3 Tips to Improve Your Next Company Retreat

Company retreats can provide enormous return on investment and unlock potential in your team. I’ve experienced the full spectrum of retreats from amazing to meh over the course of my working life, and the successful ones all share similar qualities.

Here are the 3 qualities amazing company retreats all share:

  1. Clearly-stated goals. For example:
    – Create & launch a product.
    – Build camaraderie.
    – Deliver value to the community (volunteering).
    – Supporting a teammate’s or stakeholder’s venture.
    – Meet in person for a change (for remote teams).
    – Appreciating teammates’ styles more.
    – Employee retention.
    – Travel for travel’s sake (explore cultures, locales, foods).
  2. A shared understanding of why the retreat is needed and what will be accomplished at the retreat.
  3. A collaborative approach to planning. (This creates buy-in and anticipation.)

Tips on Creating an Effective Company Retreat

Wildbit spends over $2,000 per employee per retreat. Here are some tips to help you get the most for your dollar investment during your retreat:

  1. If your goal is to build and launch a product during your retreat, you might consider adding required, unstructured socializing where people can talk about the product in a more free manner (most of my biggest breakthroughs in life have come when I least-expect it). You might also put a freeze on all company work unrelated to the task at hand.
  2. If you are hoping to build camaraderie amongst your team, consider an inexpensive online Fortnite challenge/retreat instead of a traditional expensive in-person gathering. SPOILER ALERT: Your team will become more engaged with each other talking about video games than they will talking about your business (Sorry if I’m the first one to break it to ya!). In a previous life, my company used to go to a St. Paul Saints game every year – we built camaraderie amongst our team, and it cost the company pennies compared to a more traditional retreat! Buffer brought their entire team to Philippines for a retreat recently. Sounds like an amazing opportunity to achieve something unique, right?! Wrong. They spent the whole time in a conference rooms/restaurants/hotels and did not experience any of the awesomeness that is Filipino culture! Basically, they could have achieved their goals by simply meeting at he Ramada Inn in Omaha! Whoops! (FWIW, Buffer learned from this experience and continues to spend lavishly on company retreats and highly-values them.)
  3. If your goal is to improve employee retention, consider an annual or semi-annual retreat to an exotic place (i.e. something to look forward to) and invite their significant others & children. So much opportunity exists in engaging significant others – ignore it at your peril! For example, one thing I try to do at The Mighty Mo! is to celebrate the birthdays of my employee’s spouses and children (usually through a small gift). My hunch is that spouses play a vastly-under appreciated role in employee retention!
  4. If your goal is to deliver value to the community through volunteering, consider local charities that your employees already support. +1 if you bundle camaraderie with volunteering like a former employee of mine did when we landscaped at a low-income housing site! Nothing builds love more than pulling out a tough weed together!
  5. If your goal is to simply meet in person for a change, I recommend either re-thinking your goal or bundling this with an exotic location to achieve an ancillary goal in the process (because meeting in-person is not an end – it’s a means to an end).
  6. If your goal is simply to travel because you love to travel, be honest with yourself about this, and see if you can use this love of traveling to achieve other objectives (more bang for your buck!). For example, are there activities you love to do when you travel that your team would also enjoy? Is there an exotic destination you’ve always wanted to travel to that you can afford to bring your team to?
  7. Plan well in advance, engage your team in planning, and communicate your why! Travel is stressful, especially for people with dependents. The more advance notice you can give, the better. The more engagement and input your team has in the actual planning of the event, the better (Buffer has the team (not a few people at the top) decide on the location!). The more your team understands the goals of the retreat, the more engaged they’ll be. This seems basic, but it’s often overlooked, and engaging your team early and often will decrease your stress considerably! (I’m always pleasantly surprised by what others can accomplish without me mucking things up.)
  8. If there’s a quicker, cheaper way to meet the objective, it’s probably a better way. For example, sponsoring a local karaoke night at a bar might be a more effective way to build camaraderie than a company picnic. Buying significant others a thoughtful birthday gift every year might build more employee retention than donuts in the break room and free lunches.
  9. Remember that an in-person retreat is he best way to learn about and appreciate your teammate’s uniquely-human attributes.

“You know the tone of somebody’s voice and the way they approach problems and discussions. You read their emails differently. This changes things, and is why we’ve found retreats to be not only a fun part of our culture, but an absolute necessity.”

From Buffer’s Blog
  1. I remember a retreat where we attended a golfing workshop. I’m not a golfer by any measure, but I was fascinated by the golf pro/lecturer’s approach to putting (“Most amateur golfers putt better with their opposite hand, because they don’t carry as much emotional baggage on that side.”) It framed up an important business lesson about beginner’s mind that has served me well to this day! (And you know what? He was right! I putt way better left-handed!)

I hope this is helpful as you plan your company retreat. What have I missed? Let me know.

Toby Cryns

Toby Cryns is a freelance CTO and WordPress Guru. He also writes for WPTavern.com.