Executive retreats can be hugely productive if – and only if – they’re well organized. The problem is that most are not. Yes, it’s nice to reward successful members of your company by taking them somewhere idyllic or exciting for a working vacation. However, most people leave these events thinking that the working portions of the experience were a complete waste of time, and that the “fun” portions were nice, but unmemorable.
Creating a memorable and effective retreat experience is possible, provided you choose the right location and have the right mindset going into the event. Here’s how to create a worthwhile executive retreat that everyone in attendance will enjoy.
CHOOSE THE RIGHT LOCATION
Some places simply have too many distractions and outside stimulation. Bangkok, for example, has a lot of attractions and activities for attendees to choose from. But while this means that there are plenty of options for memorable experiences, it also means that there are plenty of distractions. Execs will be waiting for their daily sessions to end so that they can go enjoy a cruise on the Chao Phraya River, eat and shop at a night market or seek out deals at the MBK Shopping Center.
Koh Samui, on the other hand, has an exciting mix of attractions and activities, but it also comes with a relaxed, paradise-like atmosphere that lends itself to productive work sessions. Some resorts, such as the luxury villas in Koh Samui are perfect for a Koh Samui executive retreat. With large grounds, villas that are adjacent to one another and spaces that can be reserved for special events, Samujana provides the kind of attractive and functional setting needed for a productive retreat.
INVOLVE ALL THE PARTICIPANTS
Some people are of the opinion that all corporate retreats are a waste of time. These employees most likely spent time at retreats where the company’s leadership gave lengthy speeches, followed by the guest speakers, who came in to give even longer presentations. This kind of itinerary makes attendees think that it doesn’t really matter if they’re there or not. They’re simply watching the clock, waiting until it’s finally time to take off their lanyards and go be a tourist.
The alternative is giving everyone a stake in what happens during the retreat. You can create this kind of dynamic by having workshops that segue into work sessions and problem-solving round-table discussions. You can even create work groups that also do fun activities together. There are lots of fun activities in Koh Samui, for example, one group could take a kayak trip to a mangrove forest, another could enjoy a trek in the jungle and a third might try their hand at snorkeling or fishing.
Giving people a stake in what happens during a retreat – both during work sessions and leisure time – will protect your retreat from ending up with the “waste of time” tag.
REDEFINE YOUR COMPANY
Another way to give everyone a stake in what happens during a retreat is to create an exercise in which participants are allowed to redefine the goals, philosophy and mission statement of the company. This does two things. First, everyone feels like they’re involved in creating the future of the company. Second, it allows the company to redefine itself. This kind of exercise rarely leads to a major overhaul of company policy and philosophy, but it does give executives a fresh, new take on the company’s already-established goals and culture.
Another option is not to redefine the company, but to redefine its competitors. To try this, have different groups come up with the perfect competitor, and then have other groups create strategies to defeat this seemingly unbeatable adversary.
GO FOR CLASS INSTEAD OF GOING CHEAP
People who dislike retreats are often turned off by the cheap “gifts” that are pushed on them. Don’t fall into the trap of bottom-shelf liquor, cheaply-made tote bags, generic pins, subpar buffet lunches and baseball hats with the company logo on them. Yes, you probably have a strict budget for the retreat, but most attendees would rather have a couple of really high-quality gifts than a bagful of items that look like they came from the Dollar Store.
For example, you could have a local tailor make quality shirts or shorts that have the company logo subtly sewn onto the collar or front pocket. You could also gift executive attendees with tablet computers engraved with the company logo – a perfect gift that promotes productivity while on the retreat and that can be enjoyed once the event is over.
And never be cheap when it comes to food. On Koh Samui there are some of the best restaurants around, you could hire a local chef to cook a meal of freshly caught fish and tropical fruit that will be significantly better than a conventional conference center pastry spread. Better yet, if you have one of your group excursions go to a fruit plantation, while another goes on a fishing trip, you can take the haul produced by both activities back to the villas and have your chef use them to make the meal.
Keep in mind that you can go as far as you want with this “quality over quantity” idea. Instead of nightly happy hours, for example, have one stylish cocktail party. This idea comes with an added bonus: attendees will behave better (meaning, they’ll drink less) if the event has a more formal atmosphere. Doing so can help you set the tone for a productive retreat.
TAKE YOUR EXECS BACK TO SCHOOL
We don’t mean elementary school – or even university. Instead, use your event to conduct several business school-style seminar class sessions. Have people study a certain successful company (or a company that failed spectacularly) and then ask them to bring what they learned to the class for discussion. The class can study the success or failure of the company and come away with actionable ideas that you can apply to your own company.
Each group can then present their findings and new ideas to the other groups. This will give them a chance for some microphone time and make them feel like they’re actually participating in the retreat, instead of just listening to other people drone on the entire time.
EVALUATE THE RETREAT AFTERWARDS
Finally, don’t pass up the opportunity to learn some lessons of your own regarding your conference or retreat’s effectiveness. Have attendees fill out an anonymous survey at the end of the retreat that focuses on how they felt about their level of participation both in work related and leisure activities. Asking for suggestions for future events as part of this survey will give you the feedback needed to craft even more successful events in the future.