Pens and sticky notes and magazines strewn on a glass table.

A couple of weeks ago I facilitated a small team’s day-long staff retreat and it was such a positive experience I thought I’d write a blog post about it. Instead of talking specifically about that team’s experience, though, I want to highlight key factors that we put in place which made the day a success. I’ve distilled them down here into seven “keys” which you might find useful if you are thinking about holding your own staff retreat.

#1 – Choose an inspiring venue

There’s nothing like getting away from your regular office space to jump-start your creative ‘juices’ for a retreat. Choose a venue with surroundings sure to relax and inspire your team. This could be someone’s airy and restful home, a spacious hotel meeting room featuring large windows and a dynamic view, a rented yurt nestled in a garden bursting with bees and wildflowers or even a campsite if the weather is nice! (Have flip charts, will travel…) Ask your team or your networks for creative and interesting venue ideas that will work within your budget.

#2 – Hire a facilitator

I recognize that I’m biased giving you this recommendation but there really are many advantages to hiring an external, neutral facilitator! A facilitator such as myself can take much of the planning load off of you and your team and help you craft an agenda to achieve the outcomes you’re looking for from the day. A facilitator can help you design a successful retreat that includes a balance of individual and group activities as well as creative ways to get your team working together, generating great ideas and having fun. This person will also keep your group on track both in terms of timekeeping and focus so that you can continue strengthening your team dynamic and get important work done.

#3 – Plan ahead

Regardless of whether you hire an external facilitator, planning well ahead of your retreat day is a must. Think about the reasons why you want to get your team together away from the office and what you hope you’ll be able to achieve together throughout the day. Giving your team responsibility over planning or facilitating certain parts of the agenda – even short items such as leading a quick energizer in the middle of the afternoon – could help give them a sense of ownership and investment in the day. Craft an agenda with discrete, purposeful sections and don’t forget to schedule in time for ample breaks and lunch. (Plan for some delicious food to have over those times as well!)

#4 – Incorporate fun

A retreat without enjoyment is no retreat at all! Ensure that in your planning stage you think about how you are going to incorporate fun throughout your day. Think about what “fun” looks like to your team in particular and what might be comfortable for them to participate in and still feel safe – not everybody wants to get tied together with ropes to do “team building”! At the recent retreat that I co-facilitated one of the team members led the rest of the group through a creative painting activity that allowed everyone to get out of their heads and do something messy with their hands for a little while – and it was well received.

#5 – Get outside

Many of us spend so much time working at our computers or working indoors that getting outside during a retreat day is a welcome change. If you’re in a city-based location, even a walk around the block will help your team clear their heads and get some fresh air. And if your inspiring venue includes forest, water, mountain or other wonderful natural features take advantage! Getting outside into nature over breaks and/or lunch will give you all the “brain break” you need and deserve … and it may just help spark a creative idea that you hadn’t thought of before.

#6 – Reduce distractions

If part of why you’re going on retreat together is to help your team get to know each other a little more then you may want to encourage everyone to reduce or eliminate distractions for themselves throughout the day. Ask people not to check their work or home email during the retreat and encourage minimal checking of texts and phone messages to help people stay engaged. Remember, the breaks and lunch times on a retreat day should be seen and treated as times to relax, reflect and connect with each other, not catch up on work that people may feel is piling back up at the office while they are away.

#7 – Generate next steps

It’s often not enough to just have a “feelgood” day of staff retreat, although a positive and fun day certainly helps make it a great time for everyone involved. If it’s important to you and your team that you have tangible outputs or results at the end of your day, make sure the facilitator you’re working with knows what they are. They will help you on track throughout the day, accomplishing as much as you can. Ensure that you create some action steps to implement upon your return back to the office to keep the momentum going and move forward on your team’s goals.

Good luck with implementing these seven keys to a great retreat! (And let me know if you’d like some support along the way…)