Why staff retreats are worth the time and money

By Christina Schiavone | November 30, 2018

Tips to help maximize team-building opportunities

Photos, books and other memories of loved ones are displayed on an ofrenda Partnership staff created for its 2018 staff retreat. An ofrenda is a ritual altar commemorating loved ones who have died and is typically on view at Día de los Muertos celebrations.

On a Friday in early November, the Partnership’s main office looked like a ghost town. Instead of sitting at desks and working on their computers, staff members congregated in a large conference room for our annual staff retreat.

Many organizations question the value of such company-wide retreats. A recent Harvard Business Review article even suggested that “most corporate team building is a waste of time and money.”

But at the Partnership, we believe the best organizations intentionally step away from day-to-day work to celebrate success, gather staff input on ways to improve our organization, and take time to learn from, and about, one another.

So, what makes for an effective staff retreat? Here are a few tips for maximizing the time with your team:

Set clear objectives: Before the retreat, get everyone on the same page about desired outcomes. Staff were told that the organization would be following up on feedback from an annual staff survey that had been released a few weeks earlier. Another major topic of discussion was going to be how to improve cross-team collaboration and efficiency.

Foster community: Organizations work more effectively when staff members know one another as individuals. A staff retreat is an ideal time to get to know your colleagues one-on-one. Our recent retreat fell on the final day of Día de los Muertos, a multiday Mexican holiday to remember and celebrate family and friends who have passed away. Partnership staffer Janira Garcia shared information about the tradition with staff and created an ofrenda—a ritual altar, or in our case, a table full of photos and favorite objects to honor loved ones who have died. She facilitated a conversation about how family influences our personal values and work styles, a powerful way to understand the values of colleagues who we work with every day.

Engage others to help: Facilitating this year’s retreat was an organization-wide effort involving members from our executive team, the human resources director, operations team, staff-led Diversity and Inclusion Council and internal facilitators. It is a lot of work to coordinate all of that support, but it created buy-in from across the organization to achieve our goals.

Look forward and celebrate: We typically hold our retreat in late October or early November so we can share out priorities and our vision for the year ahead as well as reflect on what we have achieved. This year, our executive team shared an update on our initiatives for 2019. To close the day, we each reflected on a moment when we felt like our work mattered the most.

The most important tip of all is to remember that staff retreats are about people: the people who work for you and with you; the people whose lives and work you are trying to improve; and the people who will ultimately help your organization achieve its goals. Design a day to allow for learning, sharing and evolving together. It is organizational time well spent.


Christina Schiavone