Newport Beach:  “I read your Elite Team book and recognize the value of having an annual team retreat,” explained Robert as a preface to his real concern, “however, whenever I bring up the idea of a retreat I always get push-back, as if nobody wants to make that type of commitment.  Do you have any suggestions?”

Robert’s situation is unfortunate, but with only a small percentage of teams holding annual off-site retreats, it’s a reality.  Let’s look at the objective of a team retreat.  In a nutshell, the purpose is to enhance team chemistry while tracking progress towards the team’s goals.  This leads to a natural reinforcement of individual accountability, and everyone making the necessary adjustments.  The idea is for this all to occur in a non-threatening environment.

Though most elite teams hold annual retreats, there are effective alternatives.   An elite team (one of our coaching clients) adopted a quarterly team meeting/dinner this past year to replace their annual two-day retreat.  Let me share the details with you…

This isn’t your normal meeting or dinner.  This is a two to three hour team meeting hosted off-site at an upscale restaurant, followed by drinks and dinner.  The meeting is complete with a specific theme, agenda, performance update of team progress toward goals, individual performance updates, and an accompanying dinner.

At first glance, this might appear fairly simple, but that’s far from the case if you intend to make this a productive event.   I asked our coach of this elite team to outline the process that he developed collaboratively with the team leader.

Step 1:  Create a Theme – In this case, it was determined that everyone was working hard but not necessarily smart.  There were redundancies, tasks that should be delegated, and comfortable routines people had fallen into.  As all of this was discussed during a coaching call, a theme surfaced; professional development.

Step 2:  Communicate the Theme – The team leader was given a two-week window (bi-weekly coaching sessions) to communicate both the theme for the upcoming meeting/dinner and give homework assignments to each individual. They were asked to identify an area in which they would like to grow and explain how it would benefit them professionally and help the team.  They also had to determine the necessary changes they’d have to make, and identify necessary action steps that should be taken.

Step 3:  Have a Team Planning Session with Coach – This is easy if you’re currently in a coaching relationship, which was the case with this elite team.  The planning session was conducted through a bridge-line conference call.  If you’re not currently in a coaching relationship, improvise. I know of advisors who have used a wholesaler as the de-facto coach for the meeting (the wholesaler also picked-up the dinner tab for the actual event).  The idea is to get everyone onboard using an outside facilitator.  This third party person reinforces the importance of the team’s goals, everyone pulling together, and each individual departing with specific action steps. Using someone external to the group ensures that the theme of the meeting is understood and embraced by all participants, and that everyone recognizes what is expected of them.

Step 4:  Conduct the Team Meeting/Dinner – It’s been our experience that if you take the first three steps seriously, the actual meeting/dinner is not only very productive, but a lot of fun.  The heavy lifting is in both the planning session and the actual meeting; team goals are reviewed, individual growth initiatives (based on the theme) are discussed, and commitments to action steps are made.

Dinner is then a convivial event.  The wine flows, defenses go down, camaraderie is strengthened, and business is discussed in a relaxed manner.  The bonus is that you don’t need to have your coach attend this meeting/dinner, unless a wholesaler is serving as the facilitator and helping with expenses.

Spouses are not involved, which makes planning much easier and helps keep everything on point.  Could you invite spouses to the dinner?  Of course – but you’ll be better off having a holiday dinner or summer cookout that includes spouses.  You’ll get the most out of this event by confining it to your team.

Are there other alternatives to team retreats?  Of course.  However, this quarterly team meeting/team dinner has proven to be a cost-effective, time-efficient method of keeping your team on track while mixing business with pleasure.  The beauty of it is that it can be held quarterly, everyone knows what is expected, and the dinner is always a good time. 

Matt Oechsli is the author of The Art of Selling to the Affluent.  His firm, The Oechsli Institute, does ongoing speaking and training for nearly every major firm in the US.  @mattoechsli www.oechsli.com