Can’t Beat the Retreat

Nothing adds long-term value to your leadership team’s working relationship than an executive retreat.

May 31 2013 by Michael Gelfand


Define Your Purpose

While the inspirations and desired goals for retreats may vary, the more specific a leader can be about the event’s purpose and what will be expected of participants, the more likely he or she will feel good about the result.

At QualCare, Catino always takes a hands-on approach to her executive retreats. “I pick the venue, select the topic, set the agenda and even determine room assignments because I think it’s important that the senior leadership team really gets to see each other in [a] different light,” she says.

One of the most successful retreats Catino planned centered on the theme of executive succession. “On Day One, I gave everyone in the room a hypothetical scenario to react to: They are at work and receive a call from a doctor in a nearby emergency room informing them that I’m in a coma resulting from a major car accident,” she explains. “Their assignment was to plan on how to deal with my immediate absence.” The group was charged with writing up [a] plan of implementation, taking into consideration everything—from who would deal with the board, who would deal with customers, who would run the office and who would make decisions on financial matters.

“I left it wide open to see who would grab each topic, and I walked out of the room,” says Catino, who was pleased with the results. “The next morning, they reported back to me, and they had thought of things I hadn’t even talked about, worked through issues that might come up in my absence and handled all of the important matters.”

Catino ultimately presented her team’s succession plan to her company’s board. “Their hard work to put that plan together made me feel like I could actually get hit by truck, and that makes me sleep easier at night,” she quips.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

You may know exactly what you want out of your executive retreat, but does your team? Sharing your goals and game plan with all participants before you set out is crucial to make the most of the resources and time you’ll be investing. “If you don’t talk to everyone upfront about what you’re trying to achieve at your retreat, some of them may arrive wondering, ‘Why are we doing this?’ or ‘I have nothing to say; how does this help me?’” says Dr. Charles J. DiComo, vice president and global head of laboratory operations for the international life sciences company Eurofins.

For DiComo, that purpose is to bring his team closer and to create the expectation from everyone involved that the talking and listening will continue when the retreat is over. “I want everyone involved to feel like a stakeholder and to know that [his or her] personal opinions and [life] outside of work really matters,” he says. “It’s important to set that expectation because if I can’t get you to interact with everyone else in a casual setting outside of the office, how can I expect you to do that in the office day-in, day-out under more critical situations? That’s what it’s all about—retreats help leadership teams become more cohesive, get them to talk from [the] same script and [to] open new lines of communication.”

“Everyone at the retreat should know where the company is going, and they should know what they want to accomplish,” adds Connelly, who says that having a defined purpose has enabled her company to get a real payback from its efforts. “Retreats are where many of our new and best ideas come to light.”