Adventure retreats aren't cliché wilderness expeditions or field trips without purpose. If used and planned properly, they can serve as a powerful team-builder. After years of seeing benefits through our own retreats, we built the Larsmont Center for Strategy and Team Development at Larsmont Cottages to bring this powerful tool to others. But there are right and wrong ways to hold a retreat. Here’s how to make the trip count:
BELIEVE IT WILL HELP.
Some bosses may reluctantly send employees on these retreats, half expecting them to fail or doubting the return on their investment. To become a true believer, check out the Association for Challenge Course Technology (ACCT) website at acctinfo.org. Besides giving exhaustive information on challenge course standards and vendors, the website discusses lots of serious academic research done on the benefits of challenge courses, starting in the 1960s.
GET EMPLOYEES TO REALIZE IT WILL HELP.
People will more gladly take the doctor’s medicine if they really believe the doctor knows what he is doing. You can show a presentation ahead of time at the office, telling of the benefits of challenge course and why the group is going. Studies have generally found rope courses, spawned by Outward Bound years ago, help with self-esteem, team cohesion, confidence and concentration.
CHOOSE A FACILITATOR AND FACILITY THAT ARE ACCT CERTIFIED.
This certification is important. That way you don’t need to guess that the staff and equipment are held to rigorous standards. How rigorous are ACCT-certified camps?
Recently, David Werntz, president of Sabre Surgical, took his team to Lone Star Peak Performance, an ACCT-certified camp in Texas. Dave, a West Point graduate and former officer, says he was “blown away” by the program. He recommends the program as a means to “transform” a team.
Since we run an ACCT-certified course, I know what Dave means. At Larsmont we are also fortunate enough to have certified instructors on staff. But, if you have to book a facilitator and facility separately, make sure both are ACCT certified.
MAKE SURE THE FACILITATOR UNDERSTANDS YOUR OBJECTIVES FOR THE RETREAT.
Good facilitators will competently and with great enthusiasm take your attendees through the course components. Great facilitators, on the other hand, can create a story line for use during the sessions that reinforces key points you want to make sure your people understand. Great facilitators also help illustrate how any particular course component connects to the point you want to make.
ENTHUSIASTICALLY PARTICIPATE YOURSELF.
You need to face the challenges with your subordinates.
Shared challenges and adversity can bring people together. Sometimes people who never get beyond saying “good morning” can become best friends on the courses.
Richmond Ropes Course is a challenge camp for youth in Virginia. One leader who brought his group says the program helped people get together but also exposed people gifts and skills as well as contributing to the “future connectedness of its members.”
ENCOURAGE EVERYONE TO PARTICIPATE TO THE LEVEL THEY ARE CAPABLE AND TAKE TURNS BEING THE LEADER.
Even the most timid worker may have some latent leadership leanings. Let them shine, so they glow with confidence back to the work desk. Everyone can lead others to some extent, if just by example or advice they may have been too timid to give before.
This sounds obvious but it is important to remember. Know when people have had enough and back off and give them some time to recreate. At my retreat, people kayak on Lake Superior, hike in dense forests or enjoy a massage. In the winter, guests crosscountry ski, snowshoe or enjoy a sauna. Settings like this inspire your team to work hard during the lessons, and they may even spontaneously act as a team while taking a break from classes.