Conference hotels and meeting planners are breathing a collective sigh of relief with the return of the corporate retreat. Companies are rushing to bring their full departments, business units, and/or whole companies together for the first time in a very long while. These meetings offer an opportunity to align everyone under a shared sense of purpose, to make important connections, and to invigorate the culture of the company. Unfortunately, there are three common mistakes that prevent these retreats from fulfilling their potential and delivering a meaningful ROI:
1. Lack of an overarching narrative
The first question a planning committee should ask is: “What is the journey we want to take participants on throughout this meeting?” Whether it’s a half-day experience or a full week, it’s critical to begin with a sense of where participants will be starting — intellectually and emotionally — and where you want them to be at the end. The experience should be designed around a clear theme and narrative directly tied to the needs of the business. This helps to sustain the momentum beyond the boundary of the meeting. Not only is an overarching and relevant theme a strong anchor, it also makes each component of the event more memorable.
2. Flash over substance
If the idea starts with “It would be so cool if . . .” it may not be aligned with your overall objectives. It’s easy to come up with the grand (and expensive) idea such as surprising the team with a day at Disney World, a rock concert, or a red-carpet event. It’s harder, however, to make a connection between these lavish outings and the goals for the offsite. What the team will remember is the fun, not the work content. And, as is human nature, they are more likely to spend their time with colleagues they know well rather than investing in new relationships. However, when the fun aspects of the meeting are aligned to the meeting theme and advance the meeting goals, ROI is much higher.
3. Sit-and-get agenda
How many times do we need to be reminded that attention spans are short, and that the worst way to consume information is through plenary sessions led by less-than-dynamic speakers? And yet, innumerable retreat agendas follow the “speaker, coffee break, speaker, coffee break” formula. While a dynamic, professional speaker can deliver a memorable experience, most amateurs do not. Think carefully about how to incorporate smaller, interactive sessions where everyone has an opportunity to contribute. One-way presentations should be a very small percentage of the overall meeting design.
So what does a great annual meeting look like? A client we worked with had recently encountered a major setback in their business. The theme they aligned on for their annual gathering was Lemons to Lemonade, and the entire event was oriented around persistence, optimism, and celebrating what was working. Each day featured wellness activities aimed at easing the mind and restoring equanimity. The culminating event was “The Lemon Awards,” where individuals were recognized by their peers for overcoming obstacles. And, of course, lemonade was always available at the event.
If you’re considering investing five to six figures in service of culture and performance, steer clear of the old models. By taking a new frame on the corporate meeting, you can inspire the team and advance meaningful business results rather than just offering a return to the corporate boondoggle. Fun still included.