5 Retreat Activities to Ignite Team Performance

retreat“Saying I don’t have time to attend training is like saying I don’t have time to stop driving the car to fill up for gas.”

If I knew the source of this quote I would gladly credit him or her for this pithy analogy. I’ve shared this quote repeatedly during my career because it highlights, quite nicely, the flaw in the “I don’t have time” argument. If you don’t set time aside to refuel, you eventually won’t go anywhere.

A spring retreat is one such way to gas up your team. As I detailed in this post last week, setting aside even a small amount of time is an important way to connect your team with their work, bridge the interpersonal gaps between people, and reinforce the mission, vision, and values of your organization. As a training and development professional who regularly builds and facilitates retreats for teams, here are 5 powerful retreat activities that can ignite team performance:

Hold a Town Hall-style forum. How often do you set aside time with the sole purpose of hearing from members of the team? A town hall exercise can draw out the ideas and opinions of team members they otherwise might never get the chance to share. To lead this exercise simply start with a few general questions: What do we do well? What has to change? What’s broken and in need of fixing? What isn’t broken yet but will be down the road? If you were in charge, what would you do differently? Set a few basic ground rules up front to ensure that no ideas are held back or criticized. And don’t be afraid of silence…and there will be silence early on. But if you can wait them out, great ideas might start flowing. The bonus, of course, is that doing this exercise assigns value to team members’ ideas and opinions and allows them to be heard, both of which are critical components of employee engagement.

Do a SWOT analysis. While it’s similar in function to a town hall forum, the SWOT analysis is a more formal, structured approach to exploring organizational strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. For detailed info on how to facilitate a SWOT analysis, go here. Once you’ve had the SWOT conversation, build off of it by setting goals or dividing the team into subgroups to work further on identified areas of need. Spread that work out over a period of time to ensure ongoing attention to challenges and changes.

Do a personality assessment. Giving team members a chance to understand “Why I am the way I am,” and to see how others are wired, can improve the performance of people, teams, and organizations. The increased awareness this brings can result in shifts in behavior, style, and approach. I’m partial to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) but have also used the DiSC assessment (which focuses on behavior), StrengthsFinder (focuses on natural talents), and True Colors. In many cases use of a personality assessment enhances how team members make decisions, manage conflict, form and maintain relationships, communicate, and manage stress. The end goal is knowledge of how to flex one’s style to be more successful as a member of the team.

Do a QPI analysis or exercise. As a former colleague of mine was fond of saying: “Sometimes it’s the people, and sometime’s it’s the process.” Quality and Process Improvement (QPI) work involves looking at the structure and processes that exist in a work environment, evaluating how they impact performance and workflow, and testing changes for improvement. There are numerous methodologies you can use (ex. Lean, Six Sigma, etc.) but working with a quality improvement professional is key. Invite someone to lead team exercises and create awareness among the staff on what QPI is. That person can help you identify a simple, specific process for examination. Involving the whole team will accelerate change, implementation, and buy-in.

Develop a Staff Agreement. Sometimes tension and conflict rear their ugly head. If your team is experiencing discord, or you want to take a proactive step to cut down on it in the future, consider leading a staff agreement exercise. Such agreements set guidelines for how team members will communicate, interact, and respond when conflict arises. To facilitate- Ask open ended questions and give the team a chance to consider and contribute. (Hanging paper around the room with one question on each works well!) Some questions to ask might include: A) How will we handle conflict when it arises? B) How will we communicate? C) How will we treat each other when we’re angry? Challenge your team to answer the questions honestly and to collectively identify guidelines they can take ownership of. Work toward specific ground rules, agreed upon by everyone. Compile the content into a document that is posted or shared. Treat the content as a living document and revisit it anytime a new leader assumes responsibility for a team, when new members join a team, or when specific issues of conflict have arisen that prove difficult to discuss or overcome.

Whatever you elect to do make it interactive, draw out the opinions of the team, and tap into the creativity of all in attendance. Find ways to infuse appropriate fun and silliness into your retreat as it often breaks down the tension that builds up between team members over time (as well as between the team and management).

Now it’s your turn? What are the best activities you’ve participate in at a staff retreat? What do you like to do with your team? Share in the comments box below! 

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