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What are your successful management retreat topics, ideas, activities, methods, etc?

Successful Management RetreatsI’m part of a small group tasked with planning a corporate retreat. The purposes in general are relaxation, team-building and brainstorming new ideas. I’ve got the relaxation part covered, if the other two don't get in the way. I could use some ideas, inspiration, topics, activities, tips etc for the group plan. Also, as for my own participation at the retreat, I could use either methods of generating new ideas that have worked for you, sources of inspiration and/or specific suggestions of areas for finance/accounting to consider. Honestly, my fear is being put on the spot to spontaneously generate brilliance. As I write this, I guess I’m looking to get a jump on fresh ideas for myself and to help structure the event in such a way that it’s comfortable for everyone, myself included. That makes this kind of a two-part question…. ideas for the group plan and ideas to help me get a little inspiration. Thanks!

Editor's Discussion Summary:
  • Seemingly infinite types of games and approaches to team building
  • Create a role-switching marketing campaign
  • Design, cook and market a hamburger for food co. retreat
  • Stephen Covey ideas and activities
  • A personality test and group discussion
  • Teams to design a company turn-around
  • Ropes ideas and activities
  • Team excercises may be a waste of time
  • Simple physical activity, such as bowling
  • Scavenger hunts, cooking, plus much more below!

Read more and then take a look at this discussion:


Sara Voight
Title: Controller
Company: Critical Signal Technologies, Inc
(Controller, Critical Signal Technologies, Inc) |

I haven't done this on a retreat, but this was done at a prior company and it had a great impact:
We split people into teams - generally one person from each department - and asked them to come up with a new marketing campaign to grow our business. They were asked to take it from the beginning to the end (budget-sourcing -marketing-sale-production-shipping-collecting) and present to the executive leadership team.

What ended up happening was that each person got a first hand look at each other's pain points. They started understanding that sales wasn't just about taking people to lunch and making ridiculous promises. That the warehouse folks weren't creating more work for everyone by having to track PO's and receivors. That the accounting people weren't trying to make it difficult for everyone just because. There was enough time during the project for everyone to share some of 'why' they needed to get the information they had been asking for. They met for a short while each day, in between their other work.

The result was that people shared ideas to help their co-workers, they were less resistant to requests, and the ideas they came up with were phenomenal. We also noticed a breaking down of the cliques. And the people not involved the first time this ran asked right away when we were doing it again, so they could participate.

Sarah Jackson
Title: Associate Editor
Company: Proformative
(Associate Editor, Proformative) |

Hi M,

I just got done reading this free report here at Proformative. It has some great insights as to how the different generations have different characteristics that can be harnessed in a variety of ways to benefit employees and the organization.

Read it and then think about it as a topic for your retreat. This insight is often overlooked, but really holds a lot of opportunity for a great retreat topic:

"Leading & Engaging A Multi-Generational Workforce"

Proformative also has this other discussion which questions the whole value of management retreats:

Finally, check out Proformative's

"Free 5 Min. Career Insights Analysis"


Best... Sarah

Deanna Miller
Title: Chief Financial Officer
Company: Professional Plumbing Group
(Chief Financial Officer, Professional Plumbing Group) |

Hi M,

My company makes ingredients used in food and beverage applications. At one "retreat" the team building activity was to have each team work together to design, cook and market a hamburger to the senior leadership team. It was easier to understand the link between our company and the team building exercise because of the link to how our products are used by our customers. I do not know what your business does, but if you can find something that links in, your brainstorming may benefit later. Also, just looking for activities that would link might help your own idea generation.

That said, make sure that there is a debrief on the team building activity. Without someone to purposefully guide and moderate the discussion of what the objectives and results mean, the potential team building benefits will be minimized.

I hope your retreat is successful. Deanna

(VP - FInancial Planning and Analysis) |

I have seen some very good Stephen Covey disciples that can assist with this type of thing.

W Lee Penn II
Title: CFO, CCO
Company: Protocol Driven Healthcare Inc
(CFO, CCO, Protocol Driven Healthcare Inc) |

There are many forms of team-building exercises. One I particularly like is to have all participants complete a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) ( and read the book Type Talk at Work (Revised): How the 16 Personality Types Determine Your Success on the Job by Kroeger, Thuesen and Rutledge. Just presenting the distribution of MBTIs of the participants to the gathered group generates a lively discussion about how communications and decisions are made among the group. Having an organization dynamics consultant interpert their results to each participant and to the group as a whole adds a level of understanding and connectedness that will be helpful for as long as you remember each person's MBTI. Good luck with your retreat.

Topic Expert
Linda Wright
Title: Consultant
Company: Wright Consulting
(Consultant, Wright Consulting) |

One retreat that I attended that proved very successful was to form multi-functional competitive teams to construct a company turnaround (We were given "facts" that showed several units tumbling). The energy was great and the opportunity to work directly with engineering, actuarial, others formed the basis for new friendships.

Good luck.

Topic Expert
Christie Jahn
Title: CFO
Company: Prime Investments & Development
(CFO, Prime Investments & Development) |

Look for a Ropes course. We have one in our community and my boss went through it with a group of peers. He said it was awesome and at the end the event coordinator actually goes through and tells you peoples strengths, successes and why they were successful and ares of opportunity for the group. I plan to have my team go through it but maybe in the fall now, because it's getting too warm here!

Low ropes courses are negotiating real and imagine obstacles with teams.

Name games, people to people and Racoon Circle are fun ice breakers to break down barriers.

Group initiative problems include: The Muese, Spider's Web, Carpet Maze, Crocodile Pit, Whale Watch, Peanut Butter River, Ragging River, T.P. Shuffle, Nitro Crossing, and Group Wall

Trust-building games such as Willows in the Wind and Trust Fall.

Low Ropes Elements: a series of cables include: Swinging Balance Beam, Triangle Traverse, Tire Swings, and Mohawk Walk.

Topic Expert
Wayne Spivak
Title: President & CFO
LinkedIn Profile
(President & CFO, |

Why not a group "therapy" session centered around Team Alignment.

You can play games, brainstorm or do any other aspect of rah-rah, but if in the end you can not achieve alignment with your teams (and alignment starts with the executive team) then all you've done is waste your time; because you'll never execute any of your plans.

Len Green
Title: Performance Improvement Consultant and E..
Company: Haygarth Consulting LLC
LinkedIn Profile
(Performance Improvement Consultant and ERP Strategist, Haygarth Consulting LLC) |

As you are part of a small team tasked with planning this, if I were you I would consider getting some referrals to folk who can help plan the overall agenda and also facilitate a strategy/team building session or two. The independence, objectivity, outside viewpoint and the skills of a good facilitator will often dispel issues about bias and personality/culture issues.

Topic Expert
Dana Price
Title: Vice President, M&A
Company: McGraw Hill Education
(Vice President, M&A, McGraw Hill Education) |

Try something incredibly basic and sometimes silly- take them bowling. If they physically cannot participate, then they are the scorekeeper/cheerleader. Then give them post-its and markers and conduct a brainstorming activity right there in the bowling alley. It's worked for me every time.

Topic Expert
Mike Caruana
Title: Director of Financial Services
Company: Diamond Resorts International
(Director of Financial Services, Diamond Resorts International) |

HRDQ ( has a wide array of outstanding activities from scenario based to theme based. You can even build events around some of them, and they can be done on or off-site. Incredibly flexible. I've used several and they've always been very successful.

Linda Anderson
Title: National and Interactive Sales Manager
Company: WGNO ABC26
(National and Interactive Sales Manager , WGNO ABC26) |

Scavenger Hunt's are a great way to build team morale. We have done it several ways - older reps vs younger reps, women vs men, a mixture of all. It really is a ton of fun and can be done in an instructional way depending on the clues.
Another great thing we have done is break into teams. Each team is given the same marketing case study to present a solution for. Everything from who your client is, their personality, their goals, what the product is etc. Each team presents to the entire group after doing their break out session. It is a great exercise showing how the same challenge can be answered in different ways. The managers then vote on the best presentation.
Shows everyone how each person thinks and shows everyone how there are many different ways to come up with solutions that will please the client.

Stacy Cordier
Title: Managing Partner
Company: SSGT Partners LLC
LinkedIn Profile
(Managing Partner, SSGT Partners LLC) |

Cooking together is another good team-builder that can be crafted to enhance team communication. I have used this as a cook off where one team competes against the other making the same meal, and as a way to get team mates to work together by having them create on part of the overall meal together. People need to eat anyway so this is much more interactive and seemed to get people to relate to one another better at the end of the session.

david waltz
Title: Assistant Treasurer
Company: Integrys Energy Group
(Assistant Treasurer, Integrys Energy Group) |


I recently ran an 1 1/2 hour meeting on the nature of low probability / high impact events that could impact our company.

In order to generate some creative, outside the box scenarios, I used the World Economic Forum's 50 risks identified in their Global Risk Report ( ) and put each risk and its two sentence description onto an index card.

During the meeting, all 50 cards were passed out to participants. We would then call two people at a time to each state their risk, identify ways that it could impact one of the company's main value drivers, and how each of the risks could join together to create a "Black Swan" type of situation.

It stimulated a lot of discussion and time flew by during that meeting (and how often can we say that!).

Dave W.

Andrew Nussbaum
Title: Director of Finance and Adminstration
Company: **--**--**
(Director of Finance and Adminstration, **--**--**) |

Recently, my (now former) organization ran an all-staff retreat (called it "Advance") as in "advancing the organization" - while not specific to Finance, it was a general call to activate employees on detailed projects instrumental to ongoing success - sales increases; production improvements; message delivery/ customer experience, and similar; teams were built of inter-departmental staffers, with hope of seeing different viewpoints/ perspectives/ solutions to organizational problems.An additional outcome was empowerment of staff and identified leaders within the staff. The organization has about 40 total employees.
Success was to be measured by successful project outcome - most all projects are still being worked, so results pending.
One specific activity was each staffer's ability to answer two questions: 1) what IS working in the organization? and 2) what is NOT working in the organization?
The leadership team (I was a part) was instructed to 'stand down' and not be overly involved in the project teams, but be available for mentoring, etc.
The plan was a solid idea, just not sure the organization's culture was quite ready to take on such an involving process.
Not sure if this helps, but perhaps you can use elements in your retreat.

Good luck!

David Smith
Title: Manager
Company: Private
(Manager, Private) |

I've found that the difference between successful management retreats vs pointless junkets often hinges upon first creating an environment where employees resistance to looking foolish is diminished.

Or, put another way, risking to say something not heard in the office is rewarded. I can't tell you how many times I've sat in a meeting that had an agenda item that could be summarized as, "come up with good ideas" and most people are silent. Or, they put forth a repackaged existing idea as a way of saying, "I agree with you."

Why don't employees come up with more and better and different ideas more freely?

Because employees perceive the potential cost in stature is greater than the possible gain.

And the sad truth is, they are often right.

Many ideas are greeted with "oh, we've thought of that and decided it wouldn't work," even before learning more about the idea.

If that's what the first person hears back on their idea, what a lousy opening act for the rest of potential idea suggesters!

So what is the point of these things anyway?

Often a perfunctory survey of the minions to reassure management that they have thought of all of the good ideas and no other ideas remain.

What a waste of time!

I would suggest that until management confronts the environment it has often created outside of a retreat, it will be hard to get real value from tips, ideas, activities, unique methods in a retreat. Or, the the value will be much diminished.

A good environment would be one that values a multitude of experiments. You cut or adapt the losing experiments and expand the promising experiments.

The only unforgivable sin is to not try anything new. And, that starts with management.

Of course, there are retreats that are rationalized as "team-building" and don't expect to generate any measurable change.

Those retreats, in my experience, defy any sort of rational cost/benefits analysis. A company that doesn't reward risk taking in the office first, doesn't need to take the show on the road.

Justin Murana
Title: Planner
Company: UNEB
(Planner, UNEB) |

I think a good retreat needs to assure participants of their freedom of expression of ideas without victimization. A retreat which does not have buy-in of top management is in my views a waste of time and resources. After all they have the final say as far as implementation is concerned


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