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November 11, 2015

Get Away, Part 1: 5 Key Lessons Learned at our First Corporate Retreat

corporate retreatI just got back home after two days in the woods… at Harpeth Marketing’s first-ever corporate retreat. Our goal was to think through and discuss the direction for our firm in 2016 and beyond.

OK – in full disclosure – the assembled group was made up of just me! [So, for all of you independent consultants and small shops – you, too, can do this!] And like every other corporate retreat I’ve been involved with, there were flip chart pages taped all over the walls, good ideas, bad ideas, some yelling and arguing (even alone, saying things out loud is really helpful)… and a cold adult beverage (or two) to wrap up the day.

It was a very productive couple of days… and I walked away with a clearer vision and direction for our business. I also walked away with some thoughts about how to get the most out of these kinds of gatherings (especially for smaller firms)…

  • IMG_0798Get out of the office! And I strongly suggest someplace out in the country… the trees, the fresh air, real peace-and-quiet (turn off your phones and stop checking emails) – great ingredients for new ideas and fresh thinking. This was the view out the window of my room.
  • Go with an agenda. I went with a page of notes of things I wanted to think about. Of course, once I got rolling, I went off in numerous other directions… and that’s fine. But you’ll need some sort of ‘starting point.’
  • Write everything down. Hence – the flip charts. Putting things in writing somehow “makes them real.” And I like flip charts better than a dry erase board… you can post the pages all over the walls and refer back to them throughout the meeting. Lastly, take a picture of all the pages with your phone – you’ll want a record of everything. 
  • Have fun and take breaks. These retreats are critically important work… but like any day at the office, if you’re stuck at your desk for several straight hours, you’ll lose energy and focus. Take breaks throughout the day – take a walk in the woods, get away for lunch, do some sort of team exercise, have a snack – to stay as fresh and sharp as you can. You want to make sure that the flow of creative ideas doesn’t dry up early.
  • Put your work to work. How often have you left a retreat – or any important meeting, for that matter – only to say, “That was interesting… now back to our real job.” And before you know it… all of that planning effort turned out to be just a big waste of time? Don’t let that happen to you…
    • Transcribe all of the notes (hence, the phone pictures) and share them with the group.
    • Assign responsibility for creating “To Do” lists (from all of the ideas generated) and then executing on those To Dos.
    • Schedule follow-up meetings so that retreat participants can share their progress on all of their To-Do items and hold each other accountable.

We spend so much time working IN our business… that we often forget to step back and work ON our business. That’s the real reason to have a corporate retreat. And it all starts with a simple goal – to want to improve and to grow your firm. Good luck.

Now go on… get outta here!

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