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Getting Away – Together

We’ve been in the retreat business from the very beginning. Some of our earliest Nebo events were visioning retreats, and we continue to offer retreat experiences to our clients. We are advocates of stepping back, reflecting and reconnecting.  Time and again, we’ve seen the restorative benefits and clearer focus that comes from a great retreat experience.

Still, taking your team away for an experience that is relevant to their daily work, but quite different in tone and design can be a daunting proposition. Do colleagues really want to spend time together? Does the work that happens there “last” once the team returns to their routines? Is it worth the investment of time and resources to make such experiences part of your organization’s development?

Last week, the Nebo team traveled to Lake Nebo in the Adirondack Park of upstate New York for a 3.5-day staff retreat. We spent the week swimming, kayaking, hiking and talking, working in teams of two and three to prepare and clean up meals. We used some of our own favorite client exercises to get to know each other better, and we invited each team member to contribute something unique that he or she could offer to the rest of us. One person led a fun icebreaker. Another taught us mixology and invented a new cocktail: the Nebo Fizz. Someone else taught belly dancing to anyone interested, while yet another led a guided forest walk following the Japanese practice of Shinrin-Yoku, or forest bathing. In the midst of a fun week, we got to know each other better, accomplished some important planning and client-related work, and celebrated two promotions.

As retreat host and leader of The Nebo Company, I was gratified to see how much each person appreciated the inspiring beauty of the lake and the chance to know each other better. The meter rose on the Trust-o-Meter as conversations and new, shared experiences brought us together.  I experienced firsthand how meaningful it is to get away – together.

Here are some insights from the Nebo retreat to help you plan your own event:

Do invite a team member to design the retreat with you. Raven Rankine took the lead for Team Nebo and developed a three-day itinerary that included activities and also plenty of free time and collaboration time. She took stock of the social and recreational options as well as our work goals and put together a retreat that was neither too focused on meetings or too light and vacation-like.

Make sure that people contribute to the success of the event. Whether leading an exercise, teaching a skill or sharing something that they are passionate about that is completely “off topic” for the business, the energy and engagement of your retreat will increase significantly if participants feel like they are “on.” We especially appreciated the quiet conversations and funny moments that happened when cooking together and have new respect for each other having seen talents in each other that we didn’t know existed.

Watch out for contagious laptop syndrome! When one person pulled out her laptop during free time, it prompted another to check her email and within half an hour, everyone was at work, despite the glorious day and the intent to have real free time. While some matters do need attention during time when you are on retreat, set some boundaries about how to handle those things – or you may accidentally lose the retreat spirit.

Invite reflection. Throughout the retreat, we took time to pause and reflect on what we were experiencing together. By doing this, we were able to gauge how everyone was feeling and the overall sense of how the retreat was going. It was a powerful practice to allow people to comment on the time that was being spent together, and it allowed everyone to feel grateful for taking this special time away from the day-to-day to just simply connect.

Let there be a little bit of ceremony.  You might choose to have a special opening in which you share the objectives for the retreat and invite people to express their own hopes and intentions.  At the end of the retreat, leave time for a closing experience, whether a simple reflection on the time together or a final social event or group photo.

Have fun!  Our forest-bathing walk ended in laughter and a shortage of ingredients led to the creation of the Nebo Fizz.  We cheered our team on as they bravely jumped from a 15-foot platform into the lake below, and we enjoyed the great food, music and water activities.  Sometimes, leaders want to make up for lost time by working through breaks and lunch.  This is a poor choice, as the unscheduled time may be the most productive of all.

Would you like to work with Nebo to plan a retreat for your team? Contact us or call us at 202-537-3201.

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Forest Bathing: How spending time in nature can improve your leadership and life