Ten things I learned about company retreats from a few days away with the Fastspot team.

Fastspot had a company retreat earlier this spring, and it was a really powerful and inspirational few days spent together by the beautiful Chesapeake Bay.

Twenty-something years into my career, I’ll admit to being a bit of a retreat-skeptic. I’ve spent plenty of time in the back row, rolling my eyes and feeling uninspired by corporate pronouncements that had very little bearing on my day-to-day work. Or snickering about the use of words like “synergy.” Or checking my email.

This retreat was profoundly different. It was genuine, honest, collaborative and inclusive. I think I speak for most of my colleagues when I say that we left as a better, stronger, happier team. Trying to write about the details almost seems like a betrayal of privacy. So instead, I thought I would try to capture some of the why. Why did this retreat work? Why did it feel right? If you’re leading a team that’s aiming for the same kind of outcome, what advice can we share?

With all credit going to Tracey Halvorsen, Amy Goldberg and the inestimable Stephanie Rosenberger, who wrangled all the details, here’s what I’d recommend.

  1. Commit. If you’re going to make this work, you need to be ready to put your ordinary tasks aside for a day or three, and you need to insist that everyone else do the same thing. There are going to be expenses. There will be lost productivity. If you don’t think it’s worth it, don’t even start.
  2. Get out of town. Or at least get out of the office. Remove yourself physically from the distractions of your regular routine. It’s hard enough to carve out a few full days away from client needs and deadlines. Being able to hear the phone ringing is not going to help people protect that space.
  3. Don’t plan every minute. The activities and discussions that you plan are obviously very important. But I would submit that downtime is just as important. Even for people who work together in an office every day, it’s nice just to be together and see where things go. Some of the conversations that you don’t organize will be just as valuable as those you do.
  4. Include everyone. Create opportunities for every single person on the team to contribute something, whether it’s by scheduling presentations or just asking everyone to speak to a certain issue or question. A meeting feels instantly different when you go from being an observer to an active participant. 

  5. Roll with it. Don’t get too attached to your schedule. If you’ve got a brainstorm scheduled from 2:30 to 3:30 and the ideas are still sparkling at 3:45 or 4:15, just be quiet and let it happen. Celebrate the discussion, and worry about the schedule later.
  6. Balance. Leave room for discussion about how we can do our jobs better today, and big picture “what does it all mean and where do we go from here” conversations. One makes us immediately better, one ensures that we’re all heading in the same direction long term.

  7. Eat well. And if it’s appropriate for your team and your culture: drink well. Sharing meals is one of the most social things that we do as human beings. Sit next to anyone at dinner and I promise you’ll know something new about them by dessert. And that kind of connection is the whole point.
  8. Be honest. If you’re reading this post, you’re probably the kind of person who cares about building a strong team, and I imagine you’ve hired like-minded people. If you stick to carefully scripted messages, those smart people are going to feel it. Instead, pour your heart out. Be vulnerable. You’ll get it back in kind. 

  9. Do not tolerate me. By that I mean: don’t tolerate the kind of eye-rolling behavior I was talking about above. It’s rude, and it undermines everything else that’s happening. Not seeing or sensing it at the Fastspot retreat may be one of the reasons this one felt so different. 

  10. Bring a bulldog. Not everyone can manage this one, but if you can pull it off, more power to you. Having a dog or two around is very soothing.
Share on Twitter or Facebook Published April 30th 2015