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How to Plan Effective Getaways

By Mary Passalacqua

Retreats and off-site meetings present wonderful opportunities for groups to collaborate, strategize and build relationships away from their normal office environments. With proper planning, these sessions can be highly effective and even pivotal in setting a new direction. However, off-sites may present some unforeseen challenges that can quickly deflate the energy in the room if not anticipated and addressed in advance. Since time out of the office with colleagues is precious, here are five best practices to ensure your next off-site meeting is productive, enjoyable and drives business success.

Plan the Agenda in Advance
It’s important to set your meeting goals, define key topics of discussion and share the agenda with the participants for their input. Here are other details to determine in advance:

  • Allow time for discussion, decision-making and setting action plans.
  • Designate a note-taker and “timekeeper” to help remain on schedule.
  • Plan if key members get pulled away or unexpected matters arise at the office.
  • Include sufficient breaks and down-time before, during or after the sessions.
  • Sort out the logistics for going out to dinner or any other off-property group excursions.
  • Arrange a car service to circumvent potential driving concerns in unfamiliar locations.

Vet the Venue and Location
Pick a place where attendees are eager to stay, especially if the agenda allows for some free time or team-building activities. A short drive, train ride or flight to the destination is ideal so attendees arrive alert and ready to have a successful retreat. If possible, schedule the meeting at a time of year when weather isn’t a concern to decrease the likelihood of stressful travel disruptions or treacherous driving conditions on unfamiliar roads.

Meeting Space and Environment Should Meet Your Requirements
Select a place that supports your intentions for the meeting and consider these essentials:

  • Will traditional hotel conference rooms for formal presentations be necessary? Or will a historic building nestled amidst natural surroundings, a vineyard or a horse farm, be a better choice?
  • Is an all-inclusive package to remain on-site preferable or do you want one that allows flex- ibility to see the town, enjoy local restaurants or go sight-seeing
  • Consider the size, setup and floor plan and whether you’ll need to change the layout to support different sessions if your meeting will be on multiple days.
  • Make sure people with food allergies or food sensitivities can be accommodated.
  • Confirm the necessary technical equipment and supplies—decide what you’ll need and what you will bring such as HDMI, MAC connectors, a speakerphone, easels, flip charts or projectors.

Develop a Rapport with your Meeting Contact
Once your meeting is booked, the facility should assign a main contact person who is responsible for pertinent aspects so it goes smoothly. Communicate with this person on an ongoing basis to develop a mutual understanding of expectations concerning your agenda and requirements. Ideally, your attendees will focus on the meeting topics and let your on-site contact be your coordinator once the group arrives. Provide participants’ contact information (e.g. emails, office and cellphone numbers) for questions, changes, issues or in case of an emergency. Inform your contact of any changes to the agenda, additional attendees or late arrivals.

Orchestrate Effective Team-Building Activities
Define your team-building goals—are they purely recreational or is the objective to build trust, take on new challenges or forge new relationships? Make sure the designated activities appeal to everyone or offer different choices to prevent disappointments. For example, an afternoon round of golf may interest some, but others may prefer to go on a group hike or bike ride. Have a backup plan such as a team cooking class in case a scheduled outdoor activity must be cancelled due to inclement weather.

Mary Passalacqua is the owner of Woolverton Inn, a historic country estate property in Stockton, New Jersey. Prior to becoming an inn owner, she was a finance executive for Fortune 100 companies, where she organized and attended numerous off-site corporate business meetings across the U.S. and in Europe. A Select Registry member, Woolverton Inn hosts year-round retreats, B&B guests, weddings and other special events.