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10 company retreat ideas to unite and inspire your team

March 31, 2022 - 10 min read

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What is a company retreat?

Why do companies do retreats?

10 ideas for your next retreat

How to organize an inclusive company retreat

When corporate teams went remote, a lot of what we took for granted about being in the office shifted. Many of those shifts were positive. Companies were (rightfully) focused on the health and safety of their employees. Remote work brought increased resilience, productivity, and well-being. But that meant saying goodbye to in-person happy hours, chatting with your coworkers, and company retreats.

Work provides a lot of our social connections as adults. BetterUp data show that as the pandemic wore on, employee sentiment toward their employers (what we call eNPS) dropped. That drop correlated with a decrease in belonging and connection — what we think of as a “belonging tax.”

As we move toward the future of work — whether remote, in-person, or somewhere in-between — employers need to address the belonging tax. And — in the midst of the Great Resignation — investing in team-building, job satisfaction, and employee experience is a smart move.

Keeping employees connected to one another can keep them committed to their jobs. 

Many who started new roles in the last couple of years did so remotely. They might not have met any colleagues face-to-face. A corporate retreat might be just the thing to bring everyone together again.

What is a company retreat?

A company retreat sounds like a big to-do for corporations with big expense accounts — but it doesn’t have to be. And if you’ve never hosted one before, you might be surprised to learn that even a simple event can be highly effective.

There are no rules for how to structure your retreat agenda. What you choose to do will depend on what your goal for the retreat is. A team-building retreat might look very different than a leadership retreat, which might be distinct from your fiscal year kickoff.

What happens on a company retreat?

When you start your retreat planning, you’ll have to choose a venue that can accommodate the group and the types of activities you want to do. If your team usually works virtually, you’ll want to maximize face time and give people a chance to get to know each other offline.

You can center your activities around the retreat venue. For example, a retreat focused on reducing stress and burnout might take place at a spa or near hiking trails. A traditional route is usually to choose a hotel with an available conference room. This makes it easy to arrange space to work as a group and offers easily accessible accommodations.

Although most work retreats are centered around camaraderie, they could be more task-oriented. A company might choose to have small team breakouts to work on a specific project or set goals for the year. For remote teams, an offsite could serve as a rare opportunity to brainstorm and work together in person.

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Why do companies do retreats?

In short, companies host retreats because they believe that they’re worth the time, money, and energy spent planning them. People can’t work around the clock, day in, day out — but it can be nerve-wracking to take time away. Even taking a single hour — let alone a day or a week — to engage in Inner Work® can make us feel guilty.

But Inner Work® isn’t lazy, indulgent, or a waste of time. In fact, the time that we spend away from work makes us better at what we do. Inner Work® makes our outer work more successful and more sustainable. It makes us better leaders, more creative, and more satisfied with the work we do.

Companies that invest in retreats understand that time spent team building, collaborating, and just being together is time well spent. It’s an investment that pays dividends in employee engagement, belonging, retention, and company culture.

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10 ideas for your next retreat

Here are some activities to try out on your next company retreat:

1. Scavenger hunt

Going somewhere new? Get to know the city (or at least the hotel) by putting together a scavenger hunt. Your retreat location can be a source of inspiration, or you can theme the clues around company history.

2. Escape rooms

Perfect for a local team bonding experience, escape rooms have boomed in popularity and quantity. They encourage collaboration, teamwork, and problem-solving.  

3. Cooking classes

You’d be surprised how many gourmands are hiding on your team. Taking a cooking class together is a nice way to share a meal and get to know each other.

4. Go to the movies

It’s surprisingly affordable to rent out a movie theater. Take your entire team to see something new, or request an old favorite. 

5. Game night

Board games are classics for a reason. Breaking out a favorite, like Monopoly or Scrabble, gives your team a chance to both bond and reminisce.

6. Arts and crafts

Pretty much every kind of art you can think of makes a fun activity for a group. Painting, sculpting, pottery, sewing, and even jewelry-making makes for a memorable keepsake,

7. Food tasting

Wine tastings are fun for groups, but alcohol-free events can go down just as easy. Try tasting cheeses, olive oils, gourmet ice creams, chocolate, or coffee.

8. Karaoke

Belting out your favorite tunes (only slightly off-key) is the world’s favorite icebreaker for a reason. After all, you can’t say you truly know someone until you’ve heard them sing Bohemian Rhapsody.

company-retreat-team-does-karaoke-in-office

9. Have a big meeting

If you run a remote company, regular events — like your team stand-ups, company all-hands, or lunch and learns — probably happen online. Change things up by hosting them in person during your company retreat.

10. Go to a game

I’ll be the first one to say I’m not that into sports — but I love sporting events. A mentor I worked with used to take team members to the U.S. Open every year. Although I wasn’t into tennis when I started going, I loved the experience and enjoyed getting to know my colleagues.

How to organize an inclusive company retreat

The primary goal of a work retreat is to boost belonging and connection. It’s important to be thoughtful in your planning — otherwise, you could undermine your intention by making someone feel left out or uncomfortable. Here are a few ideas to consider to make your retreat more inclusive and welcoming:

1. Ask for input

The easiest way to avoid having someone feel left out is to solicit opinions in the planning process. Ask for input on retreat activities, locations, and meals. Offer a survey or some other way for people to confidentially communicate food preferences, accessibility needs, and other requests. 

2. Don’t plan everything around alcohol

Many people don’t drink, for religious, health, or personal reasons. However, lots of social activities include alcoholic beverages. You can keep these events inclusive by offering plenty of other beverage options. 

Consider renaming events that imply alcohol consumption. For example, a happy hour could be re-termed a “meet-and-greet” or “reception.”

3. Make sure the location is welcoming 

Certain locations might feel a little more welcoming for people than others. Keep this in mind when you’re planning your activities. For example, if you have LGBTQ+ people on your team, avoid locations that lack inclusive policies. If someone uses mobility support, choose a location with accessibility in mind.

4. Offer options

A good way to make an event more inclusive is to offer options wherever possible. Avoid making a hiking excursion or team-building zip-line tour mandatory. Try to offer a few different activities, and let your team have some say on what will be offered at what times. 

Make sure to include free time as well. Downtime gives people a chance to decompress as well as time to take care of their personal needs.

Final thoughts

A getaway — or at least, a get-together — as a team is a great way to help teams bond and get to know each other. Even though your employees won’t be at their desks, that doesn’t mean that the time spent away won’t be worth it. The benefit to employee retention alone is meaningful — but the upside doesn’t end there. Giving people time to connect offline can help improve satisfaction, reduce the belonging tax, and help get them excited about getting back to work.

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Published March 31, 2022

Allaya Cooks-Campbell

BetterUp Staff Writer

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