Are corporate retreats worth it?

Nikki Fogden-Moore explains why strategic escapes are essential for creativity, performance and leadership

Are corporate retreats worth it?
There's a shift occurring in the business world that is happening outside the office – conferences and retreats are becoming the norm. The agenda is shifting from bar voucher to spa voucher, from boardrooms indoors to holding meetings outdoors – even on surfboards. So, is this working?
Despite a backlash in the US many years ago about lavish retreats (after AIG executives reportedly spent more than $400,000 on a corporate retreat after receiving government bailout money in 2008), corporate retreats are back in vogue – and rightly so, for they can provide crucial, authentic timeout for leaders and key teams to reconnect, assess productivity and build shared purpose at even the most challenging times.
The corporate retreat is a vital part of the strategic year for companies that value their team as much as their bottom line. The trick is to ensure you plan your retreat like you would your business: Who should be there, what is your budget, and do you have your purpose? With the right team running this with you, an annual break away for body and mind could be the perfect formula to keep your team healthy, wealthy and wise. After more than a decade of running corporate and boardroom retreats worldwide, I can give you three reasons why the well executed ones work.
Creativity requires space to think and environments that can inspire. Providing a digital detox and fresh perspective for your team can get the brain off autopilot and into fifth gear with energy and vision. Like the saying goes: Keep doing the same thing, and you’ll get the same results. So instead of repainting the office walls and moving some plants around, plan in creative breaks during your strategic corporate retreats that truly allow time to reflect, think and indulge in ideas, as well as space to offer feedback.
If you want to see changes in the level of creative thinking, initiative and a fresh approach to corporate challenges, then the best thing to do is create a real opportunity for people to switch off and have time to think, talk, create and engage. Choose your location based around this thinking – get back to the ocean or nature spots. Think about the use of space and where you will stay. The creativity starts the moment you arrive.
Close the laptops and bring out large sheets of paper. The cognitive connection to thinking and writing is incredible – it allows a flow and a dynamism that cannot often be captured by tapping away at a keypad. Bring your team back to basics by making idea generation and problem-solving larger than life on big sheets of paper that hold opportunities, as well as a page for concerns and challenges. Bring it out into the open, and tackle each area with transparency and shared purpose.
Allow the conversation to continue over dinner or lunch, and be open to the idea that an agenda can flow when people are given the opportunity to open up and share ideas without a stopwatch. Take notes at lunch or dinner – and add those to the ones from the more official creative brainstorming sessions. Carry this through and identify how you will share these ideas when back in the office.
Part of the purpose of a retreat is to help recharge mental and physical batteries, not deplete them any further. Integrate a yoga or fresh-air session in the morning with a mid-afternoon session outdoors or doing something that gets people moving. Engage in earlier drinks before choosing healthy, inspiring dinners at venues that understand delicious, fresh, high-quality ingredients. Encourage ‘homework’ or calibration time in the evenings, and embrace the value of sleep.
View the retreat as time to share the value of bringing personal and business vitality to life and how this can be integrated seamlessly back at the office. Bring in speakers and facilitators who understand the importance of both personal and business acumen – it can make a world of difference in teaching your leadership team how to take all areas up to the next level.
If you’re the CEO or the leader of this retreat, then set the scene upfront. Time out in strategy sessions, combined with fresh air, fresh food and a fresh perspective, can create an incredible shift in old-style, work-hardplay- hard thinking. Bring balance into the day, and watch this philosophy find its way back to the office as well.
Create tangible milestones for KPIs and performance during the retreat that you all agree to continue in the office. Most of all, if you’re going to take away your findings and apply agreed-upon accountability measures, make them official, and show that ideas generated on retreat can be swiftly implemented back at work.
I always say there are three pillars of true leadership:
  • leading from within
  • leading by example
  • leading others
Corporate retreats are an ideal opportunity for executive teams to test elements and roll them out for a period of time before sharing with the broader teams. It may be a fourweek implementation period post-retreat that requires a regroup before rolling out. By leading by example and practicing what you preach, the element of authenticity and trust is improved, creating a real engagement with leaders across divisions as well.
Often retreats are an opportunity to see other skills, characteristics and ideas from those around you – a forum where problem-solving and collaboration can show leadership in a different light. Most important, leadership teams and executive level management have an opportunity to explore the core commercial elements on the agenda, as well as their own personal wellbeing and goals, in a safe and constructive environment.
Increasing personal connection can greatly improve the collaboration and work ethic inside a company – it’s essential for our increasingly virtual world. This all greatly improves productivity and accountability.
Finally, whatever you do, keep it relevant and efficient, and forget about the fad gadgets and gimmicks or signature flashlights and backpacks. The best place to spend your budget is on the right location and the people hosting the retreat for you.
You don’t want your leadership team coming back into the office on Monday, exhausted from late nights of too many drinks and not too sure about what the next steps are. This is about lifting your corporate sessions up a notch and getting engagement from the get-go. It’s the conversation, the quality connections, and well-organized time and content that allow a perfect blend of relaxation, connection and strategic thinking. Corporate retreats, if executed well, efficiently and with purpose, are a powerful tool to reignite shared purpose, engagement and a passion for performance in business and in life.
Run your retreats like you do your business. Have a purpose, and define who needs to be there and what value you want in return. At the end of the day, building a culture that is healthy, wealthy and wise is the winning trifecta, and corporate retreats are an ideal place to benchmark those three elements together.

Nikki Fogden-Moore specializes in coaching high achievers to bring business and personal vitality to life. Her new book, VITALITY, is available internationally.