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An expert facilitator shares how to create an experience that pays off
By Tanisha A. Sykes
An inspired workforce is good for company morale and your business’s bottom line. One of the most effective ways to invigorate your team while planning for the future is to organize a company retreat.
These events allow participants to create a strategic plan, build a team, or launch a project in a creative setting, says Mark Lefko, founder of Lefko Group, a corporate retreat and facilitation company in Los Angeles. We asked Lefko to share how a well-planned retreat can pay off for your small business in dividends.
Why should a small business plan a company retreat?
It’s important to have a retreat because everyone is so busy working in the business that it’s difficult to step aside and really begin to think about how to work on making it more successful.
The best retreats are really centered on the state of the company. To get things started, I’ll ask the larger group, “What has the company accomplished?” Then, I’ll break them up into groups of two to four people to have a dialogue about the question. Each smaller group shares one idea and everyone is validated in the process.
How many days is the typical company retreat?
Two days at an off-site location is optimal. Any longer than that and you’ll see that employees will find it difficult to be away from their jobs.
Is there an average cost that small businesses should expect to budget for a company retreat?
It depends on the quality of the resources that you hire. You can find people who will facilitate for free, or you can find very expensive resources. The real cost of the retreat is in the amount of time that you’re giving up to take the company and your team offline.
How does the small business owner determine the return on investment of a company retreat?
From a financial standpoint, they can look at the initiatives and processes that they’ve identified in that retreat and assign a value to do that. What’s the potential value of a strategic initiative that they’ve identified in that retreat and if they execute on that, what will the value be to the company?
How can a small business maximize the return on investment?
The company should come up with ideas that give a 10X return on value. For example, identify new product or service lines to develop or new distribution channels or markets for existing products or services.
If a company doesn’t have it in their budget to do an offsite retreat, what are the alternatives?
The most important thing to do is to get people out of the current working space that they are in. It doesn’t have to be an extravagant, expensive retreat. For nine years, I facilitated retreats for a company, and there was a Girl Scout camp about 10 miles away in Ojai, California, and we would use it. It was outdoors. I like to meet in facilities where there are several places to meet so you’re not stuck in a room all day. Changing up the energy and location within the scope of the retreat can change someone’s access to creativity.
A company retreat can easily turn into a gripe fest. What’s your best advice for guaranteeing that doesn’t happen?
That is the responsibility of the facilitators, and how they are able to hold their space. I always tell participants that this is not about complaining. This is about sharing your frustrations so that others can understand and offer ideas on how you can overcome them.
How does a company retreat add value to a small business’s bottom line?
I think the biggest benefit is getting people on board to get them excited. From there, it’s really important to create those next steps at the end of the retreat in order to execute. Some questions to ask: What are the next action steps? What are the accountabilities? Who is going to be the champion for these items? What’s the follow-up schedule? Use that as a blueprint for hiring new people, improving efficiency, and empowering your teams.
Are there certain ground rules for company retreats?
The first one is strict confidentiality for all participants. Also, the CEO has to actively participate instead of relying on the facilitator to keep the conversation flowing. Lastly, everyone should listen before speaking; show up to sessions on time, and offer constructive—not critical—feedback. And, by all means, turn off your cell phone.
To ensure that a retreat has the greatest impact, all participants should take the planning very seriously, Lefko says. “People have to come to the table knowing what to expect, and having done their homework so they can be engaged in advance.”
Tanisha A. Sykes is a personal finance and career development expert with 20 years’ experience as a journalist. Follow her on Twitter: @tanishastips.
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