By Joanna Kulesa of Kulesa Faul

It’s offsite season. When done right, these corporate retreats spark creativity, promote team-building and are just plain fun. When not, they’re cliché-ridden (think trust falls and rope courses) and feel like a waste of time and money.

In planning several offsites for my company through the years, I’ve learned that a good offsite doesn’t happen by accident – it takes strong planning, a keen sense of what activities feel fresh and important rather than forced and irrelevant, and an understanding of what best suits your unique company culture.

Here are eight steps to a successful offsite:


Make the offsite a safe zone to share ideas. Truth is, this should be the case in a company all the time. Google has received attention for its team building strategies based on the concept of “psychological safety,” in which members have a shared belief that it is safe to take risks and share a range of ideas without being humiliated. Some companies are able to slog along day to day without this dynamic, but an offsite devoid of it is almost certain to fail. Make it clear to offsite attendees that they’re in an ideas safe zone.


You’ve got the whole company together – make the most of it. A retreat is the perfect time to step outside the usual business tasks and incubate new approaches to running the business. At our offsites, for example, we’re looked at everything from our company core values to how we sell our services – and how we can bring fresh ideas to life in specific ways every day in strategy and execution moving forward. Offsites should be a platform for launching new approaches long after the ink on the flip charts is dry.


“Work on ourselves.” Our offsites have included a DISC personality assessment session, a creativity-at-work workshop and a yoga and Transcendental Meditation class. This may sound like touch-feely’s greatest hits, but employees later reported the activities helped instill unity and well-being and enabled them to learn more about themselves and each other. (I’m not sure I’d recommend something this radical, however.)


Don’t skimp on fun. Offsites should be a chance for everyone to enjoy each other’s company. This is especially valuable for companies where employees work in disparate locations. So, yeah, the offsite should be a party too.


Pick a nice location. A retreat in an awesome spot is inspiring and serves as a reward for team members who work very hard the rest of the year in less glamorous locales. We’ve splurged on some spectacular oceanfront accommodations through the years. I feel it’s worth it.


Use surveys. While planning the offsite, get feedback from employees on hot-button topics and develop sessions accordingly. With a collaborative approach to developing the agenda, you’re almost guaranteed to keep people interested and engaged. Then use surveys again afterward to gauge what worked well and what didn’t.


All in. An offsite filled with rules isn’t much fun, so go easy. But you do need a few, and the most essential are those that assure full participation. Make it a hard-and-fast requirement that everyone actively participate during the sessions. Prohibit laptops and phones except during breaks. Make all sessions, including meals, mandatory.


Enforce an agenda. Know what can kill an offsite? People showing up late, sessions running over time and other examples of poor time management. Make sure to keep the trains running on time.


Follow these eight tips and a company is bound to have an offsite that generates new ideas for the business, promotes camaraderie and employee happiness and more than justifies the heavy investment of money and time.

You’ll also learn a lot about your colleagues at company retreats – their personalities, their energy, their creativity – in ways you don’t always see in the office.


Joanna Kulesa is principal at Kulesa Faul, a Silicon Valley public relations, social media and content marketing agency.

The views, opinions and positions expressed within this guest post are those of the authors alone and do not represent those of CBS Small Business Pulse or the CBS Corporation. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are verified solely by the authors.


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