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MAXIMIZING PERFORMANCE

Retreats a useful management tool

This time the request came through email. Tomas G., managing partner of a professional services firm, wanting us to organize an office retreat. The event, he wrote, should be off-site, should build team spirit, should not be too structured and should allow time for fun. But, of course, this was a business investment, so it had to be more than just a fun time. What did we recommend?
Office retreats are a common tool for building company spirit, and can be effective. We've done a number of these in Slovakia in the past 10 years. It is critical to set specific goals for the event; when expectations are loose, retreats often end in disappointment. Through emails and a lunch meeting, we agreed with Tomas G. on the following outcomes for his retreat:


Mari Novak

This time the request came through email. Tomas G., managing partner of a professional services firm, wanting us to organize an office retreat. The event, he wrote, should be off-site, should build team spirit, should not be too structured and should allow time for fun. But, of course, this was a business investment, so it had to be more than just a fun time. What did we recommend?

Office retreats are a common tool for building company spirit, and can be effective. We've done a number of these in Slovakia in the past 10 years. It is critical to set specific goals for the event; when expectations are loose, retreats often end in disappointment. Through emails and a lunch meeting, we agreed with Tomas G. on the following outcomes for his retreat:

1) To celebrate the team's accomplishments in the past year
2) To build better rapport between the professionals and support staff
3) To work on brainstorming and problem-solving of some key office issues
4) To get everyone involved - expats and Slovak staff
5) To strengthen understanding of the firm's mission and future challenges

In order to get full involvement and start to build expectations, we decided to use a pre-retreat employee survey. The questions addressed all aspects of office performance, and the results were to be used during the meeting to identify critical strengths and weaknesses as the whole team saw them. The staff together identified and prioritized the issues to consider at the retreat. With good organization, this took only a few hours, and it brought specific recommendations for action back to work the next week.

We built the two-day agenda carefully. Because we had picked a location off in the countryside, we built in several outdoor team exercises. Not just games, but problem-solving activities that could later be examined to improve staff planning and multi-lingual execution. These were used to provide a change of pace from more serious discussions. They often required physical support, but were safe for the wide range of abilities that people have.


Steven Kelly

Although we considered the use of an external facilitator, sometimes an important element of a retreat, short presentations and briefings were provided by office staff on pre-planned topics. Combined with the brainstorming sessions, a good balance of office-specific items were addressed that required everyone's involvement.

We didn't forget about good food, but we planned lunch as a lighter meal followed by outdoor stimulation. The first evening ended with a great feast, then a campfire and sing-along under the starry sky. The next day was more relaxed. During the discussion, people opened up a bit more. Brainstorming recommendations solidified. The afternoon was highlighted by a creative event, lots of involvement, laughter, and a growing understanding of team image, vision and client service. We broke just before dinner; attitudes were high as people discussed the retreat. Amazing how much was done in just two days!

Then came the tough part, transfering it all back to the office. Monday morning saw new energy, jokes about the weekend. A staff meeting was scheduled to address the recommended actions. That quiet new specialist was much more talkative. Someone arranged for a happy hour at the weekend.

Can this happen at your firm, and be made to last? That depends on you.

Mari Novak and Steven Kelly are partners at KNO Slovensko. Their column appears monthly. Send comments or questions to kno@gtinet.sk.

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