The corporate retreat: A physical for your company
Corporate retreats. Team-building exercises. Company outings. It goes by different names, and can take different forms.
No matter the design or application, corporate retreats have simple goals in mind — to connect co-workers in an outside environment in hopes of fostering better teamwork inside the office; to examine a company’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats; and to reward employees for a job well done.
“For 40 years, I’ve taken a day or two to go someplace away from the office and almost do an examination of my company with my top executives,” said Richard Nicotra, who has run corporate retreats for his vast array of businesses from Everything Yogurt to the Hilton Garden Inn. “I found that every year, we came out with at least one great idea. Sometimes, we had two or three great ideas. And it was well worth it.”
Corporate retreats can include small gatherings of executives and department heads in a meeting room, to overnight stays with luxury accommodations, to day-long team-building outings that include a physical component. The most important factor, many agree, is the activity happens outside the normal work environment, in a place that can allow attendees to feel more relaxed to share ideas and critiques, and to be more themselves.
“I think when you take people out of their work environment … and apply their team principles to another work environment, unique talents and relationships are either created or built upon,” said Ed Wiseman, executive director of Historic Richmond Town.
“Someone you may never have known, who is your teammate … all of these things come out in a retreat that get to help you like and work with your team members more.”
The meeting retreat
Nicotra is well versed in the corporate retreat, and what makes one a success — and what makes one not. It’s why his Hilton on Staten Island is beginning to offer corporate retreat packages that he feels will be very beneficial to those who attend.
Nicotra likened corporate retreats to an annual medical physical; it’s a check-up on where things stand, where they’re going and outside-the-box ideas to make things better.
Much like a doctor performing health checks and creating a health plan for a patient, the Hilton’s retreats offer not only meeting space, food options and overnight stays; they also offer an independent facilitator to direct the conversation, helping the organization to focus on its SWOT — strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
“(The facilitator) is somebody that would really spur conversation. He would be the catalyst to get conversation going and to move the conversation in a way that we would get some great ideas at the end of the day,” Nicotra said.
“I think a facilitator is needed, because you want somebody that is not part of the company to look at this.”
The Hilton offers different packages for a company to choose — from one-day meeting space to overnight hotel rooms with a follow-up meeting the next day. But the design of the retreat isn’t as important as the people who attend and the follow-up that is done after it’s over.
“It’s as important for the secretary of the company as it is for the president,” Nicotra said. “It is the people who are in the trenches every day, dealing with the customers. Some of them have great ideas, but don’t have an outlet to bring those ideas forward. As small a company as you are, or as big a company as you are, everybody has good ideas.”
After all, as he pointed out, it was an employee of McDonald’s who once suggested the company serve breakfast.
The creative retreat
Annamarie Aigotti had worked in corporate America for a long time, and eventually, she tired of it. In January, she finally took the plunge out of the environment to purchase a local franchise of Wine and Design — a “paint and sip” place where people can paint while imbibing.
As a former corporate employee, Aigotti says she knows what makes workers tick, and what ticks them off. So her Wine and Design on Veterans Road in the South Shore, which will celebrate its grand opening this summer, will host corporate retreats for companies looking to offer something a little more creative.
“Sometimes when you’re working with all these different types of people, you don’t really know them. And you’ll get to work better with them when you get to know them in a different setting,” she said.
“We feel that when you’re painting together or doing a creative project, it’s a different side of you, where people are letting their hair down.”
Aigotti said her building will have two rooms that could be rented for a corporate retreat — one that sits 35 comfortably and the other that would add 20 seats. A local professional artist, or a person training to be a professional, will always lead the retreat, she said, helping the attendees paint items such as a 6×6 canvas of a bird. Some companies have taken all the canvases their employees have painted and hung them in a “puzzle-like picture” in their office after the retreat.
Wine and Design will customize retreat packages, and Aigotti said it’s important for her to do so as each company has different needs.
“The more you know about the company, the better the retreat will be,” she said. “They’re not all the same; they all have different needs.”
The cultural retreat
Historic Richmond Town is famous for its 100-acre farm and museum complex, set over four sites with artifacts dating back to the 1600s. It’s a popular site for tourists and an educational attraction for people throughout Staten Island.
As Wiseman explains, it has also become a popular site for cultural corporate retreats.
“Once you get out of your car and step inside, there is a pastoral, bucolic sense that you get. You are away from the roads and ‘out of town,’” he said. “The corporate retreats work because they’re relaxing. This is out in the fresh air, in historic buildings. It’s unique.”
Companies as large as Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs have hosted retreats at Historic Richmond Town, but Wiseman says outings are offered — and are actually better — for companies of smaller sizes.
Historic Richmond Town can offer everything from simple meeting space in historic sites and outdoor spaces to more volunteer-like team-building activities.
While they have been offering corporate retreats for more than 10 years now, since before he arrived, Wiseman said they have been steadily increasing hands-on offerings every year.
Companies can bring employees to Historic Richmond Town to give back to the historic site, such as helping to paint fences, complete light repair work and generally clean up the grounds. These packages, Wiseman said, are very popular, and time slots fill up quickly.
“We’ve seen it work here. Teams have become stronger,” he said. “When you’re out here working, sweating … and soaking in things that are historical, you learn more things about your team members and you learn more things about yourself.”
Historic Richmond Town tailors the corporate retreat program to the size of the company and what it wants to get out of the outing. Wiseman’s team has ready-made packages to choose from, but they can also customize the experience if a company has a unique idea.
“The organizations can do the same thing they can do at a meeting room here, plus you get the fresh air, you get the history, you touch upon Americana, and there’s content and hands-on projects you can provide,” he said. “If there’s been team building all day, and getting to learn more about their peers … it’s a much more effective retreat.
“There’s pride of ownership in the team building. It’s not just exercise; you did something for a charity together and you had a good time doing it.”
It’s worth the time
No matter what type of retreat a company chooses, dedicating the time and effort away from the office on at least an annual basis is important for the long-term health of the company and productivity of its workers.
“I have seen and observed the great positive effects these corporate retreats have on companies and workers,” Wiseman said.
Employees appreciate the day away from the office and the opportunity to socialize with co-workers on the company dime. They also appreciate the input they’re encouraged to give, which makes them feel they play a big part for the company.
“There is no company, big or small, that cannot benefit from a one-day meeting,” Nicotra said. “And there’s no company that cannot afford a physical.”