Team retreats or offsites provide a unique opportunity to build connectedness, motivation and communicate with your whole team. However, they can be a daunting event to prepare for and often do not live up to their potential. In this post, we share some tips on how to prepare content for a team retreat.
Recently, Fortify Health held a full team retreat in Bhopal, India. Fortify Health is a non-profit organisation with the mission of enabling access to micronutrient-rich wheat flour to reduce and prevent iron-deficiency anaemia. Altogether 36 teammates from across India and the world gathered for a three-day retreat, which was then followed by a smaller, 2.5 day leadership retreat. In a feedback survey, participants gave a score of 4.8 out of 5 (likert scale) on the statement, ‘I feel much more energised and motivated for my work after the retreat.’
We've learned many valuable lessons as we prepared for our recent retreat, and we'd like to share them with you in this blog post. Here, we provide a high-level process for preparing for your next team retreat and some of the lessons we learned along the way. It must be noted that we are far from experts when it comes to event planning. However, event planning can often be very expensive, and we hope our experiences may be able to support you in the future.
We break the process of preparing content for a retreat into the following four key steps:
2. Agenda Development
3. Content Preparation
4. Retreat Time
Step 1: Ideation
Goal Setting: As with almost any task, a clear understanding of the goals or purpose of the retreat is critical. Fortify Health leadership brainstormed a list of goals and then synthesised these into a prioritised list of five goals: connectedness, strategic alignment and clarity, understanding, collaboration and motivation. Lessons learned:
Brainstorm Sessions: Work with your team to brainstorm a long list of sessions that you may wish to run. In some cases, the specific content of the session may be uncertain, but you may have ideas on the format of sessions (workshops, town halls, speeches etc.) These sessions should align with the goals you have set out and may be both formal and social in nature. Lessons learned:
Step 2: Agenda Development
Develop high-level agenda: Now you can think about the flow of sessions and how to choose the sessions you wish to run. Prepare a spreadsheet to visualise the time you have available during the retreat. For our retreat, we broke down the time into 30-minute blocks and colour-coded sessions based on: personal-time, mandatory content sessions, optional sessions, social time and breaks / buffers. Lessons learned:
Iterate and finalise the agenda: Take feedback and iterate on your agenda. At this point, worry less about the content of the individual sessions and more on the overall flow of the retreat. Lessons learned:
Step 3: Content Preparation
Individual session preparation: Time to prepare the sessions themselves. We took guidance from teachers who are experts in preparing content for groups. We started by delegating session preparation to different team members who were then asked to prepare a lesson plan. This lesson plan broke each session into 5-minute sections and was colour-coded for different types of engagement within the session: presenter-led, moderated discussion, individual work and facilitated group work. The aim was that each session would have a combination of different types of activities to ensure that engagement was maintained.
After lesson plans were signed off, session leads prepared slides and other materials. Some speakers created scripts, while others simply used their slides as talking notes. Finally, each session lead provided details to the operations team on logistic needs for their sessions.
Leading up to the retreat: The team held a call to review the preparation for each session in detail. We recommend holding this call at least a week before the retreat commences. This call took over 2-hours, but built confidence that everything was in place and contingencies were taken into account. Lessons learned:
Step 4: Retreat Time
By the time you reach the retreat venue, all speakers and organisers should feel confident about the content flow. However, we all know that there will be last minute curveballs and unexpected occurrences. We found it helpful to get to the venue early to scope out the space and think about whether our logistic plans still made sense. We recommend holding a quick briefing before the retreat starts to ensure everyone is on the same page.
At the end or start of each day, we found it helpful to regroup as a leadership and operations team to debrief. During the debrief we would share learnings and feedback and iterate on our plans.
We hope that this guide will help you as you prepare for your next team retreat! If you have any questions, feel free to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org