What’s Different About an Executive Retreat?

whats-different-about-an-executive-retreatGreat business leadership only rarely happens organically. The best leadership isn’t found, it’s made — and a big part of that process is getting the executives together to forge relationships, achieve understandings, and develop teamwork.

Imagine, for example, you took 11 random soccer players from the top 11 teams in the World Cup — people who had differing backgrounds, play styles, and priorities — and you put them up against, for example, the Seattle Sounders. Individually, those 11 World Cup players are almost certainly more skilled than any individual Sounder…but they would get destroyed on the field, because the Sounders have worked together, practiced together, played together, and been a team for years.

Thus, the executive retreat: an opportunity to create a team out of the individuals that lead your company. But how? Here are some truths about executive retreats that make them different from any other corporate event.

Size Really Does Matter
Executive retreats are often unique among the corporate world insofar as they’re the only events that might reasonably have an attendee list of a dozen people or less. It’s important to be aware of the differences between an event where every person can sit at the same table and shoot the breeze over Wagyu sliders and one where you’ll have two, three, or a dozen such groups at once.

The breaking point for conversational groups is about a dozen — and that expects that a few of the people will be quite content to spend most of their time listening. For a group of type-A, proactive participants, more than eight will leave some people feeling suppressed. More than a dozen people and side conversations — the kind that naturally break up groups into separate conversations no matter what table they’re at — are going to happen regardless of your intent.

Minimize Technology, Maximize Contact
For most corporate events, high-tech is in. But today’s corporations are whirlwinds of emails, instant messages, memos, and other in-your-face, moment-by-moment communications. The purpose of a retreat, however, is to get away. Unless a given high-tech something or other is actually vital to the purpose of the event, can it. Ideally, check in everyone’s cell phones at the door, and ensure that the meeting is in a private, relaxing space.

Studies have shown that simply having a phone in your field of vision lowers your IQ by as much as a few stiff drinks, and attempting to use that phone while something else is going on cuts your IQ by as much as a solid hit of marijuana. Your executives deserve each other’s full attention, and the company deserves their full brain power on task — so keep the interpersonal interactions high and the technology lower.

Loosen Things Up — Including the Schedule
Keeping everyone busy is usually a priority for event planners, because people tend to be at their most critical, disruptive, and annoying when they’re not sure what they’re supposed to be doing next. But at an executive retreat, having 15 or 20 minutes between scheduled activities is clutch — that’s when the executives share their impressions, build on each other’s opinions, and come up with the ideas that can shape the future of the company. In other words, it’s when the good stuff happens.

While you might think that you can schedule time for that kind of interaction, that’s simply not how people work. Put them around a table and tell them to share their impressions, build on each other’s opinions, and come up with the ideas that can shape the future of the company, and you’ll get a bunch of people thinking and acting formally — but the richness of informality is where things get done.

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