Corporate retreats can be fantastic for building group cohesion and fueling company culture. However, they are not without their challenges. A corporate retreat that fails to excite employees or decreases productivity may leave employees less engaged than before. Below is our list of the six essentials every corporate retreat needs to ensure it boosts productivity and employee dedication. 1. A Very Clear Purpose With a Focused Agenda This sounds like a no-brainer, but it isn’t. Many larger corporations plan a day-long retreat and pack it with long speeches from higher ups. The end result: employees are thankful for the day out of the office, slightly better informed, but not substantially more engaged. The best retreats have a very clear purpose. Typically they go beyond something broad like, “team building” and focus in on a narrow, specific purpose like identifying potential new product areas, getting the team on board with a new mission or introducing new processes or workflows. The clearer purpose of the retreat, the higher likelihood employees will understand and retain the information presented. As you plan your retreat, think about the optimal outcome you want for attendees. It might be something like, “We want every employee to understand our new development process.” Then use that outcome as a question to gut-check possible agenda items. For instance, when the boss of another department asks if she can have a half hour to speak to the group, ask yourself, “Will this help our employees understand the new development process?” If the answer is no, you then know it shouldn’t be on the agenda. 2. The Right Venue With The Right Timing The best corporate retreats are off-site. A new destination can help spruce up your think tank. But it needs to be the right setting for your team, and at the right time. At Guastavino’s in New York City, we offer a corporate event venue built beneath the Queensboro Bridge. We have over 15,000 square feet indoors and a private garden outside. Our unique space means we can accommodate large groups while still setting the stage for multiple activities in different configurations. (Our architecture alone can inspire creative thinking.) The best venues for corporate retreats are those like Guastavino’s, both special and unique while making a strong impact. Studies show that sensory stimulation helps create engagement. The ideal retreat venue is one that is remarkable in itself to help create an event that employees are excited by. Planning when the retreat should take place is key too. The beginning of the year has been shown to be best for goal setting. Springtime is best for outdoor activities. Mid-year is ideal for progress evaluation. And, the end of the year is the optimal time for evaluation and review. 3. A Facilitator To Create a Neutral Environment Depending on the goal of your event, it is often wise to bring in an outsider to help run the event. This person, usually a facilitator, has the benefit of being able to raise voices from your team members without having the burden of navigating existing relationships or the fear of unpopular outcomes. While professional facilitators are fantastic, there doesn’t have to be one. What you really need is a person in a neutral position. It could be as simple as an employee from a different location or department. Whomever it is, they are likely to get brainstorming and debate going much better than someone in a high-authority position (such as a President or CEO) – the intimidation factor will be lower and ideas will be more free-flowing. 4. Collaborative Approaches to Discussions One of biggest reasons we hear from clients for holding a retreat is to build communication and cooperation among team members. This can be as much a challenge at a retreat as it is in day-to-day operations. One way around this challenge is to design your agenda to include- exercises that encourage ideas and contributions from everyone without the fear of judgement. This can be as simple as asking participants to write down their thoughts instead of verbally disclosing them, and giving everyone the same paper and writing utensil so nothing stands out as individually identifiable. Another way is to work in smaller groups, and have those groups present their ideas. By giving equal opportunity to all to discuss more ideas will come forth and the value of your retreat will rise. 5. Team Building Exercises That Engage In this day and age in the corporate setting, we’re beyond trust circles and ropes courses. Choose team building exercises related to the question your retreat is designed to solve. A great example is from Ford. The facilitator needed executives (those with six-figure executive salaries) to see things from the perspective of their consumers in order to help them understand the trade-offs involved in a car purchase. She had the executives throw their wallets and credit cards on a table and handed each one an envelope with $50 and got them on a bus to go to Old Navy. The exercise was to find and purchase a professional-looking outfit they’d have to wear the next day in less than 20 minutes—because Ford’s consumers are busy people looking for great design at a great price. Meaningful team building exercises will happen if you tailor activities to fit the challenge at hand. 6. The Right Amount of Downtime A corporate retreat helps eliminate daily work distractions and sets the tone for future developments within your organization. It also provides a chance to step away from computers and phones and truly collaborate with team members. From our experiences at Guastavino’s, a 70/30 ratio of work to downtime works well. Fueling major developmental shifts takes a lot of brain power. Scheduling small breaks throughout the day and non-working meals (be it by incorporating music or entertainment) helps employees unwind and recharge. Our selection of catering options can ensure employees have access to food and beverages as needed throughout the day. At the end of the retreat if employees take home a deeper connection to your purpose, you will have accomplished the goal of building a stronger future for your business. Ready to plan your corporate retreat? Fill out the form below to contact one of our Event Coordinators.