The Return of Corporate Retreats

This article can also be found on the Business in Calgary Website found here.

 Author: Business In Calgary

Many organizations doubling down on opportunities to bring employees together.

Corporate retreats are back in a big way, say local experts, who are seeing companies re-invest in a myriad of opportunities to bring their people together.

“They’re going all in. Organizations are re-investing in retreats because retreats offer unique opportunities that couldn’t be accessed for more than two years,” says Christine Dagenais, founder and CEO at Bright Wire Leadership, which has seen the number of corporate retreats it’s working on nearly double over the past six to eight months.

“The value that a company can get out of investing in a corporate retreat has become way higher than they it was pre-pandemic.”

Dagenais notes this increased appetite is taking place across the board – from manufacturing to health care, transportation to energy and retail to hospitality. Many essential service-type companies, in fact, never stopped working on retreat-like events with Bright Wire during the pandemic.

This is natural, she says, given the cross-sectorial need for good leadership skills and organizational teamwork has never gone way.

“There are executive teams out there that believe, no matter what, when people can come together and collaborate, they are higher performing — the mindset that together we’re better,” says Dagenais.

Denise Burrell, senior partner at The Performance Group, says her company saw many organizations hunkering down since the pandemic. And while she agrees that a resurgence makes sense, she hasn’t seen a full return quite yet.

“What I am starting to see, however, is team-building events emerge where leaders are pulling smaller groups together to ensure everyone is clear on the purpose,” says Burrell, whose speciality includes team building and strategic planning at The Performance Group, which supports organizations ranging from family-owned small businesses to multinational corporations and all levels of government.

One of the notable trend changes to corporate retreats comes from the proliferation of remote workforces. Given that many employees now live in different cities – or even different parts of the world – than their employers, many organizations are having to think more creatively.

This is leading to an evolution in more sophisticated hybrid events or, alternatively, much larger budgets for non-traditional out-of-town locations.

“We’re definitely seeing companies more readily fly their people into retreat locations because they know appeal of a retreat is heightened right now,” says Dagenais. “And if they can offer unique and memorable experiences, then there seems to be an incremental willingness to spend to create that ‘wow’ factor for employees in a way that wasn’t before.”

When it comes to hosting the ideal retreat, it’s not all about just fun and games, say the experts.

“The most impactful retreats are ones that will pull people out of their element in order to make broad strides in trust and togetherness,” says Tim Sweet, principal coach and consultant at Teamwork Excellence, which offers coaching to both leaders and teams within industries such as sports entertainment, petrochemicals, energy, logistics and information technology. Most of his work recently has been with start-ups and entrepreneurial organizations in the transition and technology spaces.

“Yes, it can have a strategic and even a fun element, but it should also have a focus on dealing with what you’re not talking about generally.”

In fact, Sweet says the goal of these retreats should be to freely have conversations about what matters most.

“Ask yourself, ‘what’s that one thing holding us back?’” says Sweet. “Figure that out, and then get out of the organization to deal with that one thing.”

Burrell adds corporate retreats should offer an opportunity for leaders and their staff to get out of the day-to-day and do some honest reflection – “appreciative inquiry that includes discussing what’s going well, where can we improve and how do we do that.”

“There’s benefit in the process – coming together and engaging with people in a totally different way.”

While corporate retreats can help rejuvenate employees, Burrell’s cautious if that’s the only intended outcome.

“If they’re rejuvenating people and not able to meet some of the organization’s fundamental needs, then, over time, people may start walking away,” she says. “If there’s not a lasting benefit and they feel leaders are not addressing their underlying concerns, they may start feeling jaded.”

Dagenais adds that companies should be strategic when timing their respective retreats.

“I’ve seen a lot of companies get over-zealous. But they can get over-used,” she says. “So, pace out the retreats. You want that impact to be sustained, not in excess.”

Burrell recommends leaders get their employees involved when planning retreats.

“We had one brand we worked with that was planning a retreat for all its staff, but found many of the front-line workers wouldn’t, couldn’t or didn’t want to be there because they had child-care issues and those kinds of things,” she says. “So, hosting something that’s representative of the organization is very important.”

It’s a sentiment shared by Sweet. In fact, he goes so far as to the say the rules of engagement have changed when it comes to the post-pandemic corporate retreat.

“There’s been a fundamental loss of trust between teams – even ones that have worked together for a long time,” he says. “For years, they didn’t have those regular reinforcements of together they had before the pandemic. They were exposed to their co-workers in different lights, whether that be their views on masking, social issues or political views. And they became skeptical around employee-employer relations – quiet quitting and those types of things.

“That means when it comes to holding a retreat, organizations have to be much more careful in ensuring employees see the benefit in participating.”

As for where to go, the experts note Calgary companies have a cornucopia of choices – from Kananaskis Country and Banff/Lake Louise to beyond in locations such as the B.C.’s Columbia Valley or Kootenays.

“Because of the abundance of recreational options in Alberta and B.C., we see a lot of our clients hosting corporate retreats during the spring and summer months because of the opportunities to get people outside and in nature. That seems to be where things are best energized,” says Burrell.

Meanwhile, Bright Wire has taken the innovative step of developing its own hybrid-equipped learning forum to meet increased demand for off-site retreats that are a bit closer to home.

Situated within Bright Wire’s offices on the 20th floor of the Ampersand Building along Fourth Avenue S.W., the soon-to-be-opened space overlooks the river valley, and includes amenities such as a fully private kitchen, private bathrooms, breakout rooms and large, multi-configurable meeting spaces.

“We asked clients, ‘if we build it, will you come?’ They asked if they could come tomorrow,” says Dagenais. “Companies want to go off site, but they don’t always want to go out to the mountains. This provides them access to an easily accessible space that allows them to have impactful conversations together.”

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