Sweet Retreats: Why Teambuilding Events Are Needed Now, More Than Ever

It’s been a long pandemic. 

Industry-wide statistics indicate team morale and engagement are at all-time lows across most sectors and verticals. And it’s no surprise, with the transition to a fully remote workforce, the loss of brick-and-mortar cultures and general burnout & exhaustion across all company levels–most teams are not getting what they need to be happy and successful. 

At MistyWest, retreats are an annual tradition that help us reset for the year and take stock of all we’ve accomplished, while also looking forward to a brighter future. From gulf island adventures to dude ranches, we aim to shake loose from the status quo to keep our team energized and inspired to come to work.

Reflective Westies during our 2019 retreat

Why are company retreats important?

Corporate retreats offer so much value in terms of building rapport and trust, creating space for authentic connection, and especially for remote workers–logging face time that is critical to building new relationships within the team. 

Beyond that, retreats can also create the container for outside-the-box, blue sky strategizing and vision work. It’s incredibly difficult to get the 30,000 foot view while you’re chained to your stand-up desk, weighed down by the minutiae of a thousand daily tasks. What we’ve learned is that a change of location can be key to accessing innovative ideas and new approaches to hard problems, along with a golden opportunity to bring the entire team with you.

Walker offers some “creative” strategic planning solutions

Calculating Retreat ROI 

Events and travel are expensive and require a large amount of time and effort to coordinate. 

Right now, they’re also fraught with all kinds of personalized anxieties and stressors around social distancing, masking, testing and vaccine mandates. 

Tally all that up, multiply by your team’s size, and it’s clearly not a cheap (or easy) exercise to pull off. 

But are retreats still worth it in 2022?  We think so. 

Being able to have important conversations face-to-face can open us up emotionally and create space to be vulnerable with each other (especially when led by a skilled facilitator).  Vulnerability builds rapport, and that type of rapport goes far when the heat gets turned up in day-to-day business operations. It can be easy to forget there are real humans on the other end of that video call, but if you’ve dreamed, collaborated and partied IRL (in real life), you’re more likely to practice compassion and empathy for that person when shit hits the proverbial fan.

How should a company make use of its time at a retreat?

This really depends on your company and workplace culture, as well as what you want to get out of the event. At MistyWest we divide our time at retreats between strategic planning, icebreaker and team building exercises, and free time to mix and mingle. Having structured group sessions interspersed with some free time and activities just for fun is key. We aim to create different moments where the team can move from intense brainstorming to lighthearted fun, and back. This type of event flow greases the wheels of creativity and provides some moments of pure spontaneity that end up cherished memories for a lifetime.

All smiles at our 2021 mini-retreat

Retreat Planning Challenges

Like all things during this pandemic, when planning anything involving people and travel, previous playbooks can get thrown directly into the garbage.

The most important takeaway is to leave plenty of time to organize and have a backup plan for your backup plan. Our 2021 retreat plan pivoted three times before the event finally happened! Don’t get too hung up on your initial vision and 

“Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good enough.”

So long as there’s plenty of food, drink and good conversation, teams are generally happy to be together and figure it out from there.

One aspect of retreats that will require significantly more planning are structured group brainstorming or strategic planning sessions. You will want to engage the services of a talented facilitator to help plan and potentially lead these sessions. If you’re lucky enough to have such a talent on your team, you will want to engage them early on in the planning process so they have enough time to consult with you. They will have to assess all the needs of the group, build your agenda, create session outlines and coach stakeholders who will be co-leading the sessions. A certain number of hours also need to be budgeted post-event to capture and distribute all the learnings and plans accomplished in the sessions.

Making Retreats Manageable 

From a producer’s perspective, a large sleepaway retreat is a huge undertaking – especially for an already overburdened team. So in 2021, instead of hosting one large multi-day sleepaway event, we opted for two local mini-retreats. This proved to be better for all, including being more accommodating for federal travel restrictions, our team’s fluid pandemic comfort levels and taking a load of planning off our internal events role. Breaking up the sessions over two days also reduced a lot of attention fatigue that is endemic to cognitively draining tasks. No one likes those 4-hour mind-numbingly boring strategic planning sessions (no one)!

Both mini-retreats included workshopping around MistyWest’s short and long-term goals and revisited our vision, mission, and core values. We made sure to include time after the working sessions for animal onesies to come out, our private chef to cook an amazing team dinner, the custom cocktails to start flowing and an intimate fireside chat from our company founders, Josh and Leigh. Hearing the founding story of how and why MistyWest was created, right from the founders themselves was a powerful moment of team bonding.

2021 Pandemic Retreat Lessons Learned 

Living through a global pandemic has taught us some important lessons in life’s unexpected curveballs, so take that energy into your retreat planning (and everything else in 2022)! 

Bringing your team together for some much-needed face-to-face time (and not the virtual kind of FaceTime) should be one of your top priorities. While MistyWest’s new strategic plan was our desired (and achieved) outcome of our retreats, we are most thankful for getting the time to unwind, reconnect, and shoot a few trampoline hoops in our animal onesies.

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