ROI on Leadership Retreats
Successes and failures of a valuable offering
By Sandy Norby, PT, DPT
Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success —Henry Ford
Corporate retreats, whether it is your entire staff or your leadership team, provide a great opportunity to spend time together thinking about the bigger picture, rejuvenate your team, and get everyone excited around a united mission. Stepping away from your day-to-day work routine to bond as humans is powerful. Practice size and budget will likely be the determination of whether you hold an entire staff retreat or focus on your leadership team. For this article, I’ll focus on retreats for small business leadership teams.
Is an annual leadership retreat worth it? Business articles say “yes, they are.” But what makes a retreat successful and worth the money you spend as well as justifies the time away from the office and family? You’ll need to determine what the end goal of the retreat is and then plan well.
Retreats allow for critical face-to-face, in-person time together which can be even more impactful after the pandemic. As physical therapists, we know the power of being present. Watching body language, interpreting facial expressions, and maybe being kinder in wording a statement than we do in an email. Colleagues can engage in active listening, much easier than via any electronic meeting mode. When a team steps away from their day-to-day tasks, they can focus on the bigger picture and long-term objectives of the company.
In the formative years of a private practice, the retreat topic may be the development of the company’s mission, vision, strategic plan, and goals, which are key items for all businesses. As practices grow, in both size and locations, the retreat can provide the opportunity for your key leaders to come together to challenge and inspire each other. However, a successful retreat is not all business; there needs to be time scheduled for team-building events that provide an opportunity for unstructured bonding. Depending on the activities, your team may need to collaborate to complete a project. This enhances teamwork, communication skills and conflict resolution. Ultimately, it takes a commitment from the owner(s) to plan and deliver on a meaningful retreat.
Points to consider:
- Choose a destination that isn’t your clinic. Offsite retreats have been shown to foster creative thinking.
- Determine your budget. You can choose to travel to a resort that holds professional retreats or travel somewhere that provides recreation you all enjoy. For example, if you all love to ski, travel to a mountain location. If your budget determines something smaller scale, rent a home in a vacation (city or rural) destination close to you.
- Determine the goal of the retreat; examples include:
- growth strategies
- strategic recruitment of professional staff
- leadership development
- conflict resolution
- balancing patient care and administrative demands for your therapists
- expectations concerning benchmarks.
- Work – Plan topics that guide conversation for your face-to-face meetings. An idea that helps your leadership team practice their presentation and leadership skills is to assign topics to attendees from sharing what makes their clinic successful to a clinical vignette. If they partner on a topic, they will hone their collaboration skills. These ideas promote their investment in the retreat.
i. Additional points to consider:
- The retreat leader shouldn’t talk the whole time.
- Create a safe space for ideas.
- Pose a question and then provide sticky notes for the attendee to write their yes, no, and caution thoughts on. Minus handwriting, this provides a bit of anonymity or safety in thoughts and creates an active discussion that leads to problem-solving and actionable items.
- AMA (ask me anything) with CEO/founder. Anonymous questions in a bowl throughout the day, grab a drink and the CEO answers them. This creates transparency and builds trust in leadership.
- Fun – Plan time for activities. We know the power of being in nature and exercise. You could combine the two. Consider adding a service component to this by volunteering to pick up trash on a trail. Plan something competitive. Remember to take team pictures for your social media accounts.
- Free time – Experts recommend building in some free time for your team if possible. This allows them to call home or take a nap. Checking work email is not recommended during a leadership retreat.
If you’ve made it this far in my article, you may think retreats are always successful. However, research on this topic indicates otherwise and the authors provided specifics as to why retreats failed and thus, what to avoid.3
- Avoid one-offs. Yearly retreats are ideal. Every other year is fine but avoid the one-and-done.
- The owner(s) must be involved in the planning. If the retreat is delegated to a planning committee, without the guidance of the founder/owner, the retreat can lack substance and miss the mark of what is important to be discussed.
- Avoid topics that fall into the fuzzy concept category. These are concepts where the content, value, or boundaries of application can vary according to the condition at hand. Basically, this means a concept is vague and lacks fixed meaning.
- Do not avoid the tough stuff. If there is an elephant in the room, talk about it. Bringing the tough stuff to a safe environment of listening and discussion goes a long way to building trust in a team. If you don’t have the skills to navigate a conversation of this type, bring in a licensed professional during this part of your meeting.
- Do not let the retreat be the only time during the year that you get together with your team to do something fun.
1Clevenger L. “7+ Tips for Planning a Staff Retreat.” Whole Whale.
2Marlowe-Giovetti O. “7 Things to do After Your Staff Retreat.” Whole Whale.
3Svaren E. “Why Retreats Don’t Work and What to Do About It.” MRSC. Published March 31, 2023.
Sandy Norby, PT, DPT, is an APTA Private Practice member and owner of HomeTown Physical Therapy located in Iowa. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.