The holiday season is almost upon us: a time to relax and recharge with friends and family. When it comes to your work family, company retreats are great opportunities to lift spirits any time of year. Finding the right balance between creative brainstorming and team bonding for a weekend will lead to energized employees for months to come.

These six entrepreneurs share the key elements their company retreats aren't complete without. Hint: Enable your team to break out of the everyday routine.

Start with reflection; end with commitments.

It can be difficult to reflect during a busy workday, so getting out of the daily grind is a chance to step back and think big picture. David Hammer, founder and CEO of sales intelligence network Emissary, ensures team members walk away with valuable takeaways by opening and closing with reflection.

"Our retreats always open with a reflection session: Where were we at the last retreat, and where do we think we'll be next time? It's a great way to transition into an open, creative mindset," he says. "The retreat ends with every employee publicly committing to one thing they'll do differently as a result of the retreat. This creates buy-in and accountability to carry us forward."

Break out of departmental siloes.

Liam Martin, co-founder of productivity tools Staff.com and TimeDoctor.com, recognizes that a silo mentality kills collaboration between departments. That's why company-wide retreats are the perfect time to break down walls and learn more about what everyone is working on.

"It's important to find out what everyone else does so you can better collaborate in the future," says Martin. "This year we had each department head review everything they were doing from a theoretical perspective, and then we had breakout sessions. Outcome: Employees now feel more connected to everyone's work, ideas and concerns."

Pick the location carefully.

"Choosing a location for the retreat can make or break the experience," says Matt Murphy, co-founder of after-school fitness program Kids in the Game. Think about an environment that would allow your team to break out of their everyday surroundings -- and have some fun.

"Our retreat was at a lake house in the middle of nowhere, and it was perfect -- a great escape for our team that is normally stationed in NYC," he says. "It made for some natural activities, like hiking, swimming, boating and building fires, to do outside of the two to three sessions we had each day."

Get out of the office setting.

What's the point of taking your team out of the office if you settle for a location that feels, well, like an office? Jayna Cooke, CEO of event venue marketplace EVENTup, recognizes that relocating to a nontraditional location can lead to out-of-the-box thinking.

"We took our team to talk about new ideas based on the input they were getting from clients. Retreats often take place in boring conference rooms, but it helps to take the team somewhere fun and conducive to being creative. Changing environments can lead to different thoughts than might have been had in a typical office environment."

Hold a mini startup weekend.

John Hall, co-founder and CEO of content marketing agency Influence & Co, wants his team to feel involved in the company's success. Encouraging team members to pitch ideas and getting everyone to join in fosters motivation and buy-in well after the retreat is over.

"Every year, we have a mini startup weekend. We encourage employees to bring ideas for the company and pitch them to our management team," he says. "The best ideas make it to the next round, and the rest of the team gets to pick which one they want to get behind and help develop. It's a great way to see what the team wants for the company and get them more involved."

Leave time for spontaneity.

"We want to get the most out of our company retreats, so too often we jam pack our agendas so efficiently that we forget to leave ample time for spontaneity," says Jared Atchison, co-founder of WordPress form builder WPForms. No matter how many agenda items you whiz through, a retreat without any downtime won't lead to connected, productive employees upon your return.

"Leave some breaks in your schedule for employees to relax," he says. "Whether it's watching a movie or going swimming, this downtime will help them form stronger bonds."

Published on: Nov 20, 2017