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Business people on the beach (Jan Lombard/Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Business people on the beach (Jan Lombard/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

How to keep a company retreat on the right track Add to ...

Done right, an away day can be an opportunity to plan strategy, deal with a variety of issues and build esprit de corps; done wrong it can be a waste of an expensive hotel.

How do you make an away day pay? Should you plan?

“You need to have clear objectives,” says Paul Kearns, a consultant on strategic corporate events. “Communicate what it is you’re trying to achieve beforehand. If you don’t have objectives you often won’t produce anything.”

You should also ensure the right people attend. “If it is a serious meeting, you need the key players there,” says Mr. Kearns. “Important people can sometimes show contempt for these things.”

How do I run the day?

“You need to recognize the ebb and flow of people’s biorhythms,” says Phil Anderson, client director at Ashridge Business School. “Don’t have a PowerPoint presentation when people are feeling sleepy just after lunch. Spice it up and, if you are leading, get others to lead certain parts as people get bored of the same speaker.

“You need to think about breaks too; you often get insights over coffee when talking less formally.”

The ideal day should combine serious business with fun and relaxation. “Games can work but they need to be appropriate to the organization,” says Mr. Anderson. “Even with a strict business focus, it’s good to get people to do something different.”

As away days tend to generate a lot of ideas, you should also evaluate as you go, so you don’t end up with hundreds of flip charts at the end of the session.

What if there are disagreements?

Simmering resentments often boil over at such events. “Anticipate that there may be tensions,” says Jane Clarke of business psychologists Nicholson McBride. “You might get an HR person to do a bit of research – what are the personality issues?”

If there are tensions, it’s good to air them at the start, rather than letting them come out in the bar. “The rules of engagement need to be spelt out – and the difference between constructive and destructive criticism explained – or it can become a general bitching session,” warns Mr. Kearns.

If things are difficult, it can make sense to have a professional facilitator.

How long should it be?

“Overnights are good,” says Ms. Clarke. “A lot of talking takes place in the bar or over dinner and you get a chance to work on both business strategy and individual relationships.”

Mr. Anderson points out that you should also remember that people have other commitments. “Don’t make it too long. Arriving the night before and then finishing in the afternoon is good.”

What about follow up?

“A lot of people leave feeling very motivated and then nothing happens,” says Ms. Clarke. This is often because the organizer attempts to do everything themselves afterwards.

“A good way to ensure follow up happens is to give everyone something to do,” says Mr. Anderson. “That should happen before you leave. You also need to agree to a follow-up date to check which next steps have been taken and by whom.”

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