Company retreats come in all shapes and sizes. Some are departmental, others are the whole company. Some are full of corporate bonding exercises, others are full of booze and spreadsheets. After our 4th company retreat as a small agency, we took a close look at what our employees found most valuable.
As you read this, keep in mind that we are a company of 10. That small number gives us some unique challenges and unique advantages, but we’re fairly confident that these few takeaways will be fairly applicable at any scale. Here’s what we found:
Listening Is Important
Before planning content each year, we survey the team to get an idea of what people want to hear about. Nothing crazy, just a simple Google form to get a pulse on what’s stirring in their heads. Every year, we’re surprised at some of the responses. There are priorities and perceptions that we never would have been aware of if we hadn’t simply asked. Sometimes what we think is obvious needs vocalized…
“Do we get maternity/paternity leave?” - FoxFuel Employee 3
(for the record, the answer is yes)
And sometimes what we think the team would find horribly boring is actually something they’re very much interested in. For example, this year, several people mentioned wanting a deep dive into financials. We’ve decided to take a pretty transparent approach and so we took an hour to look at the financials from the past couple years and projections into the next, giving everyone a clear understanding of revenue versus AGI and COGs and burn rate and how they’re all calculated. Had we not asked before planning our content, we would have assumed that our team would find that level of detail boring.
Vision (And The Reasons For It) Is Also Important
“Understanding why the partners have set certain goals or priorities helps me feel like I can participate on a deeper level. I’m not just doing what’s needed day after day, I’m contributing to a bigger picture.” - FoxFuel Employee 7
Nearly every employee mentioned vision-casting and/or goal-setting. They wanted to understand where our leaders are aiming in the next one, three, and five years and the role they play in achieving that.
They also appreciated taking a look at the clients with the most potential over the next year, and how we define “potential”. Financial potential is obviously a priority, but there are other ways we define value, like breaking into new industries or seeking out more high-visibility consumer opportunities. The conversation gave every member of the team the chance to step back and look strategically at our project mix.
Individuals Are The Most Important
A consistent theme that we’re really excited about (and pretty proud of) was the value placed on every individual’s role into the larger vision for FoxFuel. After spending the first half-day casting vision, we broke up into our three departments and spent time digging into each individual’s role at FoxFuel, focused on performance to date, celebrating wins, and goals for the future. We then came together and shared with the larger team.
“The opportunity to speak openly with my boss is awesome. I feel like that’s pretty rare and it’s definitely significant.” - FoxFuel Team Member #6
Now before you write this off as too time-consuming, consider the value that it has in developing loyalty and longevity. We worked with each employee to create a vision for them at FoxFuel, deeply investing in the individual as they invest in each other and in FoxFuel as a whole. We also spent some time preparing before the retreat to keep the conversation focused and efficient, which kept us from spiraling into plans for taking all or our clients to Atlantic City for Christmas or a public cage match with the Titans football team. Ok, maybe we spiraled a little.
- Survey the team prior to the retreat to gauge interest. Be sure to have at least one open-ended question, you’ll likely be surprised at the patterns that pop up.
- Spend time on the individual. Whether it’s celebration, goal setting, or just giving them space to be heard, investing in their future is investing in the company’s future.
- Prep in advance. Take time to plan and ask the rest of the team to do some thinking on the topics you’ll be covering prior to the retreat.
When all is said and done, it comes down to finding ways to identify what the team truly cares about. Creating an environment that invites them to participate in the vision that’s been cast in a valuable way will give you a team that’s passionate and invested in each other and the company. Also, taco bars and bourbon seem to be really effective.