Find the Time? No, Make the Time
First, let’s be clear on the priority here. Do you really need to plan a team retreat? With smaller staff sizes and a need to constantly innovate, it is easy to say there is no time for a retreat. However, cooperative teams contribute to positive organizational success; teams that do not work well together contribute to strategic failure! Staff retreats, when done right, can rebuild and re-energize a team’s organizational effectiveness. Summer is the most common time for admission team retreats due to the relative “break” in the cycle (we use the term “break” very, very loosely). But even summer presents its challenges, as staff members often have to binge on accrued vacation time like it’s Saved By The Bell newly released on Netflix. Trust us, whether it’s summer or another time during the year, make the time for a retreat. Still not sold? Check out this August blogpost from Fortune for some research to back up the benefits.
Here’s an example straight from our own experience facilitating retreats. Campus Share conducted a customer service excellence workshop for a client at their summer retreat that utilized both data collected from their own prospective students and bench-marking research on service experiences in college admissions. The session was eye-opening to say the least. The data we collected and exercises we conducted demonstrated a clear disconnect in their own self-perception as a “service-friendly” team. But it also inspired them to want to address these gaps through training and remediation so they could live up to their own high expectations. Sometimes we need to step away and get a fresh perspective in order, as the old adage goes, to see the forest for the trees (last cliche, I promise)!
Plant Seeds and Cultivate Your Strongest Asset
Ever find yourself hiring admissions counselors in August and feeling like they’re out on the road before you have a chance to show them where the campus dining hall is? Then, before you know it, they are representing your brand without knowing the first thing about territory management or prospect engagement. Training, and retraining, is critical to an effective admissions and recruitment team. Retreats are a great way to incorporate continuous training into your annual cycle. Not sure what skills your team needs to learn? Try surveying them. As part of their annual review, ask staff to list their top five training needs. Send out an electronic survey and provide open-ended options to inspire creativity, alongside with your standard “check all that apply” answers.
Some staff will need advanced Excel training and others may want to understand the basics of building a query in your CRM. If you have a few emerging leaders, you may find a genuine interest in leadership and management training. Experiencing conflict among team members? Do you have some counselors who lack data-driven decision-making skills? Offer two or three training sessions throughout the year, as well as at your retreat.
As part of the educational component of your retreat, bring in an outside facilitator to lead your team through the skill development sessions (psst… Campus Share does this stuff!). Approaching training in this way will show your staff that you value them and wish to enable their success. Generate true buy-in through all-inclusive collaboration of staff and student workers.
Not Just the What and Wherefore but the Where
There are different schools of thought on whether to take your team off-site for a retreat. If there is a great room on campus that is free and offers good space for break-out sessions, go for it. However, if you want to take your team away from campus for all or part of a day, here are a few locations to consider that may be less costly than a conference room at a resort or hotel:
- New restaurant in the area
- Museum – small or large; most rent out spaces to groups
- Community Center/Senior Center
- Places of Worship or Fire Hall
The key is to let everyone “get away” mentally, more so than physically. If you’re going to stay on campus try to be strategic about the space you choose and beware of colleagues from other departments interrupting. Try a “no-device” rule for the bulk of the retreat so that the team isn’t distracted by their inbox or text messages. And, finally, be sure the office is either officially closed with appropriate communications or in capable hands.
Remember To Add A Little Fun On Top
Announcements about retreats are typically met with the obligatory groan that can be heard across campus. Don’t let it get you down! No matter what they say ahead of time, everyone loves bowling. And your team will be that much stronger when you know who can’t keep their ball out of the gutter and who shows up with their own ball, shoes, and Brunswick Deluxe bowling glove with the fingers cut out.
But in all seriousness, add some fun! One of our associate’s was able to take part in a staff retreat where the group went to an Escape Room. Randomly assigned teams broke out into each room and had an absolute blast before a nice closing dinner. But even if activities like Escape Rooms or bowling present budget problems, try something creative. On-campus scavenger hunts, board games (there are board game versions of Escape Rooms!), or Improv (do you dare?) are a few ideas.
So get to planning! Summer is almost here. And if you’re looking for outside facilitators (Warning: shameless plug #2), check out our workshops. But as you plan remember this…whatever you land on in terms of agenda, location, events, etc., have a thick skin. The groans may get you down or make you question whether you’re just selfishly channeling your own inner dork, but once the laughs start they will be contagious, and often times just the medicine your team needs!