Seth Godin’s Company Retreat Recommendations
Posted by andreasw on Dec 16, 2010 at 12:40 am
(actually, to steal a phrase from Alan and Bill, an advance. Retreat is too negative).
There’s a tremendous opportunity to create events where people connect. Unfortunately, it’s also easy to turn these events into school-like conferences, not the emotional connections that are desired.
You can create an advance with a team that knows one another from work, or even more profoundly, with a bunch of independent thinkers who come together to energize, inspire and connect.
I’ve been to a bunch and here’s what I’ve learned, in no particular order:
- Must be off site, with no access to electronic interruption (this is a tough one… but worth insisting on)
- Should be intense. Save the rest and relaxation for afterwards
- Create a dossier on each attendee in advance, with a photo and a non-humble CV of who they are and what they do and what their goals are (the best conferences i’ve ever attended used that strategy and I loved it)
- Never (never) have people go around a circle and say their name and what they do and their favorite kind of vegetable or whatever. The problem? People spend the whole time trying to think of what to say, not listening to those in front of them (I once had to witness 600 people do this!!) … ouch, that hurts
- Instead, a week ahead of time, give each person an assignment for a presentation at the event. It might be the answer to a question like, “what are you working on,” or “what’s bothering you,” or “what can you teach us.” Each person gets 300 seconds, that’s it. Brilliant idea! Tailoring these to the topic at hand, maybe even having some people do this in other fields than their own expertise would get the conversation started quickly
- Have 11 people present their five minutes in an hour. Never do more than an hour in a row. The attendees now have a hook, something to talk to each presenter about in the hallway or the men’s room. “I disagree with what you said this morning…” The trick is to get them to stop after five minutes…
- Organize roundtable conversations, with no more than 20 people at a time (so if you have more attendees than this, break into groups.) Launch a firestarter, a five minute statement, then have at it. Everyone speaks up, conversations scale and ebb and flow.
- Solve problems. Get into small groups and have the groups build something, analyze something, create something totally irrelevant to what the organization does. The purpose is to put people in close proximity with just enough pressure to allow them to drop their shields. It pays off to pay attention to who’s in which group. I would not do this “at will”… put the right people in a group to make this more productive.
- Do skits. Sorry… but I can’t go for that. In my experience there are better ways to get the shields down. I prefer doing small team problem solving exercise that are then presented to the whole group.
- Have a moderator who is brave enough and smart enough to call on people, cut people off, connect people and provoke them in a positive way. Not too soft, not too tough, just right. I’d go for an insider rather than a hired outsider. They get what’s going on in the meeting much better and quicker.
- Invite a poker instructor or a horseshoe expert in to give a lesson and then follow it with a competition. Again: not my favorite recommendation… but hey, to each their own. We once had a sailing race at one of our company retreats. I must admit that was a great experience.
- Challenge attendees to describe a favorite film scene to you before the event. Pick a few and show them, then discuss. This could go mighty wrong… Horse head scene in the Godfather? This has “The Office” written all over it.
- Don’t serve boring food. great!
- Use nametags at all times. Write the person’s first name REALLY big. This is key
- Use placecards at each meal, rotating where people sit. Crowd the tables really tightly (12 at a table for 10) and serve buffet style to avoid lots of staffers in the room. Make it easy for people to leave boring tables and organically sit together at empty ones. Probably one of the simplest but most important points on this list.
- Do something really interesting after 10 pm. I am seeping after 10pm.
- Serve delicious food, weird food, vegan food, funky food. Just because you can. Keep it within bounds, though. This is not the place to try ant eggs…
- Don’t worry about being productive. Worry about being busy.
- Consider a tug of war or checkers tournament. Here we go again
- Create an online site so attendees can check in after the event, swap email addresses or post promised links. Very productive idea. Keep it alive for a limited time only, though.
- Take a ton of pictures. Post them as the advance progresses. I found that to be a great motivator and a wonderful way to extend the effects of the meeting to long after it physically ended
Here’s the goal: new friends. Here’s the output: a new and better to-do list.
Some points I would add:
Make the dress code informal, but not too casual. For some reason, people reflect their clothing in their attitude.
Don’t go too far away, stay in driving distance but definitely away from the office.
Use wall-writing (either giant post-its or dry-erase walls)
Define some rules around only giving positive comments (it’s easy for a group, especially one that works together every day to become negative and push down anyone who dares to think out of the box) The $5 fine for every negative comment works well. (fines are eventually spent at the last dinner)
What are your recommendations for a good company retreat?