Staff retreats as a tool to grow as a team

23 August 2018
SERIES Transitioning into a leadership position: notes from the OTT Fellows 8 items

Staff retreats are great for bonding, getting to know your team members better, and refreshing after intensive work. But with a little more planning, it can also become a tool to engage the whole team in creating a shared vision for the organisation, and committing to take steps towards it.

Objectives of the approach

Staff retreats can:

  • Create a setting where a new leader can get the feedback from the whole team, that goes beyond daily operations reports;
  • Take a step back for a deeper reflection where the organisation stands – and where the team and the leader would like it to move;
  • Help create a shared vision, based on personal reflections and group discussions within the team; and
  • Plan the next steps to move closer to that vision, finding a role for each team member to contribute.

Five steps, included in planning the staff retreat, can help to achieve these objectives:

  1. Setting a clear goal for the staff retreat: do you want to initiate a certain change in the organisation? Or plan together the organisation’s priorities for the next year? Create a new program? Solve an internal policy issue? It is very important that the leader articulates the goal before the retreat, and everybody knows it.
  2. Reflection is most powerful when it is linked to one’s personal aspirations and perceptions. What does the stated purpose mean to each team member? How do they assess the strengths and weaknesses of the organisation? What role do they see for themselves in the change that should happen to achieve the goal?
  3. Getting feedback is part of every organisation’s internal communications routine. However, feedback on success, practices or outputs in general is a different matter, and requires a format of its own. One possibility is to create a form, to be filled before leaving for the retreat – and incorporate the results in discussions at the retreat.
  4. Dreaming: what would we like to see happening with your organisation in the next three years (or other relevant timeframe), in connection with the chosen goal? At think tanks, we are not used to dreaming and, like a muscle, this is a skill that needs to be exercised. Yet, an organisation’s future depends on each team member’s input, and sometimes they might see it in a different light (or in a variety of lights). Dreaming about the future can be a good way to talk about values, see how deep people are invested in the organization and reveal opportunities that could have gone unnoticed.
  5. Planning future actions based on the day’s work – this is the crucial step in order to implement any changes. It can be done in small groups, or in pairs, definitely in writing, drafting or drawing, to have materials that could be used after the retreat.
  6. And not to forget – leave time to just have fun together. It is a retreat after all, and a time to build shared memories!