People performing at a corporate retreat

Many companies are adopting long term remote work strategies or allowing employees hybrid schedules that combine being in the office with working at home. As this trend continues, the need for fun corporate retreats has increased dramatically. 

With more and more of us being silo’d for at least part of the work week, planning structured face-to-face gatherings is more important than ever.

Company culture, communication and relationships are best built when people are together. Leaders are quickly realizing that scheduling time for fun in-real-life gatherings has moved from the optional category to being vitally necessary. 

We’re definitely seeing this trend in the work we’ve done the past several months and with the dramatic increase we’ve had in inquiries for next year.

The Need For Fun Corporate Retreats

At most of the programs we’ve recently facilitated, a majority of attendees had never met face-to-face. Teams have had virtual only relationships with co-workers since the onset of the pandemic. Groups have been zooming, meeting on MS teams  Google Meets or Webex. And while this works on many levels, there’s still no substitute for being in same room together. 

The incidental hang-time that occurs when groups meet face-to-face helps create a foundation for good team work.

Well planned retreats create opportunity for people to forge real relationships. Spending both structured and unstructured time as a group enables trust building, opening lines of communication and working on specific business topics.

Effective, fun programming will include planned recreational activities and allow for unscheduled time. Planning structured time will set the stage for successful use of free time.

  • Start with team building: It’s great to start with a planned activity. Ideally, you’ll want a professionally facilitated team building program or icebreaker. I’ll share specific program ideas below. 
  • Follow with unstructured social time: After a successful team program, people will want to unwind in a social setting. As our typical programs end, we often see groups moving into a bar area to continue conversation or simply celebrate what they’ve just accomplished together. 
  • Place value in fun: There’s lots of stuff you can fake in life. But fun is a feeling that’s either there or it’s not. When you’re having fun you’re not bored, you’re in the moment. There’s a magical energy you notice when groups of people are genuinely engaged, talking, laughing and sharing informally. The very nature of the term retreat implies more than just a half-day event. So you’ll have enough time for fun experiences to develop. But as a reminder, you’ll need catalysts to make this happen. Team building as mentioned; and entertainment like live music or a good comedian should be integrated throughout the agenda. 

Goals For Your Retreat

Don’t go into this conflicted about your goals. Narrow down what you want to accomplish and plan to make this happen. Include these two goals –  

1) One is to have fun. This will lead to relationship building which will lead to better communication and trust. Work groups that communicate well and have trust perform on high levels. So for this first goal of providing a fun (a/k/a genuine) experience, you’ll begin to achieve your goals of building performance and company culture. 

Trust and communication create efficiency, innovation and better culture. When co-workers are more willing to ask questions, to share best practices and throw out new ideas, great things happen. Less time is wasted and problem solving gets much better. You’ll also have less conflict since people who feel comfortable with each other will be better at resolving the daily or weekly inter-personal conflict that’s a natural part of every group.

2) Two is to include some work topics. Not only is it okay to include agenda time around your work, it’s beneficial. You want to create some natural tension between work time and play time. Having work time sets up the need to blow off steam and to decompress. Getting serious for some of the time will create the natural desire for some fun sessions to balance everything out. 

Your Corporate Retreat Planning Guide

Planning for a successful retreat is key. Don’t hesitate to put time into your preparation. It will pay off. 

  • Location: There’s no specific perfect location. Focus on finding a place where people will feel comfortable – a place they’ll be excited about as a destination and that’s not too far from a major airport. We’ve facilitated successful programs at 5 star resorts and at rustic rural retreat centers. Spend time thinking about what suits your company culture best.
  • Agenda: Plan the agenda time you’ll spend on your work internally. But make sure to hire professional facilitators for other structured activities. Consultants who specialize in fun corporate and team building retreats will have personality, a high level of skill and the ability to understand your culture. Make sure your leaders understand who you are and what you’re after. Don’t DIY this part of it, you’ll regret it.
  • Envision the Ending: How do you imagine the last moments of your time together? Perhaps you’re seeing people who have made friends, who are tired from being busy but motivated from the experience and excited about the future at your organization. Build your program with the ending in mind. 

Programs To Consider

To ensure you meet your goals you should have more than one outside program. Here are some of my favorites – 

  • Write a song – Yes, I admit bias since team building with music is what my company does. But after many years of watching groups walk in with no idea what to expect, and walk out cheering and fired up, I can honestly say there is no better way to bring people together. You’ll share that special energy and bond that all successful musical groups have – as you collaborate, create and perform together. 
  • Bring in an entertainer – There’s great quality entertainment to be found wherever you are. Your venue can help with local talent and of course you can bring someone in from anywhere. If you’re the one doing the planning this may be your chance to book your favorite indie performer to wow your colleagues. There’s no limit here. But find someone who’s genuine, accessible and who will want to contribute to making your gathering memorable.
  • Story slams – A story slam is be the modern equivalent of gathering around the campfire to swap tall tales. A professional story teller will enthrall your group and lead everyone through a program in which you all swap stories. This is a great way to learn more about co-workers and you can choose topics ahead of time. 
  • Sporting events – I haven’t mentioned sports till now because they can be intimidating to some. But if you can provide options for golf, rafting, hiking, tennis etc it’s a good idea to do so. Your location will dictate what’s available. A round of golf, game of tennis, white water trip or a hike can be powerful ways to bring people together. Include what you can, just don’t force it on people. 

With proper planning, fun corporate retreats have always been a worthwhile investment. But with the new road map for how and where people work, it’s vital that these face to face gatherings will be part of your ongoing strategy. 

About Billy Kirsch

Billy is a Grammy & Emmy nominated, CMA & ACM award winning songwriter with numerous Top 10 hits to his credit. His team building programs and keynote speaking presentations help people tap into their creative abilities to become more innovative and engaged in their work. Clients include Fortune 100 companies and organizations throughout the world.