The 1993 movie Groundhog Day depicts a time warp where the character played by Bill Murray is doomed to repeat the same day until he gets it right. Leadership team meetings and retreats frequently fall prey to the “Groundhog Day” effect. How often have you found yourself sitting in a hotel conference room (most often an interior room with no windows) feeling like you have been to this meeting before? Different faces, different agenda, different location and yet largely the same meeting. After much expense, wrestling with the myriad of details of travel logistics, lodging, and meals, you find yourself sitting in the same nondescript hotel conference room re-living the same meeting. As you navigate the airport maze and board your return flight you wonder, why did we travel to a “destination” location only to spend the majority of our time in a conference room identical to the local Marriott’s?
Just as in real estate, the value and return on investment is heavily influenced by location. Different locations can yield dramatically different results. So how do you pick the right one for your next leadership retreat?
Pay attention to the experience – we are human beings not human doings. Novelty fuels creativity and the ability to look at things from new perspectives. If you are going to invest in a meeting, make it worthwhile. While travel and facility expenses are part of the equation, the most significant cost is the human capital expense. Add up the daily rate for the meeting participants and then add the opportunity cost for time spent at the meeting and you begin to see the true cost of the meeting. Human memory is heavily influenced by two particular times of any experience: the peak and the end. Bearing that in mind helps shape how the meeting is remembered. When designing your agenda, focus particularly on what participants might consider the “peak” experience and be sure to end the meeting on a high note.
Take advantage of nature – ensure that you have access to nature. It can be the mountains, the desert, a beach or a lake. The important thing is to select a space that will allow for time outdoors. Studies show that time spent in nature results in physiological changes that include lower heart rate, lower blood pressure, decreases in the stress hormone cortisol, decreased sympathetic nervous system activity (the flight or fight system), and increased parasympathetic nervous system activity (the rest and repair system). This matters because the physiological changes that nature evokes broadens thinking, sparking solutions to the complex challenges which are frequently the focus of team offsite meetings.
Re-charge – The idea of a retreat is not just to make progress on important agendas but to recharge so that you can return to work re-energized. By selecting the right location and designing the right agenda, you can get a two-for-one return: you achieve your desired outcomes and build reserves that linger long past the meeting. The same physiological benefits that nature and experience have on current performance (broadening our thinking repertoire) also have a trailing effect (building our capacity). The location of your meeting directly impacts the opportunity to create experiences that refuel and recharge.
Don’t sweat the small stuff – let someone do that for you. In reality the small stuff is really big stuff. Look for a provider who knows the area and facilitates access to local resources, has the knowledge and experience to attend to environmental factors that influence meeting outcomes (proper nutrition, natural light, room temperature, etc.) and has a proven track record in integrating location as a key part of the retreat design. We know that capacities of willpower, perspective, focus, and conflict management are influenced by what we eat, how much we move, and the quality of our sleep. An ideal location will include “on the ground” resources who partner with you in attending to all the little details that add up to a significant impact.
Breakout from the Groundhog Day effect … let your next meeting be the beginning of a new day. As you board the plane to return to your office you will have achieved your desired meeting outcomes, created shared memories that help define your team, and refueled resources that will be tapped long after your return to the office.