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August 21
5 Tips for a Successful Adventure Retreat

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Photo courtesy of Pam Bonney

The following is an excerpt from the July 30, 2015 edition of MeetingsNet by Chuck Paton, general manager of Larsmont Cottages:

A whitewater-rafting trip, a hike in the mountains, or a “boot camp” all foster camaraderie and get teams into new environments. You may be familiar with Ropes Courses, with a variety of stations designed to teach different skills such as teamwork and trust. But running a good retreat has more to do with the planning than the venue. Here are five principles I’ve learned for running a successful adventure retreat.

1. Know your purpose
Why are you bringing your team together? Before your event, write out in concrete detail three goals you have for your group. Think about inside buzzwords or catch-phrases or whatever you’re rallying around to energize your effort. Whatever you write should become a narrative used by your facilitator.

2. Have a guide
Leadership is important to set the tone at a retreat. You may have someone on your team who is a born organizer—but ideally you want to motivate that person too, right? Bring in a hired gun. Look for an executive coaching consultant who knows his or her stuff or a venue that has one on staff. If an adventure course is involved, look for a facilitator who is ACCT certified.

3. Time it right
If you’re not doing this once a year, you’re missing an opportunity to connect your staff. You also want to consider the timing of the event itself. For many groups, a third night is one night too many, and attendees can lose focus. Conversely, one night is too short if you factor in the travel time. In my experience, two nights is the sweet spot: time for a couple of good meetings, an afternoon of activity, and a social period or two. 

4. Mix formal with informal
All work and no play makes Jack (or Jane!) dull—and a bad worker, too. Give employees some down time. You can combine this with meals like a pig roast, or an Iron Chef competition. Or try something simple like a scavenger hunt or games. The great outdoors is a good fit, too. We’ve done cross-country skiing, hiking, canoeing, and kayaking. And of course giving people time on their own to explore is good, too.

5. Keep it fun
The obligation is on the planner to make sure that a mandatory event is in a setting that’s going to be engaging. Your team is not going to enjoy two days in a meeting room with no windows and nothing to do. Look for destinations or venues that will resonate!

Getting your team to find renewed purpose will pay off in lower turnover and higher morale. If you run it well, an adventure retreat is an investment in your staff that will pay off immediately and for years to come.

Chuck Paton is general manager of Larsmont Cottages, which owns the Larsmont Center for Strategy and Team Development.

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