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Monday, March 28, 2016

Retreat and Advance the Troops

Twice in my radio life I’ve filled the temporary role as a sales manager. I confess to enjoying the thrill of strategy and developing a plan to turn a situation around and set a new course. They were both fruit bearing experiences.

One of my techniques to set the stage for creative involvement and team building was using off site retreats. I would hold about three a year, usually at a hotel or inexpensive resort within a couple of hours drive of the radio station. The “kickoff” was a Friday dinner. Then an evening of social and fun activity. Saturday we worked all morning and into the afternoon. We left around 4 p.m. for our homes.

A different chemistry develops in an off site environment. The casual nature of the gathering removes the “strictly business” feel. Joking around increases. Maybe a little bit of starch is removed. And that looseness impacts the freedom to be more creative. At least I found this to be so.

Thus, my heart was encouraged reading this piece in the New York Times recently: “In Retreats, Start-Ups Find a Way to Recharge Workers’ Batteries.” Right up my alley! (

The story leads by explaining how the chief executive at a San Francisco company rented a house for week for a “workation.” Their together time included cooking, hiking, planning, and brainstorming. As a start-up, no doubt these were powerful in team development as well.

Joshua Reeves, who heads the team, explained his purpose for the time away. “The two main goals we had were to bring the team together, take a step back and have a chance for community time and connection. Physically going somewhere else can actually be a great catalyst for introspection.” I think he has it pegged.

Interestingly, even though his first “retreat” venture was with around 10 co-workers in 2013, the company still does them—and they have nearly 300 employees. Of course, not all of the folks go. But more recently, two of their human resources teams took their “workation” at Disneyland. (Obviously, this start-up is now making money!)

As the story unfolds, there seems to be a growing interest in these kinds of getaways in corporate America. In particular, younger workers seem to value them. As a Starwood executive explained, “Millennials expect that. They want to have that interaction with the C-level executives, and incentives are a very nice way to do that, to make them feel included.”

Hotels are also seeing spike in this part of their business. Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide being one of them. They report an “approximately 12 percent increase, year-over-year, in reward and incentive travel, including retreats.” The Hilton corporation sees this growth as well.

And forget about formality! The tech industry may have paved the way toward the more casual, but other industries have followed. Out with the suits. And the boardroom presentations. More intense and intimate brainstorming and strategizing sessions happen in these relaxed atmospheres.

I found something missing in this report. Team development and building enthusiasm for the processes is driven best by a a personable, skilled leader. And if the ones trying to pull off the retreat are ineffective at this, I think a net loss can result from such time away.

A few years ago, my previous employer retained an outside firm to lead a three day off site experience. It was a first for many in the room. Some of the sessions were particularly effective. A couple breakdowns seemed to occur when group members were invited to share both strengths and weaknesses of our operation. No one had a problem listening to the strengths. Senior management found pain in discussing the weaknesses. I think that is common.

Healthy organizations require truth telling. But that kind of honesty is difficult if the conversation is not guided toward productive outcomes. Similarly, getting teams on board with vision and agendas for growth is hindered significantly if the concerns of team members is ignored. This is why many organizations fear such gatherings.

The issue of truth is quite timely on this day after Easter. Pontius Pilate, the Roman leader investigating claims against Jesus, struggled with identifying truth. The exchange between the two men is quite striking. Jesus said of His divine purpose to Pilate, “‘I was born for this, and I have come into the world for this: to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to My voice.’ ‘What is truth?’ said Pilate.” (John 18:37-38, HCSB)

Discerning truth is paramount to getting things right. That is as necessary for a healthy organization as it is for a healthy soul. If either of those situations need your attention, I have a suggestion for you. Consider a retreat. Either business or personal.

I’ve heard on good authority that the truth…will set you free.

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts. 

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