Planning A Team Retreat? Seven Ways To Make Sure It Actually Sticks – Forbes

There's a lot of room for improvement in how organizations get people to work together. In fact, 39% percent of employees think that people in their organization don't collaborate enough.

Done well, team retreats can increase alignment, collaboration and performance.

However, getting your team out of the office is not enough to improve performance. You must design clear goals and purposefully design the session. If not, you're wasting your money.

I've designed and facilitated hundreds of retreats for leadership teams and executive groups. Here are seven things to consider when planning your next team offsite to ensure a lasting, positive impact.

1. Start with the end in mind.

Before you plan the session, make sure to have a clear and well-defined goal. What's the desired outcome once the offsite is finished? Identify the specific problem that you want to solve.

Does your organization need topromote psychological safety? Do you want team members to innovate more? Does your team need to improve decision-making?

Consider using a survey to identify critical issues. Ask your team for feedback and evaluate what their expectations are, too.

I always tell my clients to pick three goals and then narrow the list down to one key problem. Define the key goal and plan the session backward with the end result in mind.

2. Plan and design the offsite.

Establish clear responsibilities and who will lead the whole process.Make sure to get buy-in from senior executives to avoid disruptions during the session.

When designing the agenda flow, consider balancing energy and emotions in play. For example, after a deep reflection exercise, it's always convenient to use an icebreaker to re-energize the team.

Allow smalls breaks for people to recharge. Keep the lunch break as a free-work zone. The San Antonio Spurs eat together as often as they play together. Food and wine aren't just food and wine; they're bridges to intentional bonding: the secret sauce to their tremendous success.

Understand the right mindset required for each section of the offsite. Does the team have to flare or focus? Solving a problem requires divergent thinking. Getting alignment or making a decision requires a different type of thinking. Keep in mind that convergent and divergent thinking don't go well together. Keep them separate.

3. Involve people along the way.

Design participation from the get-go. Make sure the invite sets clear expectations and drives excitement.

One-on-one interviews don't just help you understand people's expectations but they also make people feel included.

I remember interviewing C-level executives from a global retailer to understand their expectations. Most were clueless about the team retreat and why their CEO was hosting it.

Have participants do some prep work.If your goal is to create a new strategy, share some inspirational reading ahead. If your team is dealing with limiting mindsets, make them do some exercises to start reflecting on what's holding them back.

The team offsite doesn't start the day the session happens. It happens the moment you kick off the planning.

4. Assign a skilled offsite facilitator.

Facilitating an effective team retreat is much more complicated than running a regular meeting. Changing team behavior is not easy; you have to unearth and address tensions.

Having a skilled facilitator in team development will allow you not only to go deep but also to deal with difficult personalities.

I remember running a team retreat for a health care company. Participants were skeptical about the offsite. Their previous experiences were anything but productive. We had to deal with this negative mindset head on. Having some tough conversations helped us put negativity aside and create a transformational session.

If you are dealing with tough issues, a skilled facilitator can also get people to open up. People have a natural tendency to be more open and vulnerable with strangers than with their colleagues.

However, be sure to avoid facilitator dependency. The facilitator should guide the session, but also equip the team with the right tools to continue conversations on their own.

5. Create a safe space during the session.

The quality of a team retreat depends on the quality of the conversations. If people are not candid, then you are wasting everyone's time.

Start by building a safe environment. Make people comfortable to experiment with new behaviors. Facilitation plays a pivotal role in building the space, but it's not enough.

Practice conversational turn-taking; give each person time to share their ideas. The most senior people should always talk last to avoid groupthink.

Go slow to go fast. When facilitating self-reflection exercises, like "Uncover the Stinky Fish," I first ask people to work on their own. Then in pairs. And afterward, in foursomes. Lastly, all findings are shared with everyone.

Progression helps build trust as people get used to opening up, one iteration at a time.

A team offsite is a unique opportunity to address what everybody is thinking yet no one is saying. Building a safe space encourages quality conversations.

6. Focus on the day after the team retreat.

What happens in an offsite shouldn't stay at the offsite.

Finish the session with clear action plans. I use team contracts, where everyone commits to change behavior and also asks something they want the team to provide. Once everyone signs the contract, they hang it in a public wall as a reminder.

Don't just commit to long-term actions. Encourage people to adopt new ways of working right away. I like to use the 1-1-1 formula: People have to commit to new behaviors they will start doing in one week, one month and one quarter. Follow-up is everything. We usually have a video call one week after the session to keep the momentum going. Set regular touch bases to address issues and obstacles.

A team retreat is a springboard; the session itself is the starting point to adopt new ways of working.

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Planning A Team Retreat? Seven Ways To Make Sure It Actually Sticks - Forbes

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