I’ve worked in a lot of stressful, busy environments, but the hands-down crazy-making winner was my computer forensics business. We had techs in the field, staff in the office, and people who needed answers and analysis yesterday. It was full-tilt frantic most days. So many different personalities and competing demands on resources made for quite a bit of tension, and it occurred to me that we could use a little team-building work.
So I planned a company retreat. Over the years I was able to refine our retreat, making it both enormously productive and tons of fun. I even had employees who looked forward to it more than they did their own vacations. Here’s how I did it.
1. Get out of the office. New behavior and new dynamics among your team require a new setting. When you shake up your routine by interacting in a new place, you’re freeing yourself and your team from the roles and responsibilities of the workplace. Plan your retreat to happen in a place where your employees can relax and explore new ways of thinking.
2. Establish your agenda. I always work to achieve a balance of activities, some that are explicitly work-related and others that are purely fun. If you’re not the creative type, there are tons of resources to help you plan activities that build skills and foster better working relationships among your team.
3. Feed your folks. Don’t let food and drink be an afterthought. Make sure you plan great meals to fuel the work you plan to accomplish. There are even team-building activities that involve participants in planning, cooking, and enjoying a meal together.
4. Plan a formal opening and closing. Just like any other goal you have for your business, you need to make a point to articulate the outcomes you’re working toward. Kick off your retreat with an overview of your goals. And when the retreat is ending, gather the group once more to review and reflect on what you’ve all accomplished. Make sure you recognize employees who’ve made outstanding contributions, and send folks home proud of what they’ve learned.
5. Strive for balance. You and everyone in your company already know who the natural born leaders are. What’s important is that your retreat gives every member of your team a chance to shine. While it may be challenging, schedule activities that favor a range of skillsets. One of my favorite outcomes of my best retreats is the newfound respect my employees have for one another. Seeing a quiet, unassuming employee look like a rockstar gives a team a deeper understanding of the important balance and range of personalities and skills a successful company requires.
In my crazy computer forensics company, the most productive, harmonious periods were always right after our retreats. We emerged from our retreats more focused, relaxed, and appreciative of one another, qualities that made our frantic pace much less taxing. We were enthusiastic, and we were hungry for success.
Mike Michalowicz (pronounced mi-KAL-o-wits) started his first business at the age of 24, moving his young family to the only safe place he could afford – a retirement building. With no experience, no contacts and no savings he systematically bootstrapped a multi-million dollar business. Then he did it again. And again. Now he is doing it for other entrepreneurs. Mike is the CEO of Provendus Group, a consulting firm that ignites explosive growth in companies that have plateaued; is a former small business columnist for The Wall Street Journal; is MSNBC’s business make-over expert; is a keynote speaker on entrepreneurship; and is the author of the cult classic book, The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur. His newest book, The Pumpkin Plan has already been called “the next E-myth!”