Planning an executive retreat is always a mixed bag. Generally, the budget for these items is healthy enough to ensure a successful program; on the other hand, it's a meeting planned for the boss and senior management, so -- no pressure!
With the C-suite paying close attention to every nuance of the meeting and its setting, how can a meeting planner best create a memorable positive experience? By keeping in mind these expert directives:
1. Interview the CEO extensively and often while planning the program. Anne Thornley-Brown, president of the Toronto-based consulting firm Executive Oasis International, recommends selecting a theme that parallels the company's concerns, then building exercises and activities around that. "Tools like idea maps, force field analysis, strategy grids, and storyboards are excellent for analyzing business issues and honing focus."
2. Look for a private, self-enclosed setting. Resorts with conference centers work well for this purpose, notes Jack Meehan, director of sales and marketing of Doral Arrowwood in Rye Brook, NY, adding that the executive retreats may have issues that "need exclusivity and privacy to discuss sensitive topics." In fact, says Jaynie Schultz, president of Dallas-based Retreat Central, an online directory of retreat centers, "If a company is in trouble, and serious conversations are imperative in an office culture that is not sensitive to intense scrutiny of operations, then getting to a place that will defuse tension and eliminate distractions can have a huge impact on outcomes."
3. Double up at your peril. "Rooming should be private, unless part of the goal is to build a team culture. Then shared rooms are fine," says Schultz.
4. Don't hurt 'em! "Avoid activities that are dangerous or that have a lot of risk, as this could put the safety of the participants in jeopardy and put the company at risk for a lawsuit," warns Thornley-Brown. "Light outdoor activities work best, as long as you accommodate any physical challenges." She also adds: "Avoid serving alcohol until the business agenda and any physically challenging activities have been completed for the day."
The bulk of liquor service can be designated to off-site visits to wineries and microbreweries, making it a special event. And when it comes to meals, Meehan says, "It's amazing to see how culinary teambuilding exercises can be a great leveler with executives, especially if they are not used to being in the kitchen. New group skills can come forward."
5. Technology depends on the program. "We have found," says Chuck Ocheltree, chief marketing officer of LaKota Hotels & Resorts for The National Conference Center in Leesburg, VA, that "most high-level executive retreats want to get away from technology for a few days and often request little or no techno presentations." In fact, keeping technology to a minimum may not be difficult at all. "According to a recent survey from CEO.com, 61 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs have no social presence whatsoever," Thornley-Brown notes. "My company has been chomping at the bit to do more technology-assisted exercises." She expects that this will change over time as more Millennials enter the C-suite. If lack of techno know-how has been identified as a weakness, this may be the time to fix it by issuing attendees a company smartphone and showing them how to use it.
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This article appears in the August 2016 issue of Successful Meetings.