Staff retreats are popular among companies of all sizes and across many different industries. Bringing managers and key employees together in a non-work setting for one or more days not only stokes teamwork and company loyalty but also allows leaders to share important facts, information, and statistics about the firm and its performance.
Westhill Inc., of Woodinville, Wash., has been using the strategy for about 10 years. President and CEO Charles Russell says that the idea for a retreat started when the growing company established an executive management team. “At that point I felt the team needed to get away from the hectic day-to-day in order to plan and promote the health and wellbeing of the company,” Russell says.
The annual event is held in late January to coincide with the release of the company’s financial statements from the prior year. In attendance are Westhill’s five-person executive team, Russell, his personal assistant (who handles all the planning, note-taking, and staff coordination for the retreat), and a business coach who serves as the facilitator.
“For the first few years, I facilitated the retreat myself,” Russell says, “but in that role I really couldn’t participate to the extent that I wanted to.”
The three-day retreats take place either in Portland, Ore., which is about 160 miles from the company’s home base, or at a resort or beach area. “The goal is to find a place that promotes uninterrupted time and quality personal interactions that lead to team-building,” Russell says.
The getaways are divided into three parts. The first is a half-day preview of the event itself with a state-of-the-company report (given by Russell, which includes sales, expense, budget, overall economic data, and other key numbers from the prior year), briefings from each of the executive team members (focused on the previous year’s performance and the current status of each department), and the creation of a rough budget for the coming year.
The second part is a full day on strategic planning. The team reviews the company’s business plan, makes the necessary adjustments to keep it on track, and comes up with two-, three-, five- and 10-year goals for the company.
The final part of the retreat involves a special project. If the company is grappling with a specific challenge, the executive team decides on a solution that it then takes back and implements in the workplace.
Information at the retreat is presented via PowerPoint presentations and a manual that every attendee keeps for reference. Russell says that the company’s business coach periodically asks them to bring out the manuals “to see whether we’re doing what we said we were going to do.”
Each retreat costs about $20,000 to plan and orchestrate but Russell says the payoff has been significant over the last decade. “One of the biggest benefits is that we get to learn more about each other than we would in the work environment,” he says. “We learn about each other’s struggles, and gather as a team to get on the same page to come up with a focus for the coming year.”