As we walk into a new year and a new era of the workplace, employee engagement is one of the key areas to stay on top of to ensure your company will thrive in the Future of Work. In a 2021 report, Gallup showed that only 20% of employees worldwide are engaged at their work. This is a wake-up call for Founders and Leaders, as highly engaged employees show 66% higher wellbeing, 81% lower absenteeism, and 23% higher profitability than their disengaged counterparts.
Achieving high employee engagement requires a multi-layered effort to ensure your team members are a great fit for your culture, while designing the culture to champion them and help them thrive. In this context, company retreats make for a high-impact, high-value initiative that will strengthen your people’s connection to your company.
Join us in this article to discover the keys to designing a company retreat that WOWs everyone in your organization and the centrality of the experiential factor in creating and investing in a thriving culture.
1. The Why: Uncovering the Incredible Magic of Retreats
The main purpose behind going on a company retreat is strengthening the culture in a way that only a carefully curated experience can achieve. When you invite your entire company on a retreat, you are bringing people together, uniting them in activities that create strong bonds between them, and fundamentally anchoring people into your culture. In a well-designed retreat, your team members get to deeply experience what your company values feel like and how it is to embody them.
Retreats serve to align your entire organization towards one vision, one goal, and one definition of success. By enhancing camaraderie, connection, and bonding, retreats create the foundation for your team members to experience the feeling of being together in the same path towards achieving greatness.
With this in mind, the main guideline for designing a retreat is making the experience the driving factor. Bringing everybody together in person is the starting point, but to create that deep sense of belonging, reverse-engineering is required to produce the peak experiences that will create a meaningful connection among your people.
2. The When: Peaking Your Employee Experience Through Cultural Initiatives
When it comes to maintaining a thriving culture, the frequency and the opportunity for cultural initiatives is a key factor to master. Keeping the consistency of initiatives is essential to make sure you are going steady and investing in your culture on a regular basis. For company-wide retreats, the ideal frequency for most companies is, at least, once a year.
The yearly frequency makes for a great foundation to boost your team’s performance and engagement to the culture. Retreats, when masterfully curated, help team members create deep, significant ties that bond them as they align towards the achievements that will make your year epic.
Picking the date is part of creating peak experiences in your retreat. The ideal time of the year to go on a retreat depends on its purpose. The question to ask is: why are you bringing your people together? Is it to rally around the year goal? To align people to the greater vision? To help transform your culture from mixed or aspiring to thriving?
Another point to consider as you are scheduling your retreat is how it fits in the yearly event calendar of the company. While the retreat is the main yearly initiative to strengthen your culture and bring your people together, it is also essential to invest in multiple, ongoing initiatives that support and nourish your culture from different perspectives. Management programs, leadership programs, executive coaching programs for High Achievers, training programs, monthly company-wide meetings, weekly cultural initiatives, and other social events are some examples of initiatives for maintaining a thriving culture.
3. The Where: Leveraging the Outsized Impact of the Environment
The location of your retreat is an essential factor that plays an outsized role in creating a peak experience for your team members and bringing them together. The environment has an incredible impact on how your people experience your culture, so our first recommendation for designing a memorable retreat is picking a location other than your usual office.
If you are staying in town, renting a special place is a great way of elevating your experience. It can be something as simple as a suite in a beautiful hotel or a theater, to more elaborate ideas, like a castle or an event venue specially designed to create the peak experience you are aiming at.
When possible, mixing up the locations year after year is an effective way of keeping your retreats engaging and exciting. If you are planning your retreats years in advance, a great idea is to connect the locations to your company’s milestones and goals.
Whether you are staying in town or flying your team to a different city, it is important that the location and the environments you pick hold meaning to the company and match the purpose and the goal of the retreat. By keeping this a priority, there are a lot of ways you can create spectacular experiences that are deeply anchored in your culture.
4. The How: Going Behind the Scenes of Magic
As we have mentioned previously, the key question to ask when designing a retreat is: What feelings and sensations do you want your people to experience? The answer to that question is the foundation to how your retreat will take shape: from the foundation up, the secret is to reverse-engineer the experiences that will help them feel a meaningful connection to your culture and your values.
It is important that each of the activities you design for the retreat is introduced in connection to the values, and also holds correspondence with the environment you have chosen for the event. Some of the questions to ask to pick and design those activities are:
- What do you want to achieve through them?
- What do you want your people to feel?
- What do you want them to take away from the activities and from the retreat at large?
With this said, we know that designing, planning, and executing a retreat implies a great amount of work that requires expertise. And the primary purpose of a retreat is to create an experience that brings the entire company together, including all internal leaders and the CEO. This is why we strongly recommend engaging an external facilitator to help you design and run the retreat.
By engaging a partner to run it, you can make sure that everything around planning, executing, and keeping the agenda going during the event is expertly taken care of. As the CEO, you will still be a part of designing the retreat and making decisions, but during the retreat, you will be able to participate in the experience without having to worry about everything going on around you. This will allow you to focus on being present and enhancing your connection to everyone.
5. Maximizing Magic: Taking Your Retreat Experience to the Next Level
The primary key to really maximizing the benefits of your retreat is being incredibly clear about the results you want from it and how they connect to your culture.
Designing a retreat is a complex project, and Leaders usually benefit from counting on external expertise to help them build and run the entire event. Finding the answers to these questions is most efficiently done in alignment with ongoing, intentional cultural work that aligns your company towards a thriving culture. This is why another main way of making the most out of a retreat is by engaging an external organizer and facilitator.
The most challenging and costly aspect of carrying out a retreat for a global team is having everybody there. While other expenses like venues, speakers, and activities are also to be taken into account, the main investment is the time of everyone in the company. So, once you have made the decision to invest in this experience, it becomes really important to make sure everything is done as flawlessly and effortlessly as possible.
Also, as we have mentioned before, having an external company run the retreat and make sure everything is on point gives you as a CEO the possibility of participating, being present, and interacting with your people effectively and meaningfully.
Of course, it is also possible for internal Leaders to be in charge of the retreat. However, since this initiative aims to bring everyone in the company closer together, for some of them to be busy with planning, running, and dealing with everything from the big picture to the finest detail is an aspect that takes away value from the experience.
If you want to take your retreat to the next level, engaging multiple partners is a great way of significantly enhancing the experience you are creating. Calling in experts to facilitate the activities for the company, engaging expert speakers to bring value and wisdom to the retreat, having a professional team document the event and create a video to share as a closing to the experience, hiring private chefs to make the meals remarkable, bringing in entertainers, hiring experts who can run special experiences for the team: the possibilities are truly endless. Having a custom-made token for the company —anything from a book or a song to a gift or an award— that your team members can bring home with them is also a really effective way of elevating the entire experience.
The main thing to keep in mind is that you are aiming for an experience that will deeply anchor your people into your culture and that they will remember and talk about for years, maybe even decades. So don’t hold back when brainstorming ideas to make your retreat meaningful and memorable.
6. Assessing Culture: Exploring the Benefits of a Retreat in the Different Stages of Culture
One question that often comes up as we perform our cultural work with Founders, Leaders, and their teams at large, is regarding how to approach a retreat in the context of a thriving, mixed or toxic culture. Explore our previous article to find out more about the different stages of company culture.
We are grateful to work with clients whose cultures are usually in the range of mixed or aspiring to thriving. However, in the case of a toxic culture, we wouldn’t recommend starting by conducting a retreat, since the deeply rooted, pervasive problems need to be addressed and fixed at the management team, and occasionally even at the board.
In the case of a mixed or aspiring culture, bringing the entire company out to a retreat can be a great way of inviting those less committed to your culture to experience how the high performers are leveling up, and to reconsider their engagement to your culture. By allowing them this experience, you are giving them a chance to either level up towards a thriving culture, or to level out.
For thriving cultures, retreats are a fantastic way of rallying your High Achievers —those people who believe in what you believe in—, and getting them to truly experience and feel the best aspects of your culture. Sitting down with your High Achievers in person, sharing stories, creating memories, connecting, and bonding to others who are culturally aligned, it’s all part of the magic and abundance of having a thriving culture.
7. Heading Home: Designing a Magical Experience That Outlasts Decades
An important aspect to keep in mind as you are designing your retreat is how the impact and the value from the experience are going to last as you go back to the office.
When a retreat is well designed, you’re able to reach a point where your people are deeply engaged, moved, and energized. In our experience working with Founders and their companies, when you achieve that stage, the memories your people create in the retreat will be carried, cherished, and shared again for years to come. This is one of the ultimate goals of a company retreat.
To add a different perspective, during the retreat, it is also essential to train your people in specific ways that will get them to reconnect with certain behaviors when they are back in the office. When this is successfully done, it has a noticeable impact on the company’s day-to-day life, as it leads your people to live and breathe your values more consistently.
As we previously mentioned, creating a company award or a different type of token or physical symbol that your team members can carry with them can also be a wonderful reminder of this experience moving forward.
The Bottom Line
In a world where only 20% of employees are engaged at their work globally, investing in developing a highly engaged workforce is one of the most impactful decisions you can make as a Leader that will give you a significant competitive advantage in the market.
There are multiple ways of investing in your culture to make sure you are maximizing employee engagement. One of the main pieces is to design a cultural event calendar where you schedule the ongoing cultural initiatives that take place at the different levels of the company. In that context, the retreat is the main yearly initiative that will cultivate your people’s connection to your values and your culture, bringing them closer to your company in a meaningful way that will benefit everyone involved.
Company retreats are an excellent opportunity for going beyond just stating your values and your goals, by creating a thrilling experience that will deeply move your team members and anchor them into your culture. While defining your culture in words is an important first step, in our 20 years of experience helping companies design, redesign and scale thriving cultures, we have found that helping your people feel and experience your culture is essential to level up the whole organization.
Since designing a company retreat is a complex effort that is best done in alignment with ongoing, deep cultural work across the entire organization, our main suggestion is to engage a partner to help you create the retreat of your dreams that will leave a lasting positive mark in your people.
Are you ready to level up your company culture? We are here to help.
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Recruiting on Cultural Fit is a scalable and methodical recruitment model focused on mindset, cultural and value alignment.
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Strategic Direction and Growth is often delivered as an off-site, followed by an executive coaching program for your management team.
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