Company culture isn’t just about the values, best practices, and history that make a business unique and successful.

It’s also very much about the individuals who make up the company—the people who live those values and best practices every day. It’s critical that the employees reflect the culture and the culture reflects the employees because it helps members of the office family feel connected and fulfilled, and that kind of engagement leads to real productivity and corporate success. And that’s not just a conjecture, either—it’s an idea supported by legitimate research. According to one study, of all the things that contribute to a company’s capacity to innovate, “the strongest driver of radical innovation across nations is corporate culture.” It makes sense: after all, your human resources are your greatest asset, and work culture is one of the elements that most motivates talented employees to stick around.

Even though it exists every day in the workplace, company culture can be a fairly abstract concept. But traditions bring that culture down to earth, and they can be as simple as a best practice of using active listening in meetings, or as out-of-the-ordinary as a quarterly kickball tournament. Whatever those traditions may be, they need a way to take root. As a standout tradition, retreats are the perfect opportunity to get your employees engaged—with each other and the tenets of your company’s purpose, mission, and culture.

How Retreat Traditions Become a Lasting Part of Company Culture

Let’s break it down and explore how traditions established in the retreat setting can bolster employee engagement— and ultimately your bottom line. The real value comes from being able to carry that engagement and team spirit back into the office so that it becomes a real part of your authentic company culture.

The Campfire and the Proverbial Watercooler

At a retreat, campfire is a tradition that gives people permission to remove themselves from office expectations and share more personal aspects of their lives—the kind that may not have found a forum at work. The “watercooler” is more of a symbol than an actual landmark in the modern office, but considering the power of the campfire experience, it makes sense to designate a space in the office that welcomes regular candid connection among staff. Capitalize on your employees’ heightened engagement after the retreat experience by nominating the break room, the coffee maker, the collective fruit bowl, or another shared space as a designated zone of decompression—a place your employees can go to refresh. One company even calls their break room “The Retreat.”

A Visual Display of Company History

An annual retreat photo, for which the theme changes every year, gives staff a reason to look forward to and get prepared for the photo in advance. One company dressed up for a Wild West theme one year, then Going Green, then Apps and Widgets, and they didn’t get to see what costumes their co-workers had come up with until it was photo time. When these photos are enlarged and displayed in the office, they serve as a visual history of the team, the office, and the culture. This display is also a way for new employees to get a sense of the team’s commitment to tradition, as well as a culture that involves letting loose once in awhile.

A Weekly Activity to Promote Staff Connections

Scavenger hunts and other retreat games give your employees an assignment unlike the typical work project and ask them to engage their different skills and talents. We know one company that designs their scavenger hunt by blending details about their employees and company history with retreat landmarks and experiences, so the game is anchored in the retreat tradition. Then, once they return to the office, they keep that momentum going by organizing a weekly scavenger hunt, one that challenges people to get to know their coworkers even better. The game features one mystery staff member each week by challenging everyone to “find one person who has traveled to every continent except Antarctica (or some other unique fact).” The staff member in question will know not to submit a guess that week, but the rest of the team will have to engage their coworkers in conversation to learn more about them. Like a mobile “watercooler,” people will start to feel more engaged with each other and can build a greater sense of belonging in the office community.

A Tournament to Inspire Team Building

A retreat is the perfect place to host a spirited tournament that gets everyone moving and laughing and competing in a lighthearted way. It might be softball or kickball or even a relay race in the pool. One company hosts a putt-putt tournament at each annual retreat. They split the office up into two teams ahead of time so that they can come up with team names, design t-shirts, and even brainstorm strategies. That way, excitement and suspense are building, and when game time actually comes, everyone is already in gear. People are competing, but they’re also usually rooting everyone on in the process. Each year, one team takes the trophy home to the office. For the rest of the year, up until the next retreat, they display one of each team’s t-shirt next to the trophy in the office. When an office community builds spirited, cooperative relationships in these fun ways, people start feeling invested in the work they do, and that builds productivity in a major way.

A Retreat Refreshes the Cycle of Tradition and Culture

The retreat itself is a tradition for the team to look forward to—an opportunity for everyone to stretch and to really be seen and valued. Then, individual activities pave the way for people to take part in more specialized traditions that they can carry back into the office, either as characteristic memories or as activities that continue to echo throughout their everyday work. This inspires a sense of belonging and real investment in the company’s growth and success, and that’s really the core of why retreats are so important: because they build a culture in which people feel valued, and that directly impacts their work performance. Crucially, that culture has to come first—it won’t be borne from performance itself. Through annual retreats and other traditions, you create a culture in which your employees are reminded of how important their role is in shaping and maintaining it.

If you’re interested in learning more about our retreat location or how you can bring to life authentic traditions in your workplace, get in touch. We’d be happy to show you our cozy lodgings, vast recreational spaces, and the redwood amphitheater that hosts late-night campfires for all of our groups.


Image sources: Unsplash users Siima Lukka and Breather.

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