Why retreats are good for teams of leaders

I am a big proponent of teams taking time away from the office as a group.  I think part of it is that my early career was spent in public accounting.  Public accounting firms provide extensive training for their staff – upwards of 80 hours per year.  And a good portion of that training is done “off site” – say on a regional basis where everyone in the west region travels to LA for two days for training. Or new staff training for 1-2 weeks, or training for new managers for a week, you get the idea.

Those times were some of the best times we had.  We learned intensively, we got to know others in our office in a setting different than every day in the office, we got to network with others in our firm from different cities. Did we worry that our “day job” wouldn’t get done?  No, we knew we’d do what we had to do when we got back, and that this was the most efficient way to achieve the objectives noted above.

I think the same exists all the way up the leadership ranks.  Leaders often don’t get enough time together in settings that allow for proper relationship building and “intensive” discussion and reflection that leads to better strategies and execution.

I recently started working with a new team as I took on a new role.  Part of the team has worked together a long time, but the team is expanding and some new players were added, including me. We are all leaders, we all think we know what we are doing, we all have the best intentions.  But we needed some time to gel as a team and that just doesn’t happen during meetings, or in a rush of emails and phone calls, or during the seemingly ever-present “crisis” of the day.

So we got out of the office, did some intentional activities to build our team identity, set a course for our near-term future, and committed to a way of “being” with each other through a social contract (something you can Google, and I highly recommend).  We got some tangible benefits – a set of strategic objectives, a roadmap for how to refine and execute on those objectives, a documented social contract, and some personal leadership development points. We also came away with intangibles that will be infinitely more important as we move forward – we got to know each other, we HEARD each other’s vulnerabilities and fears, we COULD IMAGINE each other’s dreams and we  FELT each other’s emotions.

Leaders at all levels can benefit from regular time away from the office.  Instead of saving it all up for an annual retreat, think about more regular interactions away from the office. As my friend D.J. Allen says, we never take time to practice in the workplace. Great teams get great through practice, not during games.  But in business, every day is game time.  No chance to improve, no chance to build the key elements of team that make us win on game days – understanding our teammates tendencies, building rapport, establishing trust.  These things need attention, and time.  Carve out some for your leadership team and see if there isn’t a noticeable difference when you get “back in the game” at the office.


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