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Here’s What It Takes To Get The Most Out Of Corporate Retreats

Source | FastCompany : By KATIE MORELL

It wasn’t until Allesandra de Santillana was covered in mud, at the bottom of a grave, that she realized the importance of corporate retreats.

In July, she and 19 of her colleagues at Internet Society, a nonprofit focused on Internet policy, went on a retreat in the English countryside. Following a morning of meetings, the team was broken into three groups and tasked with solving a murder mystery. De Santillana was in the “forensic” group. Trained actors came in to facilitate.

“They put us in white investigator suits with hoods—straight out of CSI—and pointed us to a garden that had been cordoned off with caution tape,” she says. “We spent the next two hours digging into a grave, finding bones and photographing them,” she recalls. “It was backbreaking work.”

While she and her team looked for buried bones, the other two groups interviewed suspects and distilled case-related information in a pseudo “central command” station. The activity ended with the three teams working collaboratively to identify the perpetrator. A 15-minute time limit proved difficult when dissenting opinions were voiced, but eventually they arrived on a ruling.

“We ended up getting it wrong, but that wasn’t the point,” De Santillana says. She adds:

It was amazing to see how we all worked together. When we were digging the grave, there were people pulling their weight and others standing around; some people were shy and others were vocal. Our group felt really isolated from the rest because we were in the garden, which made us think of feelings of isolation in our real lives, and we ended up discussing the importance of constantly keeping everyone in the loop at work.

Corporate retreats have been a mainstay throughout De Santillana’s career, but most haven’t come close to the impact of the murder mystery exercise. The majority have lacked meaning for attendees. She was once forced to complete an obstacle course dressed in a Sumo suit. “Ridiculous,” she says. Or they have focused on socializing without concrete takeaways. While it was nice to learn about colleagues’ personal lives on a sailing trip, De Santillana points out, “I didn’t learn anything about their skills and what they brought to the team.”

The conversation around corporate retreats has changed in past years, due in part to the increase of millennial workers—a cohort that will make up 75% of the workforce by 2025. According to the 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey, this age group is focused on meeting targets and making an impact with clients. That would indicate that retreats that include trust falls and golf and spa activities without any business takeaways are out, while murder mysteries and other experiential activities that can help foster employee growth are in.

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