As a 28-year-old consulting firm based in Douala, Cameroon and competing globally, one of the luckiest things that happened to us was coming across Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” as we started the company. For our first 5 years, our annual company retreat consisted of taking the month of August to have each staff member read through a chapter of the book and present it to the rest of the staff. Yes, we actually had the time to do this in the mid-nineties. The 7th Habit of Sharpening the Saw became foundational to our company culture.
Today, our company retreat lasts just one week, but remains the key pillar that grounds us in our mission and values, keeps us focused on strategic objectives and maintains our company culture. In a world of virtual work and teams scattered around the world, many are foregoing the annual ritual of a company retreat. A big mistake. As attention spans shorten, teams scatter and barely know one another, teambuilding and collective planning becomes not less important, but infinitely more so.
Over the years, annual retreats have enabled us at STRATEGIES to do 5 key things.
With remote work, constantly shifting teams and clients that are half-way around the world, we find these 5 things to be more essential today than ever.
- Consolidate the Foundation – In a world where fundamentals are more in question than ever before, it is necessary at least once a year, as an organization, to stop and think about purpose, values and current vision. Today’s speed and volume of work causes many employees to lose focus on the link between their tasks and the finality of the company. With remote work, onboarding has become virtual, short and sometimes superficial. Stopping to refocus on mission, values and vision recenters everyone, connects staff to the larger purpose of the company and breathes new energy into everyday tasks.
- Build a Learning Organization – Yes, beyond the fashionable term, learning organizations are still key to company growth. Giving staff the opportunity to self-evaluate, learn from successes and failures within and across teams remains one of the most powerful ways to improve performance. Giving the opportunity for the most junior of staff to present new ideas and suggest new ways of working evaporates frustrations that unfailingly build up throughout the year. Annual retreats provide invaluable space to learn, learn, learn: vertically, horizontally and diagonally.
- Resolve conflict and rebuild synergy – Even in the most effective of teams, miscommunication and misunderstandings build up over time. In our fast-paced world, we are sometimes even aware that they are present, but there is no time to deal with them appropriately. Company retreats, provide the opportunity to deal with misunderstanding and even conflict in a thoughtful, in-depth manner. Creating the space to clear negative emotions and perceptions, then resetting the balance for synergy is one of the key results of a well-structured annual retreat.
- Build the Team – Teambuilding should of course happen constantly in an effective organization. However, taking the time to stop, implement specific activities and create particular moments to consolidate team energy and take it to the next level, remains crucial. At STRATEGIES! our retreats have taken us across Cameroon and even to Côte d’Ivoire over the years. Enabling us to discover our history, culture and diversity as we strengthen teams of two, four, ten and more, always coming out a more powerful company team at the end of the week.
- Plan the Work – Essential to a company retreat is the opportunity to plan and proact. Within the context of a multi-year vision, it is vital for the company to set its strategic direction for the year and create the synergy needed across departments and teams to increase productivity. Integrating teambuilding exercises and conversations on values and mission within work plans, render elements that can seem insubstantial, concrete and doable. The clarity of an across-company annual plan, empowers each employee with focus and a roadmap for the year to come.
Sharpening the company saw is key to growth whether you are a start-up or a 100-year-old initiative. Beyond the current fashions from climbing mountains together to the multiple games that can be played, most important is that the annual retreat is structured to produce the five results above. Adapt the activities to your environment and to your budget. What is essential is that you STOP-THINK-ACT as you enter 2024!
Happy New Year!