4 Awful Company Retreat Ideas

Company retreats can be done right -- but not if they involve hypnotists. Avoid these event choices.

Ellis Booker, Technology Journalist

September 23, 2014

3 Min Read
(Image credit: Ari Moore via Flickr)

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I'm a fan of company retreats. They give employees, managers, and CEOs an invaluable opportunity to bond and brainstorm about ambitious, exciting business opportunities. They also let everybody gossip about that guy, whatshisname, in customer support who wears crazy T-shirts on Friday.

But as a survivor of many, many company retreats, I've seen plenty of bad things, too -- things that can't be unseen. So, to save you and your organization time, money, and more money (legal expenses around sexual harassment suits, mostly), here are my Four Retreat Ideas to Avoid.

1. Entertainers
If you're lucky enough to work for Apple, Microsoft, or Google, you'll be treated to a relatively intimate concert featuring a world-famous rock band. If you're really lucky, you'll be a fan and won't find yourself wondering, "What geezer hired these guys?"

But regular companies can't afford name-brand talent, so they turn to local cover bands, magicians, comics, and improv troupes. I've seen them all. (Curiously, no animal acts so far.)

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Generally, these hardworking performers are fine -- the word "harmless" comes to mind -- but there's one type you must always avoid: hypnotists. It's creepy enough seeing Jenny from Accounting barking like a cocker spaniel or pretending to slow dance with an invisible date. Far worse is when one participant fails to wake up "when I snap my fingers." This really happened on a retreat I attended, and it rattled the hell out of everybody in the room, including the increasingly panicked hypnotist. True, the guy floating on an imaginary raft in Aruba with Cindy Crawford seemed to be having fun.

2. Games
The dubious idea of games to "break down trust barriers" among business colleagues is a popular one. It's based on no empirical science I can find, and you'll notice the impact of these games ends seconds after the game does.

So-called "trust exercises," invariably led by overly enthusiastic facilitators, can even insult the intelligence and professionalism of the players. How's about we skip the blindfold Nerf darts game and instead aim our collective intelligence at figuring out the top two challenges facing our industry or company?

3. "Disconnect"
Wherein we're instructed to put away our laptops, tablets, and smartphones and focus on important matters, like the COO's 90-minute, 60-slide presentation. Look, if you can't hold your audience's attention, the problem isn't that their electronic gadgets are turned on. If you're boring or outright lying, they can always doodle in the margins of your handouts.

4. Booze
I've been to two company retreats that featured the head of HR issuing stern warnings about sexual harassment issues in the workplace (fascinating PowerPoint diagrams) in the afternoon, followed by an open bar and an open hot tub two hours later.

Socializing over cocktails is one thing. Frat party foolishness is another. My sense is people slam drinks at the company retreats because they all know in their hearts the same sad, desperate truth: Nothing productive is happening here; my opinion about the company, its strategy, or leaders is irrelevant; I hated the Nerf darts game.

In conclusion, don't attempt to rebuild morale, excitement, or esprit de corps with games or vodka gimlets. Have you seen your own retreat disasters? Tell us in the comments section.

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About the Author(s)

Ellis Booker

Technology Journalist

Ellis Booker has held senior editorial posts at a number of A-list IT publications, including UBM's InternetWeek, Mecklermedia's Web Week, and IDG's Computerworld. At Computerworld, he led Internet and electronic commerce coverage in the early days of the web and was responsible for creating its weekly Internet Page. Most recently, he was editor-in-chief of Crain Communication Inc.’s BtoB, the only magazine devoted to covering the intersection of business strategy and business marketing. He ran BtoB, as well as its sister title Media Business, for a decade. He is based in Evanston, Ill.

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