Once much of corporate training moved to online platforms, businesses everywhere found themselves hungry for the kind of personal interactions that virtual training often lacks. Enter the corporate leadership training retreat: a getaway where business executives have the opportunity to fine-tune their leadership skills while building the human relationships that make those skills most effective.
These retreats put human resources professionals in a somewhat unfamiliar role. While HR representatives have experience planning for and implementing workforce training and development, leadership retreats cast them as travel planners of a sort. The logistics of planning the retreat’s location and scheduling the developmental activities that make the trip worthwhile can be taxing. However, most companies find the effort pays off by developing improved communication, deeper relationships, better-understood corporate goals, and a shifted perspective that lays a foundation for success.
The suggestions below don’t try to reinvent the wheel of corporate leadership training, but are instead aimed at making your retreat as productive and worthwhile as possible.
Into the Woods
Many consulting firms hold their leadership retreats at campgrounds or other facilities located in the woods, and for good reason. When people are removed from their usual surroundings, they see the world and their work differently. That’s a good thing, as we seek to develop leadership techniques within our business structure.
Bringing your retreat to the great outdoors offers chances for physical activities that build camaraderie and teamwork. This can increase productivity at the office, and help participants learn how to both work as a team member and function as a team leader.
If you aren’t using a pre-planned corporate leadership training program, you can still identify nearby locations with the sort of facilities that allow for the types of programming you’re planning yourself. Many campgrounds have indoor spaces available to reserve, and they often have other activities that can complement the rest of your plan.
Give your workforce a chance to understand other employees within your business by playing a little role-reversal game during your leadership retreat.
This activity takes some planning. Develop three or four scenarios of common – and at least one uncommon – challenges faced by workers at different levels of the company’s executive hierarchy, and give people from different roles a chance to present solutions. This can give everyone a broader perspective and deeper appreciation of others’ work and priorities, as well as help leaders understand and empathize with those they hope to lead.
The scenarios should be a mixture of the day-to-day challenges people face at your business, and bigger “crisis-level” events. The variety will add to the excitement of the activities.
A recipe exchange is an excellent way to build camaraderie. If your retreat is in person, make sure the facilities have the necessary cooking equipment, and take into account any dietary restrictions before going too far in your planning.
Then, divide participants into meal teams in advance, tasking each team with producing an appetizer, entrée, side dish, and dessert during the retreat with the company supplying the ingredients. For added fun, trade meal plans among teams, having teams prepare the other teams’ recipes.
Cooking involves following a plan, but it also necessitates quick thinking, innovation, and problem solving, making it a fun and apt exercise for a retreat. You can tell a lot about a person based on their cooking techniques. Cooking together is also a great way to build a sense of community and create memories that become part of a larger corporate culture. Schedule a reflection to discuss what made each team’s menu interesting, challenging, and hopefully, delicious.
Messaging and Statements
A leadership training retreat is an excellent opportunity to review your company’s messaging. These may include mission statements, cultural values, visions documents, philosophies, and any other guidance your business has adopted.
It’s always a good idea to revisit these statements, from time to time, and a leadership retreat is the perfect opportunity. You can open up the statements for discussion, updating, and potential revisions. Plan on having plenty of copies of relevant materials available for consultation. Large white boards to capture and display new ideas or suggested revisions will be helpful.
If you don’t plan to revise the statements, you might gear some activities to highlight or underscore the key tenets of your business in a creative or indirect way. This can serve as an in-practice reminder for participants to reflect on what they feel are the key points in these foundational statements—and how they connect to how you do business.
Show and Tell
Most people are familiar with show-and-tell from their elementary school days. During your retreat, you can return to this learning strategy in one of two ways.
If you choose to make it personal, you can let participants know in advance that they’re being asked to bring an artifact from their lives to display and explain. This is an opportunity for everyone to learn a little bit about each other. It may seem a little juvenile, but studies support the idea that stronger relationships at work result in better overall job satisfaction and increased productivity. Encourage people to keep things light: work from a hobby or a hidden skill, an award that was important, or a photograph from a memorable vacation make for perfect show-and-tell items.
Alternatively, you can make the activity more job-centric by asking people to bring an item from the workplace that has a surprisingly impactful influence on the participant’s day. Focus on the responsibilities and work that people do that may go unnoticed. It gives co-workers a chance to better understand how their colleagues spend their day, and lets everyone appreciate how important each individual cog remains in the functioning of the whole machine.
An equal part self-reflection and public acknowledgement, the strength reveal has two different paths you can take.
In the first, ask participants to share what they believe their greatest strength is. Most people have gone through that sort of question during job interviews, but now that the job is in hand, perspective brings a different sort of honesty. People should be prepared to offer concrete examples of their strengths in motion. For example, if a strength is “organization skills,” the participant might explain juggling the varied schedules of suppliers for a complicated product.
In the second path, participants suggest everyone else’s biggest strength. This can be done secretly at first, so each person gets the experience of the “big reveal.”
The strength reveal gives everyone a chance to reflect on how they see their success at work, as well as better understand how their skills are perceived. It can be a powerful opportunity for people to learn about themselves and others.
You may not be in a position where your company can leave its headquarters and hold a retreat elsewhere. Costs, ongoing COVID-19 concerns, the inability to travel: there are many legitimate reasons for staying close to home. That doesn’t mean you need to completely cancel your leadership training retreat, though.
Like it or not, we’ve all learned that many activities can be transported to an online environment with a little extra planning and effort. While a virtual leadership retreat may lack the physical adventure that makes a visit somewhere else meaningful, an online retreat can still include many of the suggestions offered here.
You’ll want to establish clear communication during your virtual retreat. Communication is always key, and that’s truer still in an online environment where it’s easier for participants to talk over each other, struggle with technology, and allow themselves to be distracted.
Make sure the retreat team has clearly-defined roles. You’ll need a contact person for technology issues, and an overall “ringmaster” to guide the activities. Each individual event should have a leader, too, which has the bonus effect of spreading responsibility, credit, and buy-in across more participants.
Going Forward with Your Retreat
A successful corporate leadership training retreat starts weeks, or even months, before the event itself. The planning that goes into a retreat often determines how smoothly and successfully the retreat itself will go. Whatever approach or activities you decide upon, a leadership retreat can invigorate your workforce and teach new leadership skills that are sure to have a positive impact on the business and the people who make it unique.
More Employee Training Ideas
If you’re looking for more ideas to enhance your employee training program, the eBook How to Build an Employee Training Program That’s Right for Your Business is now available to download for free. The eBook discusses how to identify training goals that are best for the employee and the business, how to evaluate training costs, and how get your teams to buy into your training plan. You’ll find all that and more in the book, and it’s available for free here.