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3 MORE steps to planning a successful company offsite or retreat

Danielle Snelson

In the first part of our company offsite blog series, we broke down 3 key steps to planning a successful offsite: defining the event’s purpose + goals, your objective, and your budget. (You can check out part 1 here!) Today we will be breaking down three more critical steps to planning a successful company offsite, team retreat, sales incentive, or meet-up: finding the perfect venue, planning ahead for the best communication possible, and creating the perfect agenda!

Finding the perfect venue

Planning a company team retreat or meet-up is an exciting opportunity to bring your colleagues together, foster collaboration, and create lasting memories. However, amidst the excitement, the task of selecting the perfect venue can present its fair share of challenges. We’ll explore the common hurdles and complexities you can face when choosing a venue for a team retreat or team-building event. By understanding these challenges, you’ll be better equipped to navigate the venue selection process and create an extraordinary experience for your team.

Limited time and resources:

One of the primary challenges in venue selection is the constraint of time and resources. As someone tasked with organizing the team retreat, you likely have numerous responsibilities and deadlines to juggle. Finding the ideal venue requires dedicated time for research, contacting potential venues, and comparing options. The pressure to find the perfect location (with all your required needs) within a limited time frame can be overwhelming.

Many times the process of securing a venue can take longer than expected – so plan ahead as much as possible to have adequate time to share details with the team and get flights booked if needed. Having a venue 6-12 months in advance allows for the proper amount of time for both the venue-finding process and signing a contract (it can take about 4 weeks).

Budget constraints:

Effective budget management is a crucial aspect of any event planning, including team retreats. Balancing your desired experience with financial limitations can be challenging. You may find yourself grappling with questions like how to allocate funds effectively, negotiate prices, and ensure you get the best value for your investment. Striking the right balance between cost and quality is a constant challenge and one that takes some negotiating skills.

*PRO TIP: Our favorite destination to host cost-effective team retreats is Mexico. Not only is the weather consistently amazing, but the people also are awesome, and the food is delish…the Mexican government waives the 16% VAT tax for all meetings giving you a nice savings right off the bat. SONA Events can help you find the perfect location in Mexico at no cost to you, simply fill out our survey on what you’re looking for, and we’ll send you 3-5 property ideas that work for you.

Matching retreat goals and venue features:

The venue you choose should align with the goals and objectives of your team retreat (which we defined in our last post). However, finding a venue that checks all the boxes can be complicated. It requires careful consideration of factors such as space capacity, room configurations, technology infrastructure, and the availability of specific amenities or recreational facilities. Ensuring the venue supports your desired activities and creates an environment conducive to team building can be a complex task.

Here are some creative venues in the United States:

Here are some creative venues in Europe:

Limited knowledge of venues:

If you are unfamiliar with the location or lack experience in venue selection and planning a destination event, you might be in a challenging position. Each venue has its unique characteristics, ambiance, and suitability for different types of events, and pictures don’t always do the property justice. Without proper insights, you may find it challenging to identify venues that meet your specific requirements and expectations.

Use a trusted sourcing agent to help find a vetted property made for team retreats – these services are complimentary. They’ll operate as your dedicated group travel agent, not only finding you an awesome location but negotiating a contract in your best interest and securing the best pricing possible.

For a wide range of unique destinations to host your team retreat, get a customized list by filling out our survey, and we’ll send you 3-5 custom destinations at no cost.

Negotiating terms and contracts:

Negotiating with venues to secure favorable terms and contracts can be a daunting task, particularly if you lack experience in this area. Understanding the fine print, navigating legal jargon, and ensuring fair pricing and contractual obligations can be overwhelming. Failing to negotiate effectively may result in higher costs, unfavorable conditions, or potential legal complications.

Some of our clients (prior to working with us) have experienced paying out more than $20,000 in poorly written or misunderstood attrition costs, got a hefty bill for not understanding the cost difference between single and double occupancy, or have been left footing the bill for unexpected audiovisual and catering fees that were not clearly identified upfront.

*PRO TIP: Working with a seasoned contract expect doesn’t cost you anything to make sure that you are protected as well as getting upgrades and amenities you might not know you could get.

Ensuring a memorable experience:

Ultimately, your goal is to create a memorable experience for your team. However, translating your vision into reality can be challenging. You want to ensure that the venue not only meets logistical needs but also provides an inspiring and engaging environment. Struggling to find a venue that captures the essence of your team retreat can be a roadblock in delivering the desired impact. Knowing that a property not only provides the right accommodations for sleeping and meeting space but also great food and beverages and high-quality service creates an overall experience that you can’t always gauge from a hotel website.

Selecting the perfect venue for a team retreat comes with its fair share of challenges. From time and budget constraints to matching retreat goals with venue features, negotiating contracts, and creating a memorable experience, it can feel like navigating a maze. However, by understanding these challenges and seeking support from venue-sourcing experts, you can overcome these hurdles and craft an exceptional team retreat that meets your goals and exceeds your team’s expectations. With careful planning, thoughtful consideration, and expert guidance, you’ll be well on your way to creating a transformative experience for your team (and you’ll look like an experienced expert).

Planning ahead for the best communication possible

Employee engagement and communication:

Communication is everything when it comes to getting your team rallied for your annual or bi-annual company retreat, meet-up, or team-building event. Not only is it important to send out general details early in advance, like dates and location, but it’s important to keep the communication consistent, maintain deadlines for the team and get everyone excited about attending. 

A few internal emails you could consider sending:

Invitation with RSVP request: It’s always a great idea to send out an initial invite for the offiste to gather a list of RSVPs so you can get an idea of who is available and attending. (You can gather RSVP information and have your team add the event directly to their calendar with a tool like Workshop!)

Logistical details: Communicate logistical details such as the dates, duration, and location of the retreat. Include information about transportation, accommodation, and any special requirements or instructions. Clarify what team members need to bring or prepare for the retreat, ensuring everyone is well-prepared and informed. 

*PRO TIP: Make sure to ask anyone leading a workshop session or activity what supplies they may need in advance. Things like Sharpies and sticky notes or sand castle supplies for a beach activity day…these things are easier to purchase in advance and will allow your leaders to think ahead about what their needs are. Especially when you’re in a different country, a quick run to Walmart turns out to be an unexpected scavenger hunt.

Purpose and objectives: Clearly communicate the purpose and objectives of the team retreat. Explain why it’s important, what you hope to achieve, and how it aligns with the team’s goals. This helps team members understand the significance of the retreat and fosters their commitment and engagement.

Schedule and itinerary: Share the schedule and itinerary of the retreat in advance (ideally about 2 weeks prior to the retreat). Provide details about the activities, sessions, workshops, and any planned team-building activities. Including a timeline allows team members to prepare mentally and organize their personal commitments around the retreat.

Goals and expectations: Set clear expectations regarding behavior, participation, and engagement during the retreat. Communicate the desired outcomes and encourage team members to come prepared with ideas, questions, or suggestions to contribute actively to the discussions and activities. This includes expectations around drinking as well as expectations in participation for fun activities. 

Team-building and networking opportunities: Highlight the team-building activities or networking opportunities that will be part of the retreat. Communicate the importance of building relationships, fostering collaboration, and creating a sense of unity within the team.  Encourage team members to approach these activities with an open mind and willingness to connect with each other.

Post-event survey: Sending a post-event survey is a great way to gather feedback, thoughts, and suggestions about future events from your employees! (With a tool like Workshop, you can gather responses anonymously so you can dig into some real employee feedback.)

By effectively communicating these key points in advance, you set the stage for a well-informed, engaged, and prepared team. Transparent communication builds trust, fosters excitement, and ensures that everyone is on the same page, maximizing the impact and value of the team retreat.

Let’s get excited!

Planning in advance is key to allowing your team the proper time to work out their family schedule or other trips that might be planned, book plane tickets if needed, and make arrangements for getting their work project completed. It also helps get team members excited who might currently feel overwhelmed by their workload. So it’s important to find fun and engaging ways to get them excited about the upcoming team event.

Here are some ideas to create buzz and build anticipation:

Countdown activities: Start a countdown to the retreat and create daily or weekly activities related to it. For example, you could share fun facts about the retreat location, post team-building challenges or trivia questions, or even organize a “retreat-themed” contest with small prizes. These activities add an element of excitement and anticipation leading up to the event.  

    • Set up a Slackbot with a countdown each week to the retreat… people can post their excitement each week as they see the days getting closer to a fun trip.
    • If your ‘theme’ allows you to – we’ve had a camp inspired retreat and began our team competitions the week before retreat, en route to retreat, and during the retreat (like kickball etc.) which all accumulated points!

Personalized retreat kits: Create personalized retreat kits for each team member.  These kits can include items related to the retreat, such as branded merchandise, snacks, motivational quotes or even small gifts. Presenting these kits as a surprise not only shows thoughtfulness but also helps team members feel valued and appreciated.  (If you’re having a traditional camp style theme, send out colored shirts and bandanas for each team color so they can come prepared to compete!)

Teaser trailers: Produce short teaser videos or trailers about the retreat (or find destination videos on YouTube) highlighting the destination, activities, or special surprises. Share these videos with the team, building intrigue and excitement for what’s to come.

Themed communication: Infuse your regular team communication channels with a retreat theme. Use retreat-related graphics, emojis, or GIFs in emails, chat messages, or project updates. This slight touch adds a playful and lighthearted vibe, reminding team members about the upcoming retreat and injecting a sense of fun into their daily routine.

Share your stories: Share inspiring stories or testimonials from previous team retreats or events. Highlight the positive impact these gatherings have had on team members’ relationships, collaboration, and personal growth. Real-life experiences and testimonials ignite enthusiasm and create a sense of anticipation for the upcoming retreat.Share inspiring stories or testimonials from previous team retreats or events. Highlight the positive impact these gatherings have had on team members’ relationships, collaboration, and personal growth. Real-life experiences and testimonials ignite enthusiasm and create a sense of anticipation for the upcoming retreat.

*PRO TIP: This is a great tool to get new team members excited about the upcoming retreat, as this might be the first time they meet everyone! Check out a recap of one of our latest team retreats.

Interactive surveys or polls: Create interactive surveys or polls to involve team members in the decision-making aspects of the retreat. Ask for their input on activity preferences, food choices, or team-building activities. This not only gets them excited about having a say in the retreat planning but also builds a sense of ownership and anticipation for the customized experience. (You can send pulse surveys to your team with Workshop!) 

Remember, the key is to make the activities and communication fun, light-hearted, and engaging. By incorporating these elements, you can help team members shift their focus from their overwhelming workload to the exciting and rejuvenating experience that awaits them at the team retreat.

Creating the perfect agenda

How to create the perfect retreat agenda

Assess time and duration: Determine the duration of your retreat and allocate time to different activities accordingly. Consider the balance between productive sessions, team-building activities, and downtime. It’s important to provide enough time for meaningful discussions and reflection without overwhelming participants.

*PRO TIP: I like to use the 30/30/30 rule. 30% towards working sessions, 30% toward team-building activities, 30% toward downtime or scheduled hangouts, and 10% added to the area that will create the most impact for your event.

Grab a copy of a sample agenda template to use for your next retreat!

Prioritize key topics: Identify the key topics or themes that must be addressed during the retreat. These may include strategic planning, team dynamics, professional development, or specific challenges your team is facing. Prioritize these topics based on their importance and relevance to the team’s goals.

Mix sessions and activities: Create a mix of sessions and activities to keep participants engaged and energized. Alternate between presentations, interactive workshops, brainstorming sessions, team-building exercises, and opportunities for reflection. Variety helps maintain interest and encourages active participation.

*PRO TIP: When it comes to activities, we like to plan a variety of options. We include a quiet activity, an active activity, and brain activities. An example of this would be massage (quiet activity), ATV excursion (active activity), and a cooking class (brain activity). Depending on your team size, you can offer multiple activities and options and even multiple days… but this structure provides a little something for everybody.

SONA Events offers a variety of planning packages to help your team reach your retreat goals. Reach out for a free consultation to see how we can help you.

Allow for collaboration and interaction: Incorporate activities that encourage collaboration and interaction among team members. Breakout sessions, group discussions, or problem-solving exercises promote teamwork and collective decision-making. These activities foster communication, trust, and creativity within the team.

*PRO TIP: Make time for all team, individual, and cross-team sessions as necessary. Make sure that your session leaders communicate the needs they will have for their meeting so you can plan accordingly for room set up and supplies (and be prepared with water if needed). 

Consider individual and team needs: Consider the needs and preferences of individual team members and the team as a whole. Consider different learning styles, introvert/extrovert preferences, and varying levels of expertise. Tailor the agenda to accommodate diverse needs and ensure everyone can contribute and benefit from the retreat.

*PRO TIP: We always suggest that everyone has their own room so they don’t have to share too much personal space. Give your team a chance to unwind in their own space so they are recharged for more team building.

Include breaks and downtime: Remember to include breaks and downtime in your agenda. Retreats can be intense; participants need time to recharge and process information. Incorporate regular breaks for rest, relaxation, and informal networking. Downtime allows for reflection and strengthens connections among team members.

*PRO TIP: As tempting as it may be to have unstructured downtime, scheduling downtime activities, i.e., pool hang or happy hour, is essential. This gives a designated meeting space if people want to be together in an unstructured way instead of relying on people just figuring out something to do. This creates space for spontaneous moments to happen by providing the space for them to happen in.  

Remember, creating the perfect team retreat agenda requires a balance between productivity, learning, team building, and downtime. By carefully considering the objectives and needs of the team (and incorporating a variety of engaging activities), you can design an agenda that promotes collaboration, growth, and a memorable experience for all participants!


Want to enjoy your retreat too?

As an organizer, planning a team retreat can be an exciting but demanding endeavor. Amidst the multitude of responsibilities, it’s crucial to ensure that you, as the organizer, can fully enjoy and participate in the retreat experience. That’s where SONA Events comes in. Our venue sourcing and planning services take the burden off your shoulders, allowing you to immerse yourself in the retreat alongside your team. Let us help you create a remarkable retreat while ensuring you can relax and enjoy the journey too.

Stress-free venue sourcing:

Finding the perfect venue for your team retreat can be a time-consuming and overwhelming task. SONA Events specializes in venue sourcing. And the best part? We provide this service free of charge. Our team will work closely with you to understand your retreat objectives, requirements, and budget. With our extensive network of venues and industry connections, we’ll present you with carefully curated options that align with your vision. Say goodbye to endless research and contract negotiations – let us handle the venue sourcing while you focus on shaping the retreat experience.

Comprehensive planning support:

Planning a team retreat involves juggling numerous aspects, from creating a cohesive agenda to coordinating transportation and logistics. SONA Events offers comprehensive planning services to streamline the process. Our team of experienced event planners will collaborate with you to understand your goals, design the retreat agenda, and manage the logistical intricacies. With our support, you can focus on being present and fully engaged during the retreat, knowing that every detail is taken care of.

When you partner with SONA Events, you not only ensure a successful team retreat but also grant yourself the opportunity to enjoy the retreat experience alongside your team. Let SONA Events be your trusted partner, enabling you to enjoy your retreat while we create the perfect environment for your team to connect, learn, and grow.

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Danielle Snelson is the Founder and CEO of SONA, a boutique group travel and event agency. Learn more about Danielle and the SONA team (and how they can help you plan your next team retreat) here.


Next steps: Reserve your spot for our upcoming webinar: How to plan & communicate a company offsite! Learn how to plan a successful company offsite from beginning to end! We’ll walk through setting goals for your offsite, creating an effective agenda, communicating your plan to your team, and so much more.

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