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Using retreats to advance your team

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Thursday, May 01, 2008

Collaboration is essential in the workplace, but the office isn’t always the best environment in which to develop rapport. Corporate team-building activities and retreats can help by getting employees to interact outside the cubicle to improve their performance on the job.

With the detached communications of cell phones and email, it’s easy to lose touch with co-workers you see every day, says Julee Wasserman. Her Glenwood, Wash., company, Julee’s Gorge Tours, provides a host of recreational activities designed to reconnect the team, address problems, and get everyone to have a little fun.

Her most popular package, Wasserman says, is an outdoor orienteering scavenger hunt, where teams are taught to use maps and compasses. Through the activity, participants learn to work together as a team and improve communication skills.

“It breaks the group out of their normal clique and usually out of their normal comfort zone and forces them to work together in a fun way,” says Donna Luna, a project coordinator for Nike who has brought groups to participate in Julee’s Gorge Tours. “When we go out there for a team-building project, it’s not managers versus employees. It’s a chance to mix together all levels in your department.”

Erik Marter, owner of another corporate team-building company, Synergo, based in Portland, takes corporate groups on Survivor-style challenge courses that serve as metaphors for situations they encounter in the office. One activity, for instance, involves talking a blindfolded colleague through a maze of mousetraps to improve communication and trust.

“A day on the challenge course can accomplish what you would in a year in typical office conversations,” Marter says.

But not all retreats have to be high energy. At Lonesome Duck Ranch and Resort, in Chiloquin, corporate groups can choose to golf, fish for trout in the Williamson River or just hang out.

“I think the main thing for all of them is they want to relax,” says owner Steve Hilbert. “You’ve got five or six people sharing the same house, sitting in the living room chit-chatting life away, but not in that formal, meeting room atmosphere.”

John Von Schlegell, managing partner with Endeavour Capital in Portland, says groups from his company have been to Lonesome Duck three or four times.

“It’s a bonding experience, and people aren’t distracted, answering calls and getting on computers,” he says. “It’s a way away from the boardroom or the office to get to know people better.”




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