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VOL. 127 | NO. 252 | Thursday, December 27, 2012
Let’s Grow

Get More Out of Your Corporate Retreat

By Michael Graber & Jocelyn Atkinson

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Have you ever asked yourself why you are taking a corporate retreat? Is it because the company has always had one and it is just an event on autopilot? Is it intended to reinforce the company line? What do you as a leader really get out of it? What does everyone else get out of it? If it is designed to be a “morale builder” and a session to “build consensus” you may be wasting your time and money. There is nothing worse for morale than having a lockdown then hotboxing people who work over 50 hour weeks. These people likely feel that they are getting behind on their work treadmill and worse, they resent the time away from home and family.

A retreat can be an invaluable way to take time to examine the bigger picture, adjust strategies and set the operating plan for the year. If you don’t make this time, the tyranny of tasks can take over and the company rolls through each year in a state of myopic focus.

To get the most out of a retreat you need to do some work to make it count. In preparation, collect critical intelligence from your employees and customers to craft an effective agenda. Make it confidential or anonymous and do not filter conflict and controversy. Now more than ever, we are pulled in a multitude of directions diverting our attention and diffusing the focus of energy. Return to the simple core: “how do we grow?” Take a look at the feedback you collect through that lens. What are the critical product, service, morale, competitive, economic, sales and efficiency issues that are limiting growth? Design interactive exercises at the retreat to fully mine these limitations and simultaneously enroll the team to design solutions.

Equally important, allocate time to discover opportunities for growth. Here it is important that the brainstorms and exercises stretch the boundaries of thought so that time is not spent regurgitating obvious or old ideas. Consider inviting customers to participate in a co-creation workshop where the collective team collaborates on solutions or new products and services. This is a great way to make your company more customer-oriented, deepen customer relationships and deliver greater value to the marketplace.

The two most crucial elements of the retreat are the quality of the exercises and the participants themselves. Invite a wide range of people, not just top managers that already work closely together and share the same context. It is a unique forum to give cross-divisional top performers and those that have a drive to make things better a voice. This may be the company’s strongest form of compensation and retention tool. Team members will look forward to the retreat because it is engaging, intellectually stimulating and actually fun. Better yet, they will feel empowered.

To make the retreat actionable, you need to clearly communicate how decisions will be made and expectations around next steps. Consider the following: will you make decisions by consensus or majority? Who gets the final say in each area? Who is responsible for putting together the action plan and how will they be held accountable?

Get clear on the purpose of the retreat. We believe growth of individuals and growth in companies is ultimately why we are all in business. If your company doesn’t have a corporate retreat, consider taking a day to do some of this work for your department. Working together toward growth can be almost as fun as a trust fall or a blindfolded wall climb.

Jocelyn Atkinson and Michael Graber run the Southern Growth Studio, a strategic growth firm based in Memphis. Visit www.southerngrowthstudio.com to learn more.

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