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How to measure the value of company retreats

Both remote and in-person organizations can benefit immensely from strategically planned retreats in a fresh environment. At SA Expeditions we’ve experienced myriad gains from gathering our remote team for annual company retreats. Read on for a detailed case study highlighting the impacts and benefits of our successful company retreats.

We get it – you won’t commit to a company retreat if you can’t justify a return on your investment. As the saying goes, “If it gets measured, it gets managed.” So here are the nuts and bolts of how we measure the value of our own now-legendary company retreats.

Packing an impactful punch

First, here’s our short list of the most high-value impacts our company retreats provide. At SA Expeditions we tend to hold at least one executive strategy retreat each year, and one international all-hands retreat to sculpt culture and alignment. At these retreats we cover meals, unique accommodations, and enriching excursions for our team for four or five consecutive days.

  • Innovation: Innovation is one of those buzzwords often tossed around but seldom truly achieved. The word comes from the same Latin root that brings us the term “renewed,” which helps explain the nuance of why retreats are so valuable and create a fresh ecosystem ripe for generating innovative ideas. By purposefully gaining new perspectives, be it from a rustic mountain lodge or an afternoon snorkeling with marine iguanas, you generate the potential for corporate renewal. And who knows? You may just land on the perfect collective mindset to unlock true innovation.

Backyard casita in Merida Mexico
Finding new perspectives and opening new doors in Mérida, Mexico.
  • Brainstorming potential: As this Economist article states, “Research carried out in 2017 found that different types of ideas emerge at different stages of a brainstorm. The most feasible suggestions were generated at the start of brainstorming sessions, presumably because they were also more obvious, and the most original ones came later.” If you conceptualize company retreats as one continuous, multi-day brainstorm session, it makes sense that the seed of the idea for our grand tour of the Andes, an epic 20-day small-group trek down the spine of the Great Inca Trail (which has further spurred some notable industry collaboration) would sprout during the final evening of our 2021 executive retreat in the Bocas del Toro region of Panama.

  • Employee engagement: In a 2021 anonymous survey, 100% of our full-time workers noted feeling “Moderately engaged” (37%) or “Highly engaged” (63%). That means not a single full-timer expressed feeling merely “A Little Engaged” or “Somewhat Disengaged,” let alone “Highly Disengaged.” While we strive to foster genuine year-round engagement from our team, we also intrinsically understand that our annual retreats are a key driver of individual engagement.

  • Employee retention and attracting new talent: A surefire way to stand out among the hordes of other companies offering enticing perks is by holding company retreats that shatter expectations and inspire greater purpose. By adding a celebrated retreat to your corporate agenda, potential recruits and defectors are likely to discover a more profound commitment to your business goals.

Trekking the Great Inca Trail with SA Expeditions
Standing out in our field by standing out in a field along the Great Inca Trail in Peru.
  • Strategy creation and planning: Boring meeting rooms and forgettable conference spaces do little to inspire creativity. Can you remember the specifics of your last meeting room, such as the architecture, the set-up, or the feelings it was designed to invoke? We didn’t think so. Strategy creation and ideation sessions are retreat must-haves. This is why we intentionally craft our sessions to have eye-opening, perspective-broadening backgrounds, such as the patio of a colonial mansion, or an elevated, waterfront yoga platform. Whiteboards and slide decks hit differently when viewed in a new-to-the-team location like Peru, Panama, or Costa Rica – you’re going to be looking at them anyway, so why not expand your team’s horizons while you’re at it?

  • Strengthening goal alignment: Piggybacking off the successes of the aforementioned high-value impacts, we’ve found retreats to be a key factor when building consensus around a common set of values. Combining a fresh perspective with multi-day brainstorming, off-the-charts engagement, exemplary team members, and strategy planning sessions, means you’ll have an efficient and streamlined team ready to tackle your OKRs head-on (or KPIs, or whatever other framework you use to measure progress).

It all boils down to culture. Trust us.

A recent Economist article on “Reading corporate culture from the outside” reminded us:

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast, runs the aphorism.”

SA Expeditions company retreat at Galapagos Islands Ecuador
Living out our company values at the breakfast table in the Galapagos Islands.

Company retreats are a proven way to live out your company ideals and walk the talk. If your organization prioritizes health, wellness, and worker well-being, what better way to demonstrate your dedication than via a multi-day, transformational experience outside of the office? If your organization’s core values or mission statement include the terms integrity, commitment, excellence, accountability, teamwork, or similar, we assure you that one of the best and most impactful ways to manifest these values is through enriching experiences, shared as a team.

You may ask yourself, “But why should I invest in a multi-day retreat? I can just as easily do a day-long, in-house event with a few ice breakers and presentations, and generate the same results for less.” As this article on making brainstorming better teases, “Breaking the ice by throwing a word-association ball at each other is a brilliant idea, if you are throwing a birthday party for ten-year-olds.” Frankly, our years specializing in unforgettable high-end travel experiences for discerning clients has taught us a thing or two about executing transformative corporate offsites in bucket-list-worthy locales.

SA Destination Experts at Sacred Valley Peru
Crafting culture and building character while hiking above Peru’s Sacred Valley.

As a fully remote organization, we know how hard it is to thoughtfully build a corporate culture from emails and video calls alone, and we could wax poetic about the difficulties of collaborating with virtual strangers located on different parts of our planet. But the many benefits of company retreats apply to firms with in-person offices, too. You’ll inevitably see your cubicle-mate in a new light after maneuvering a two-person kayak through flamingo-inhabited waters together, or after sharing a few hours together on a pristine Andean hiking trail.

Whether you’ve never met your colleagues in person before, or you spend 40 hours a week by their sides, there’s no question that learning that you can trust them to keep your kayak afloat translates effortlessly into trusting them the next time they say they’ll have that report for you by the end of the week.

SA Destination Experts kayaking at Sisal Mexico
Building trust and keeping kayaks upright in Sisal, Mexico.

The benefits of happiness are far-reaching and contagious

As SA Expeditions’ CEO Nick Stanziano puts it, “When you get in a new space, your neurons connect in different ways.”

According to Our World in Data’s research on social connections and the importance of social networks for innovation and productivity: knowledge spillovers, economic opportunity, and even overall personal health and happiness (and thus corporate health, too) are tied to strong connections between company colleagues. A happy team leads to genuine connection, engagement, and innovation, and our team is uplifted all year by both the long-lasting memories from our latest retreat and the giddy anticipation of the next transformative offsite.

Our three primary reasons for investing in our annual summits are:

  1. Maintaining cohesion across all facets of our multi-national business

  2. Connecting team members more deeply and authentically than daily emails and “watercooler” chats can provide

  3. Driving engagement, motivation, and, yes, happiness

Take it from Forbes, “When people report greater happiness, they are physically healthier, perform better, and set bigger goals and achieve them.” This underscores the ever-growing data set which asserts that happiness is good for business.

SA Expeditions company retreat at Galapagos Islands Ecuador 1
Embodying “happiness is good for business” in the Galapagos Islands.

Case Study - Company Retreats (Infographic1)
Case Study - Company Retreats (Infographic2)

At first, it may be easy to write off retreats and offsites as corporate boondoggling, but SA Expeditions’ off-the-charts engagement and organizational goal alignment are proof of the transformative power of thoughtful company retreats. To start planning your next company retreat, schedule a free consultation. For insider intelligence and more on the impact of our own retreats, follow us on LinkedIn.

About the author: Located in sunny San Diego, California, Corey Jay is the Brand Manager for SA Expeditions and the company’s unofficial hype person for company retreats. Corey holds a Bachelor of Arts from Scripps College, and a Master of Leadership in Service Innovation from the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia.

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