreciate a kind gesture now and then, and our commitments benefit from the motivation that results.
Your time is the most valuable thing you have. Taking your colleagues on a retreat--i.e., spending time with them beyond the walls of the office--is a powerful testament to the sincerity of your regard.
2. It gives the team space to reflect.
Careers are complicated. Lots of emotions get involved when you spend eight hours or more a day laboring alongside smart, ambitious people to reach difficult goals and grow a business together.
Nothing inspires fresh ways of thinking like gathering together in a strange and beautiful context. You'll see challenges from angles you hadn't considered before. Problems that seemed insurmountable look less formidable in a brand-new light.
Use a company retreat as an opportunity to think back on strategies that were effective and ones that fell flat. Figure out the reasons for the latter, and resolve to improve moving forward. Don't forget you're there to have fun, too; maybe have a few beers while you plan. Alcohol can do wonders for creativity in the right setting.
3. It allows you to get to know each other better.
It amazes me that you can spend the majority of your day with your colleagues week in and week out, talk and laugh and argue with them, strategize over decisions with millions of dollars on the line, and still not really know them until you spend five minutes in a bar together.
Consciously or unconsciously, most of us have a tendency to curb charming or playful aspects of our personalities in formal environments. The stuff that our family and friends witness in unguarded moments--the stuff that endears us to them--retracts like a frightened turtle the second we're with colleagues.
Company retreats lure this stuff out of hiding. People are humanized, which increases the chance of productive, respectful bonds in the future.
4. It reduces stress.
The theme of this article so far has been the unique pressures inherent in the modern workplace, and the cruciality (as well as humanity) of exploring methods for easing them.
A company retreat is one of those methods. Hell, consider taking a page from my investor's notebook and keep your retreat technology-free. Bring along a phone basket, which might complement good food, good wine, and good company quite nicely.
At the end of our retreat in Zion's National Park, I rushed with my fellow CEOs to a tech conference scheduled literally the next day. En route, our nostrils informed us that the wood-burning stoves we'd used during our adventure had saturated our luggage--and all the clothing within--with thick, acrid smoke.
Rather than wander the Palazzo at the Venetian reeking like lumberjacks, we skipped cocktail hour and focused on laundry instead. It made me realize that there's at least one other advantage to a no-frills retreat: a renewed sense of appreciation for the conveniences we take for granted. That's an awesome lesson for the workplace, too.