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Tips for a worthwhile company retreat in the mountains

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By Johanne Bouchard Explore Big Sky Business Columnist

If you work in the corporate world, are an entrepreneur, building a family business or a member of board, you’ve probably been through a variety of team-building exercises, strategic planning and board retreats in your career. I’ve witnessed such events as both a participant, and as a leader and facilitator.

A mountain community like Big Sky is a great place to hold one of these events because it allows you to break away from your professional environment and possibly gain new perspective by being present in a beautiful mountain setting.

At their worst, team-building events and retreats are distractions that pull people away from deadlines and incur unduly ramp-up costs for the company. At their best, they galvanize a group of people around common objectives, improve communication and increase productivity. Leaders also see first-hand how their employees or board members interact and think outside the box.

Here are some thoughts on how you can leverage the potential of your team or board by holding an executive planning and bonding event in 2015.

There is significant value in holding such an event. If you haven’t held a company retreat, I encourage you to plan and hold your first one – you won’t know if the exercise has value to your business unless you try it out.

As a middle manager, you can review goals and objectives with your team, brainstorm new ideas and demonstrate your appreciation by allowing everyone some playtime on Nordic or downhill skis, or snowshoes. You can increase synergy by ensuring that people are mixed around a meal, encouraging them to get to know one another.

As a chair or CEO, you can get your board and executive team in one room to fully align your company’s strategies, as well as brainstorm potential growth drivers and acquisitions. You can appoint people to ride the chairlifts together to focus on getting to know each other and report their findings over dinner. People tend to drop judgments and learn to further respect each other.

Take the time to think through a substantive agenda. Consider the issues you must address. Prepare a thorough inquiry to collect the input of the participants so everyone is a part of formulating the agenda – this empowers people who feel they were part of the process.

Stay away from consecutive PowerPoint presentations – or presenting too much information – and focus on interactive sessions. If you must use PowerPoint, stick with only one presentation to set the stage. Make sure the presentation is highly visual. If it’s cluttered with words and wrap-around thoughts, participants may not listen. Plan team breakouts to engage and leverage every participant.

Consider being an equal participant. Ensure that the quieter individuals speak up and are invited to share their thoughts. They are often the ones with the new ideas that otherwise may never be heard. Be patient and give them time to express their ideas.

Welcome everyone by sharing the meeting objectives. Don’t be afraid to set the tone for optimal collaboration and thinking. Let people know how the meeting will be a success and hold yourself accountable.

I’ve seen some tremendous breakthroughs leading executives and boards through retreats and workshops. The time outside the office leads to forward progress once they return to the daily grind. Remember, “Proper prior planning prevents poor performance!”

Johanne Bouchard, a former high-tech executive, is a leadership advisor to CEOs, executives and entrepreneurs, as well as an expert in corporate board composition and dynamics. An avid skier, Bouchard and her husband have a second home in Big Sky. See more at

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