Executives often work 12-hour days. It’s difficult to get a clear picture of how the company is growing outside of the packed schedule of a CEO or CFO. Enter: leadership retreats. 

A leadership offsite consists of two or three days of dedicated, outside-the-office brainstorming and planning by a company’s top executives. Management retreats were largely abandoned during the mid-2000s as companies cut costs amid the economic downturn. However, leadership retreats are becoming more popular as executives seek new ways to thrive in today’s competitive global economy. Should your team plan an offsite? Here are some pros and cons to consider. 

Pro: Gain dedicated time for innovation and planning

It’s rare for a senior manager to have time in the typical workday dedicated to big-picture thinking. Even when that does happen, individuals are often doing their planning in siloed ways. This can lead to whole departments working at cross purposes, or stifling innovation inadvertently.

An offsite retreat gives leaders – the brand visionaries – a chance to come together and brainstorm. Where are there new opportunities? What global trends does the company need to be aware of? “The most successful companies will be creative and innovate. Fostering creativity is best done when people are free from distractions like client and employee issues,” writes Harvard Business Review

Con: Innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum

The unfortunate side-effect of leaving the office is that great ideas don’t always return to the office intact. Some ideas generated at an executive offsite simply aren’t feasible; others may not be popular among the rest of the team. 

“Developing a strategy is a process, not an event. We are iterating our strategy on a daily basis,” writes HBR. It’s one thing to develop a strategy over three days, and another to bring that strategy back to an organization, get feedback, and implement it. In a best-case scenario, the leadership retreat should be used to agree on a vision, commit to an innovation goal, and then bring that goal back to the rest of the organization. Allow teams to brainstorm internally how to achieve a big innovation goal; this provides a sense of ownership and deeper commitment among your employees. 

Pro: Align on strategic objectives

One of the biggest issues facing companies is hiring; recruiting concerns are among the top worries keeping CEOs up at night. An offsite leadership retreat gives senior executives a chance to dive deeply into the strategic priorities of the brand – one of which should be recruitment

“Offering a moment in time to physically separate from daily routine and pressures, retreats help us reset as an organization every 12 weeks,” one executive reports. “Agenda-wise, the primary focus is on clarifying the strategies that will carry us forward and defining why they are priorities, so that people have the contextual framework to make decisions and execute their part of the business plan without repeatedly checking in with me.”

As part of the offsite, executives should focus on communicating their vision to employees, the media, and potential new candidates. Culture starts with leadership. An executive offsite retreat gives managers a chance to align not just on business goals, but to decide how to shape and guide the company culture

Con: Employees can get demoralized

There’s a stigma that leadership retreats are just an excuse for your executive team to go golfing. That impression can quickly demoralize your workforce, especially when your team is left behind to keep the lights on and customers satisfied.

Some companies invite top performers to join the executive retreat, even if they’re working in junior positions. This provides an incentive for employees to achieve their professional development plan goals, and gives a seat at the table to those in lower positions on the totem pole. It also shows a commitment from senior leadership to making sure every voice is heard. 

Alternately, some leaders follow their retreat with a company-wide gathering or offsite. The goal is to make sure that decisions made in the executive sessions transfer over to the rest of the organization. “‘Stay-behind employees’ want more than an executive summary when you return. They expect to see and feel a positive change,” wrote one expert in The Business Journals. Leadership retreats can appear to be a paid vacation to some employees, so make sure transparency and communication are a priority before and after the retreat takes place. 

Pro: Improve productivity among teams

Time away from the office leads to increased productivity and boosts morale – even for C-suite executives. A 2017 GfK survey found that “78% of managers felt time off improved the focus of their employees; 70% said it renews staff commitment.” Take your top managers out of the daily grind and into a new environment to spark creativity and critical thinking. Their refreshed energy will help improve productivity across the board. 

Con: Retreats cost money

It’s no secret: leadership retreats come with a hefty price tag. “Consider a retreat where 10 executives with an average compensation of $240,000 per year go away for one week. That’s a salary cost to the organization of $50,000. Then add coaching, programming, travel and food. It’s a six-figure bill that can often arouse bitterness, envy and cynicism among those who are left behind,” writes one analyst. If your business is underperforming, or morale is low, consider postponing your leadership retreat or hosting an offsite where everyone can get involved.

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