Company Retreat Planning 101: 8 Elements for a Great One

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Corporate retreats have long represented occasions for staff members to gather in relaxed settings to conduct work duties. But organizing such gatherings poses a challenge for companies that switched to operating remotely during the pandemic, as they strive to find the right balance between staff bonding and work.

Whether you are coming together for team building, training or strategizing about near-term goals, corporate retreats are a great way to deepen employee engagement, provide workforce development and kickstart your planning cycle—all while having fun.

This timeline and checklist of eight areas to address will help you plan and execute your best event ever.

8 Company Retreat Steps

1. Nine months before: Develop a plan and gain approval for your budget.

How many people are you going to invite? Is participation mandatory? How far will people be traveling? Are you going to extend virtual participation? All of these decisions will impact your budget. Here are the main items to budget for:

    1. Transportation costs (Flight, train, drive, ground transit to the hotel)
    2. Parking
    3. Accommodations
    4. Meeting room or rooms
    5. Outdoor space, if applicable
    6. Technology (Wi-Fi, AV, large display for virtual, smartboards)
    7. Facilitators and presenters
    8. Food and beverage
    9. Team-building activities
    10. Off-site excursions

2. Eight months out: Get it on everyone’s calendar.

While it will take time to get a suitable date, this process is well worth it. Getting everyone at the meeting will ensure buy-in for the agenda.

3. Seven months before: Visit venues that meet your criteria and book one.

Have a list of must-haves and nice-to-haves for a facility. For example, let’s say you work for a technology company. A must-have is lightning-fast Wi-Fi, while a nice to have is a pool and fitness center. In this case, conduct a bandwidth speed test while you’re on the premises, and confirm the Wi-Fi connection. Should the bandwidth test not meet your requirements, or if the venue is in a rural location, consider renting a Wi-Fi hotspot.  Also, check out the pool and fitness center.

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In addition, you may want to consider alternatives spaces to the standard box. Look at outdoor options and rooms that include natural lighting, especially if your meeting is several hours long.

Book the flights now or schedule the corporate jet if you are flying.

4. Six months out: Schedule fun activities.

The new trend with retreats is a 50/30/20 formula.

Fifty percent is free time and relaxing, 30% is coordinated fun activities, and 20 percent is work. Here are a few activities to consider:

  1. Wine tasting at a local winery
  2. Cooking class with the hotel’s chef
  3. Shopping
  4. Visiting a local attraction
  5. Hosting a spa afternoon
  6. Kayaking or going to the beach
  7. Playing arcade games
  8. Hiking or cycling

5. Five months out: Hire a skilled facilitator to spice up your agenda.

Suppose you bring together individuals who don’t know each other. Be sure to include icebreakers, team building, and networking time. Working with an outside facilitator will bring new ideas that can be infused into the retreat.

6. Two weeks prior: Give homework to attendees.

Be transparent about your retreat’s purpose by asking employees to think about and share their thoughts and ideas about the agenda items ahead of time or at the event. Draw out opinions via anonymous polls while in the meeting.

7. At the event: Task the event planner to keep everything and everyone on time.

Make sure people know when and where to meet for coordinated activities. They are your point person for all questions, challenges and changes.

8. One week after: Send a follow-up email.

Start by thanking attendees for taking the time to attend the retreat. Summarize the following:

  1. The goals for the next year
  2. How will they be accomplished
  3. Who’s responsible for them
  4. Target date to get back to the group with a status update (even if that is remote)

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This process allows the good feelings from the retreat to keep going and makes them feel like they are part of an ongoing effort to improve the company. Consider moving the to-do list to a collaborative platform such as Slack, Dropbox or Google Drive.

Key Takeaway

As the saying goes, “the devil is in the details.” To succeed, you must have a well-planned event executed accordingly, with timely follow-up.

De-de Mulligan is a regular blog contributor for Rentacomputer.com, a nationwide provider of laptop rentals for meetings and events. 

As a former meeting planner who has received Ohio MPI’s Planner of the Year award twice (2006 and 2012), she brings a unique perspective to the events industry. You can find her on Twitter and LinkedIn, where she welcomes followers and connections.

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