At the end of the year, we run a bit of a pre-Christmas business retreat. We usually find somewhere with a barbeque and some sun (as is Australian tradition).Spending any money on seeming non-necessities like an end of year retreat is likely to induce a few harrumphs from grumpy business curmudgeons that value gross productivity well above culture or happiness in general. Little do they know, a retreat isn’t just a reward for a year’s hard work. Nor is it just a team building exercise. Nor is it just a few days in a more sunny office. It’s all of those things and more.We’re here to explain, from our slightly avant-garde business perspective, the long lasting value that Christmas ciders and sand between your toes can bring to any company.
Get to know each other properly at your business retreat
It’s true – we’re running a business, not a social club. But at the end of the day, we’re spending a tremendous amount of time dealing with one another. Everyone works in the same room here at Rex, because in our profession, we need to talk fairly regularly. As you can imagine, this works far better when we actually know each other.We don’t like any cubicle or emotional walls holding our work back. Knowing people properly means you don’t need to tread on eggshells around them – so we like to designate a bit of time for exactly that purpose. We’ve found the best way to get to know someone is over a beer and the sizzle of Woolworths’ sausage.The thing is: team-building exercises have always been a big part of most managerial plans - but they usually involve activities you might find within the walls of a cub scout hall. If you’re falling backwards and hoping someone’s going to catch you - all while trying to maintain some air of professionalism – you’re going to be uncomfortable. As a matter of fact, you’re probably going to leave feeling far more embarrassed around your peers than before. Especially if you accidently dropped Susan from Accounts and no one is talking to you anymore.That’s why we opt for the retreat instead. We can get to know each other in our natural habitat, share a laugh, and return to work with friends rather than colleagues.
You’re outside of the office. You can be yourself.
Retreats generally involve you leaving the office. This isn’t an invitation to go completely ape with no repercussions; it’s an invitation to have a conversation with your co-workers away from the water cooler. About something other than work.Being away from the office with all your work mates means you can leave your professional side at the door and start being yourself.Some particularly old school business misers don’t want to know who you are outside of the office. They’d rather you wipe your personality along with your shoes before you come through the door, then sit down, be quiet, and not obstruct any progress. Sure, this gets the job done - but it’s not particularly great for morale.When you get to know people beyond their role in the workplace, you might find skills they have that you never knew of before. Skills they might even be able to put to use for the betterment of the company. Susan from Accounts might be an avid writer, and wouldn’t mind doing a blog for your real estate agency’s website, for example.Getting to know your peers also helps with collaboration.The problem is, departments can become silos within the office. If you’re in accounts, chances are you’re usually dealing exclusively with other accountants and people whose titles start with ‘Chief’. If you’re in marketing, chances are you’re not dealing with the agents too often.Getting to know about the roles of your peers makes your workplace more transparent, and breaking down the barriers between departments gets people to think outside their box. Everyone begins to perceive and realise the different responsibilities other members of the team have, and how the business looks from their point of view. This translates pretty rapidly into a collaborative environment. It’s no longer just about what’s the easiest for me – it’s about what’s easiest for everyone. Collaboration is absolutely the key to success for any business. Working together, and understanding a co-workers duties in many ways helps the company as a whole to get more done, and faster.
It’s entirely possible to have fun and work at the same time – often with outstanding results.Everybody’s job is intrinsically stressful – with the exception of those lucky few who earn their crust by training and swimming with dolphins at Sea World. The value of being able to work stress-free – even for a day or two - is unprecedented. While some of us claim to work better under pressure, the vast majority get even less done than normal because we’re too busy grinding our teeth down to nubs. So why not, at least once a year, see how much you can get done when there’s absolutely zero expectation at all?That’s why we have ‘department hacks’ on retreat. We split ourselves back up into our departments, and brainstorm ideas that we think would better the business. The best example of this in action comes from our developers. Every retreat, they have a night of Redbull and/or beer, and come up with an entirely new feature. If it’s deemed worthy – it’s cleaned up, built further and eventually put live.Now, you might not have a lot of faith in a group of sleep deprived, beer-swilling developers – but if you’ve been with us for a while – you’d remember the transition from Rex 1 to Rex 2. You might be surprised to know that Rex 2 began as a hack on a retreat. This is just one example of the sort of calibre of ideas that can lazily float out of your head when you remove your nose from the grindstone.How does this work? How can we be so much better at work when we’re not technically working?One of the best ways to remove stress is a new environment. It’s easy to become stagnant when you’re sitting in front of the same computer, under the same fluorescent lighting, breathing the same recycled air – day in, day out. You need some sand between your toes every once in a while. You need to have a laugh and enjoy yourself – and this is the purpose of the retreat.From a business perspective – throwing out expectations and deadlines for a couple of days can work wonders. Sure – this sort of thing wouldn’t work long term, which is why there’s no such thing as a full-time retreat. However – letting go once a year can produce the goods, especially if you’ve been filling your head up with brain fuel for a whole year in advance.If your office has never thought about giving a retreat a go – why not try? You’ll be closer with your colleagues. You’ll understand what really makes Susan in Accounts tick, and get along far better with her. Who knows? Your business might even be better off for it.