All business leaders need to set aside time from their day-to-day demands to discuss issues and think strategically about the future. But what are the best ways to ensure a retreat or planning session is productive for company directors and executives?
Event Travel Management Global Strategic Lead Tracey Edwards provides her insights into what companies are looking for, and how event planners can deliver successful outcomes.
What do you look for when planning and organizing a Board or executive retreat?
From an event management perspective, it is important to work with customers to ascertain the purpose of their meeting and match the environment to this. Depending on these specific business requirements, we need to be able to provide a wide range of options and locations. A usual prerequisite is to find an environment that inspires creativity to allow clear strategic thinking. This can be achieved either in a city or at a rural retreat if the venue is a suitable match for the company’s expectations. You don’t need a big budget to guarantee a great experience.
Confidentiality and privacy are often priorities for Boards so this may require exclusive use of a property. Additionally, we know directors are busy people, so it is essential to maximize the use of everyone’s time. For the same reason, you need to ensure attendees can remain connected to the outside world. Even if the retreat is hosted in a remote location, directors will mostly want to have immediate access to any other commitments. Phone and internet coverage must be reliable so people can stay in touch.
What makes a good retreat – and what makes a bad one?
Taking directors away from their standard work environments is often very conducive to productive meetings. We have received a lot of feedback about positive experiences in unique and unfamiliar surroundings. However, in our experience the most successful retreats are ones that are well planned and well-structured to ensure the best possible outcomes no matter where they are located. The event agenda must be clear to ensure the group remains focused. Facilitators need to deliver presentations and activities that are interesting and engaging but also directly aligned to what directors are trying to accomplish.
The success or otherwise of a Board gathering can often be linked to how it sets the tone for the rest of the business. For example, it may not sit well with employees if their Board is undertaking a lavish retreat while the company is going through cuts or a restructure. Conversely, tying a Board retreat to the same venue and time as something like a new product launch could be very motivating for the wider teams to see and engage with directors first-hand.
Any thoughts on the best types of locations and why?
A location can work for reasons many and varied. A rural location or wilderness area can be very inspirational but we’ve also received great feedback about events and strategy days hosted within walking distance from a company’s office. It is really about providing the right environment for the business needs at that time. Selecting a different location each time can keep things fresh. We often work with businesses to think creatively about using one of their own venues. This could be utilizing a warehouse or kitchen. You don’t have to go offsite for the meeting component to achieve maximum results.
Are there any new or emerging trends around what companies are doing with retreats?
It is our job to continuously examine new trends and think of new ways to inspire leaders through enjoyable and productive event experiences. Recently there has been a strong focus on incorporating healthy lifestyles into corporate activity. Ensuring venues have a good selection of healthy food options and plenty of outdoors activity. Some teams may hold walking meetings or have picnics at meal times.
We find that executive challenges and team-building exercises remain popular. It has often been said that good results can be achieved when trust is grown between teams so taking people out of their comfort zone can really enhance this.
Have you any examples of particularly memorable or unique corporate events?
They’re all so different and most of them have interesting and enjoyable aspects. For one retreat, we took over a pastoral buffalo property on the coast near Point Stuart in Australia’s remote Northern Territory. Located adjacent to the famous Kakadu National Park, we only had helicopter access for the duration of the three-day stay. We needed everything on-site, including a private chef.
We have an upcoming event for 18 Board directors and senior executives in January that should be exciting. The group are heading to San Francisco and Palo Alto, so we have organized for them to visit some of the well-known global tech giants during their retreat. We have been tasked with keeping spend down while also ensuring the attendees have a memorable, five-star experience, which means we must think creatively. There are other contingency challenges such as only allowing two attendees on a flight to manage risk.
ETM plans and delivers creative and memorable events that engage, excite and inspire. Contact our expert team today to discuss how to best plan and organize your next Board or executive retreat.