Work hard, play hard

Your company is facing major organizational changes.

To plan for those changes, you set regular meetings with key staff. The meetings last less than two hours and are supposed to occur weekly. By the third week, however, you realize that with cell phones ringing, pages coming over the intercom and staff members regularly leaving to put out fires, nothing is getting accomplished.

How can you get your team focused before it’s too late? Try retreating from the distractions. Carol Petrucelli, owner of Carol A. Petrucelli Inc. of Medina, knows how to get things accomplished at a company retreat. Her company specializes in management and leadership training.

With 27 years experience in management, retreat planning and training, Petrucelli suggests planning a retreat for objectives such as strategic planning, goal setting, problem solving, the introduction of change, creativity-building and training.

“Leading corporations in all areas of business have found that one of the best ways to inspire new ideas or solve difficult problems is to change the setting of the meeting,” Petrucelli says. “In such a focused setting, new thoughts are generated, which leads to better solutions to problems, and ultimately, better productivity for the company.”

Hosting a retreat in a secluded location far away from the office is key to success. Otherwise, “participants might be tempted to run back to work at break times, which would be counterproductive to accomplishing one of the other objectives of holding a retreat: the socialization function.”

Getting team members to really work as a team requires that they can play as a team. A new trend among Fortune 500 companies is eco-adventure retreats, in which participants are involved in rock climbing, white-water rafting or other activities that require members to work together. Other times, activities are just for fun.

“The most interesting retreat I arranged was for a large, national company, and we had it right here at the Quaker Hilton (now the Crowne Plaza Quaker Square) in Akron,” says Petrucelli. “A major decision had to be made which would affect the way the company would do business in the future. It was a three-day decision-making retreat. The tension of the three days was broken with the interjection of fun.”

Petrucelli emphasizes the importance of having fun while away on a retreat.

“The evenings were spent dining … with railroad hats and whistles, and one evening the participants participated in a murder mystery game at the Tangier Restaurant called ‘Casablanca.’ They all rented costumes and dressed the part to solve the murder. During the daytime, they were very energized and motivated to work on this very difficult issue.”

Petrucelli has arranged and facilitated a variety of retreats, including a three-day team-building retreat at a state park. She describes the retreat as taking place in a “great setting, peaceful, time to be away from pressures of work.”

Aside from having fun in a secluded location, it’s important for management to carefully prepare for a retreat, allow for enough time (usually one to three full days) set clear-cut parameters and share objectives with participants in advance.

Take advantage of group travel rates or provide transportation to and from the retreat. This allows the group to not only spend more time together, but also eases the stress of employees having to drive or arrange their own travel.

Hiring an outside facilitator can allow management to be more focused and avoid becoming bogged down in the details of managing the retreat. According to Petrucelli, it can also equalize the process because no one on the team is in control of the agenda.

“It’s important to have a well-planned retreat that includes a formal agenda and planned outcomes, written and distributed to participants prior to the retreat,” she says.

Participants should include anyone involved with the situation or problem. This might mean the company president and department heads, but it might also include a fledgling customer service representative or a receptionist.

“Sometimes key stakeholders of a company are invited to join the retreat in an effort to strengthen the relationship between them and the company or to educate them about certain key issues,” Petrucelli says.

Cost can be a factor in deciding if, or where, to hold a retreat. Many state parks and other resorts specialize in hosting retreats, offering discounts and amenities. Focusing on the payoff of your accomplishments as a result of the retreat may help in the decision-making process. How to reach: Carol A. Petrucelli Inc., (330) 239-4413

D.R. Powers is an Akron-based freelance writer and regular contributor to SBN Magazine.