Can’t Beat the Retreat
May 31 2013 by Michael Gelfand
Few initiatives in the business world can consistently generate enough ROI to compete with what a well-planned and well-executed executive retreat can do for you and your team. Of course, the benefits are not always the hard and quantifiable type you can point to on a balance sheet; but when done the right way and for the right reasons, an executive retreat can pay huge dividends over the long run, enhancing your C-suite’s chemistry and improving your company’s bottom line.
While there are myriad business catalysts that can drive a CEO to plan an executive retreat, the overarching goal for most is usually the same: To get a leadership team out of the office to spend some quality time together while focused on top-of-mind issues and away from the interruptions and distractions of day-to-day office life.
“I hold retreats because I need multiple people to hear the same message, digest it and give me constructive feedback,” says Annette Catino, CEO of QualCare, a Piscataway, New Jersey-based provider-sponsored managed care organization. “They have to bond with each other around a particular message, break bread with each other and share rest and play time together. It can be very hard, if not impossible, to do that in the typical work environment.”
Corporate Quality Time
At New Jersey-based Jennifer Connelly Public Relations, retreats are becoming a regular occurrence. “We’re very productive at the office, but I find that getting away and having two or three days to have uninterrupted conversations in a relaxed setting is very helpful,” says founder and CEO Jennifer Connelly. “Everyone leaves feeling closer, more bonded and focused on the core strategic initiatives we’ve discussed.”
For Connelly, taking executives off-site for a few days on a regular basis is first and foremost a way to foster alignment and strengthen relationships among her management team members. “My feeling is that we are in business to serve clients,” she says. “When our respective house is in order, we can serve clients fully, [but] when our house is a train wreck, we can’t. As long as our team is bonded together, everyone will be more inclined to root for the agency and not for [his or her self]. It can’t be about you or me; it’s got to be about the company. Retreats help me ensure that my team stays focused on that.”
Often, however, retreats are spurred by the need to address a more businesslike challenge or transition. “My usual goal for a retreat is to take my senior team offsite for a deep-dive discussion of a new product or perhaps a new strategic direction; but in all cases, we’re there together because the issue demands our isolated concentration,” says QualCare’s Catino.
CEOs often turn to executive retreats when looking to prepare their management teams for potentially disruptive change, agrees Mary Lynne Heldmann, a consultant at Santa Monica, California-based The Achieve Institute, which works with companies to plan effective retreats. “In some instances, the CEO sees the company is entering a new market or changing its business model, or it sees the business environment changing around them and feels the need to respond to that change,” she says. For example, a CEO who was hired by the board to [transform] a company has to find a way to bring the leadership team into alignment around that change—and that’s where an offsite can help.”