There’s a shift occurring in the business world, whereby conferences and retreats are becoming the norm, and incentives are transforming from bar vouchers to spa vouchers. Is this shift working?

Despite a populist view that corporate retreats are opulent and overindulgent, they provide a crucial and authentic time out for leadership and key teams to reconnect, assess productivity and build a shared purpose, even at the most challenging times of business.

Having run corporate and boardroom retreats worldwide for over a decade, for all types of industries and personalities, I have learned that corporate retreats are a vital part of the strategic year for companies that value their teams as much as their bottom line.

Here are a three ways your strategic escape can be used to foster creativity, performance and leadership.

1. Creativity

Creativity requires space to think and environments that can inspire. Providing a digital detox and fresh perspective for your team can take their brains’ off autopilot. If you want to see changes in the level of creative thinking, initiative and a fresh approach to corporate challenges, then the best thing to do is create a real opportunity for people to switch off and have time to think, talk, create and engage.

Choose your location based around this thinking – get back to the ocean or bush; think about the use of space and where you will stay. Nurturing creativity starts before you even arrive.

Back to basics: Close the laptops and bring out the large A3 paper. The cognitive connection between thinking and writing is incredible – it allows a flow and a dynamism that cannot often be captured by tapping away at a keypad.

Let it flow:  Allow the conversation to continue over dinner or lunch, and be open to the ideas that can flow when people are given the opportunity to open up and share their thoughts without the constraints of a stop watch.

2. Performance

A retreat is intended to recharge mental and physical batteries, not deplete them any further.

Integrate a yoga or fresh air session in the morning, and have a mid afternoon session outdoors. Either don’t drink alcohol, or engage in an early evening drinks session before choosing a healthy and balanced dinner that is cooked using fresh ingredients. Encourage your team to do ‘homework’ in the evening, and encourage a good night’s sleep.

View the retreat as an opportunity to share the value of enhancing personal and business vitality, and to develop a plan for integrating your newfound vitality into the office environment. Look at using the resources and knowledge you already have to do this.

Time out in strategy sessions combined with fresh air, fresh food and a fresh perspective can create an incredible mental shift from an outdated philosophy of work hard/play hard, to a more holistic and flexible view. Bring balance into the day and watch this philosophy find its way back to the office as well.

3. Leadership

There are three pillars of true leadership:

  1. Leading from within
  2. Leading by example
  3. Leading others.

Retreats provide a great opportunity to witness an alternate set of your employees skills, characteristics and ideas – different from the ones they may display in a work environment.

Retreats offer a forum where problem solving and collaboration can show leadership in a different light.

Most importantly, leadership teams and executive level management have the opportunity to explore the core commercial elements of their business agenda as well as their own personal well-being and goals in a safe and constructive environment.

Furthermore, increasing your team’s personal connection to the commercial elements of the business can greatly improve their willingness to collaborate and work towards a mutual goal.  For this reason it’s important to create tangible milestones during the retreat that everyone agrees to continue to work towards in the office. Additionally, make your agreed accountability measures official but setting them as KPIs and performance goals that are reviewed periodically.

When it comes to corporate retreats, I always advise leaders to opt for quality over quantity – ditch the junket approach and build a retreat that is going to be a return on your investment.

Corporate retreats, if executed well, efficiently and with purpose, are a powerful tool to re-ignite shared purpose, engagement and a passion for performance in both business and in life.