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Corporate Retreat Ideas: How to Plan an Annual Company Retreat

Has your corporate team gone to the same hotel year after year for your annual retreat? Or if you haven’t stayed at the same hotel, have you stayed a hotel, period?If the answer to either of those questions is yes, then you have tons of room for creativity and originality in creating a strategic plan for your corporate retreat this year, and every year going forward. You may not realize it, but there are as many types of corporate retreats ideas as there are vacations and getaways. Would you go to the same city, the same hotel, the same restaurant with your family each year? We’re pretty sure that answer is a resounding no, and for similar reasons, it’s time to rethink where and how your team spends its time away from the corporate headquarters.And what if you were going with just your spouse? Or with all the kids in tow? Surely the nature of your vacation would change, as it should, based on your team and what you want to get out of the retreat.Before we get any farther into the what and the how of planning memorable, effective retreats, let’s examine one critical thing. “Talent is more likely to stay if there are great, new learning opportunities for them to participate it,” says Ryan Shortill, CEO and Founder of Positive Adventures. “If you’re always going to a hotel, you’re just changing conference rooms, even if you’re in a new state each year. Nobody wants to breathe air conditioned air and not see the beautiful location they’re in.”Luckily, those planning corporate retreats don’t have to feel as though doing the same old routine year in, year out is the only option. Just like planning team building and team bonding experiences, which are discussed at length here, planning a corporate retreat is all about your team: What will be best for them? What are your their unique needs, and how best can you meet those needs?It is possible to create a memorable experience and build up team morale on a retreat. If past trips haven’t always inspired your team to get to know one another in new and deeper ways, then maybe it’s time to consider something different. The right location, the right environment, the right team building activity can open lines of communication and understanding that will remain once you’re back in the office, where it really counts.A novel experience will be a memorable one, and one that will let your employees bond, unwind, challenge themselves in safe and rewarding ways, and it’s up to you to tailor this experience for what you’re looking to get out of it.You may want to consider venturing into the woods with your team. Would you like to stay in a beautiful and secluded natural area? Would you like to give your crew a chance to go hiking? How about rock climbing -- not in a sterile gym environment, but on real rock? All of those things, and so much more, is possible if you take the right steps to plan your retreat.How about food? Bored of the same old hotel fare yet? A custom menu can be a part of your retreat, too. How does organic farm-to-table food sound for this year’s trip? What about arranging for a sommelier to introduce your team to some beautiful local wine varieties? All of this is possible for your retreat with the right forethought and planning.And what about evening activities? The evening can be a special time for teammates to bond and communicate in unhurried, informal ways. But evenings may be a wasted opportunity if your employees scatter after the banquet dinner at a hotel, and go their own ways until breakfast.That’s far less likely to happen if you have engaging and fun evening plans. You’re devoting time and resources to planning out numerous details for this trip. Shouldn’t it be something no one wants to miss? With the right setting and itinerary, it can be. But for it to be a special experience, by definition it cannot be the same old experience, in the same old hotel, with the same old food. And it doesn’t have to be.Unique Locations and Experiences Planning an unforgettable trip begins with choosing the right location. “There’s a lot of research out there about the space that people brainstorm in,” says Jered Cherry, co-founder and managing director of Positive Adventures. “An inspiring space can lead to fresher ideas.”That’s why companies like Silicon Valley tech shop IDEO has a gutted Volkswagon bus in its office. Rather than holding a meeting inside a drab conference room, the folks at IDEO pile into the old VW, for an intimate gathering.The same idea applies to choosing the right venue for your off-site meeting and corporate retreat. It is a surefire way to inspire your group and make sure everyone gets the most out of the trip.Too many of us get too little time doing the things we enjoy outside of work. Things like spending time in nature, being active and feeling adventurous can get pushed aside because of demanding work schedules and other commitments. But when those things are built into corporate retreats, starting with the location itself, employees will look forward to the annual trip, and feel energized.If you want your employees to see challenges differently when they return home, then they’ll have to look at the retreat differently, too, which means finding an exciting new location.While heading outdoors is surely not the only option for your retreat, it is a good one. That’s because having a connection with nature is known to boost workers’ morale and performance.Sadly, retreats have sometimes come to be regarded as affairs that employees dread. Certainly that’s not how you want people to view an event with so much potential, and that the company sinks resources into.For groups of all sizes, there are as many location options as there is creativity in planning. Would your team prefer to wake up and stroll through a grove of trees with their morning coffee, than to shuffle through the buffet line at a hotel? Would they rather cozy up inside a comfortable canvas yurt than spend the night in a dreary hotel room?Taking breaks is a critical part of recharging during retreats and conferences and allowing the messages of the day to sink in. Being in a beautiful setting allows folks to find immediate calm as a way to balance out speakers, brainstorming sessions and other taxing things. You won’t waste time going to into nature if it’s already surrounding the place you’re based in.Are there folks in your group who enjoy fishing? With just a bit of planning, you can work an outing to a lake into the day’s activities. You may want to consider a two-hour fishing trip instead of a trip to the long lines of an amusement park.Your retreat doesn’t need to be as extreme or physically demanding as rock climbing, or even survival games, but those are an option. Some companies have taken to planning trips involving archery and making a walk across hot coals. Why? It all comes back to giving your team fresh experiences that will produce a fresh outlook in business.Survey Your Staff Beforehand One of the most effective ways to plan a memorable trip is to ask your team what they’d like to do. It might seem obvious, but many opportunities to plan transformational experiences are lost because this valuable step is skipped.If you don’t already know the hobbies and preferences of your team, find out. It’s best to ask because sometimes people would rather try a new activity rather than stick with their routine. You’ll never know unless you ask.The more information you get from your group, the better chance you’ll have of making the trip worth everyone’s while. If your employees have a chance to weigh in on everything from location to food to activities, you may find they have ideas that you had not thought of.Surveying your staff before the annual retreat could have other profound effects. After all, retreats aren’t just about enjoying activities and food with one another. They’re about coming together to reinforce values, strengthen bonds, and build company culture. If you’re not sure about what to focus on while on the retreat, again: ask your employees.Seek honest answers in a survey that pose questions like: What do they like about their job? What do they think of the company culture? How do they think the company needs to strategize to change or strengthen its culture?“Sometimes there’s a disconnect between the leadership and the people doing the day-to-day work,” says Jered Cherry. “A survey lets you gather all this information so you can decide what your company needs.”The answers you get back can do a lot to inform how you plan your trip. It may highlight deficiencies or areas ripe for improvement. Then, in the planning process, you can tailor the retreat for what your team needs now.You will probably want to create a goal for the retreat that everyone can rally around, such as trouncing your biggest competitor. Whatever the focus, it’s a commonly held truth that retreats must have clear goals.And your employees might thank you if you do. As Businessweek magazine put it: “Most folks today work hard, putting in far more than the customary weekly 40 hours. So asking them to leave their families for two or three days for a corporate powwow requires real sacrifice -- one you shouldn't ask them to make unless you have a good reason.”One business owner surveyed his staff about which sessions they would want to attend while on retreat. As a group, they narrowed their options down to five, something he attributed to pulling off a successful outing.How Can Positive Adventures Help? Positive Adventures is a one-stop shop for all corporate retreat planning for groups of all sizes and trips of any kind. All of the possibilities already mentioned, from yurts to rock climbing to fishing to sommeliers, are things they’ve helped companies with, and they’re eager to make whatever your company dreams up into reality.“We can help out for a two hour block on a three-day retreat or we can help plan the entire week-long retreat, save for however long the VP wants to speak,” says Shortill.For instance, Positive Adventures organized a 15-person retreat for a global wind energy company where they stayed in a cabin. During their stay, the employees took part in cooking challenges (picture a less stressful version of “Top Chef”), cruised on stand-up paddle boards, went rock climbing and worked in speakers, campfire gatherings, a sommelier, catering by an executive chef and more. Not only was the company elated with their retreat, but they also spent far less than they would have for a less than memorable stay in a hotel.Positive Adventures has also planned a weekend camp-out in Joshua Tree National Park with visits to hot springs, and a trip to the Uinta Mountains in Utah. On one of the trips, the moments when the group was out of cellular reception were the only time most of the group members had ever been disconnected. “All of them were completely moved by the fact the couldn’t check their phone at night,” Shortill says. “They were sitting around the fire talking to each other in a way that has vanished in the corporate world. This is so different from attending another conference with a lanyard around your neck.”
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