Back in March, we had our fourth company retreat. This means that Nicole, John, and myself all got together for an entire day to check in on current projects, things that are going well, processes that could use improvement, and some professional development (this is a very watered down version of the actual agenda).
Different people reading this probably have different ideas about what a company retreat looks like. Some will think “strategic planning” and power points, others may think a volleyball game between different branches or departments (I got that one straight from The Office). The thing is, a company retreat can really be any of these things (and more). While our company retreat didn’t involve volleyball, or Michael Scott for that matter, it was still a productive and fun day for the three of us, and will be beneficial to BEC in the future.
For small businesses like ours, planning something like this can be intimidating. How do you have a company retreat if you’re not even a big company? What if it’s boring? What if employees aren’t interested/engaged? Where should we hold the retreat? And so on. This post will give you an idea of what our retreat looks like, and may be helpful as you consider planning one of your own.
(You can also watch our Facebook Live video where we talk about company retreats 101 here:)
There are a few ingredients you’ll need to create a productive company retreat. First, pick a date in advance that everyone can commit to and puts in their calendar. We only have 3 people’s worth of schedules to juggle, but you may have more, which can make it feel a bit like scheduling a family reunion.
After scheduling, make sure everyone has that date/time blocked off in their calendars. Next you’ll want to plan the venue (more on that later). You may also want to make sure that customers/clients know that the retreat is happening in case you’re going to be unavailable for the day. Gather any necessary materials (big sticky paper and markers are a retreat must in our opinion), technology, snacks, and whatever else you can think of to make retreat day a success.
Circulating the agenda in advance gives employees a chance to not only prepare, but voice any other items they feel should be addressed during the retreat (this also saves things from getting off topic during retreat day). A few of the items on the BEC Retreat Agenda are here:
Overview of current and upcoming projects. This is where we touch base on things that are ongoing or will be starting soon. Even though there’s only 3 of us, I still find this section helpful because there are some clients and projects that I’m not necessarily working with, so it’s a chance for me to step back from my own work and see what the company as a whole is doing.
What things are going well. We’ve found that a “what’s going well” exercise is a good icebreaker because it gets the ball rolling on a positive note. People tend to be more comfortable sharing positive feedback, especially when the day is just getting warmed up. Plus it starts things off on a positive tone.
What things could use improvement. This isn’t a chance to complain about benefits or requesting longer lunch breaks. This is usually what could use improvement in terms of processes- maybe a better system for following up with customers, increasing staff members at a certain time of day, etc. After identifying two-three items that you want to take action on, create a plan of attack. One of the things that got brought up at our first company retreat was finding a decent password management system. We then made it a priority over the next month or two to research different password management systems, choose one, and do a ton of data entry to move everything in. Three or four retreats later, our biggest item on the list is organizing files better.
Professional Development. One way that we get everyone involved in the retreat (so it feels like less of a classroom lecture) is having a professional development section. As the agenda gets circulated, each of us has an assignment for a 10 minute presentation on a program or bit of software that the company uses. While I’ve never been a big “talk in front of people” person, this part of the retreat is awesome. It’s been incredibly beneficial over the years and I still use what I’ve learned in this section of the retreat in my day to day work.
Goal Setting. At the end, we set some goals for the company, as well as a few personal goals. By this point at the end of the day, we’ve gone through quite a bit of material and discussion, so it’s a chance to reflect and look at some big picture stuff. It encourages us to think about where we’d like BEC to be in a year, but also where we as individuals want to be in the next year.
In terms of where to have the retreat, usually offsite is recommended. Sometimes a change of scenery can get people’s brains working a little differently. A few things that might help you make this decision are the number of people coming, technological needs (if you have a projector and screen, for example), proximity (how far are people willing to drive?)- that sort of thing.
Company retreats are often an annual thing. We usually do ours in the late winter/early spring since that’s a good time of year in our business to commit a day to retreating. The idea is not to schedule it during your busy season if you have one- that’s a lot of stress.
From big companies to small businesses, company retreats allow everyone to “regroup.” You may gain a better understanding of a department outside of your own, other company projects, etc. Retreats are also give employees a chance to step back from their daily grind and look at the big picture of the business, remembering what the actual mission is. Another big reason why is the improvements that get made over the years from dedicating even just one day completely to company focused thinking. As I said in the “What Could Be Better” area, the things we are working on now seem a lot smaller than the bigger issues we tackled after our first retreat. Your company/business could undergo a similar process after a few years.
And this article from Forbes perfectly articulates the ‘Why,’ especially for those who may be worried about losing an entire day’s work: “It’s almost impossible to overestimate the return on investment for a retreat that gets everybody smiling and working together.”