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Planning Your Annual Off-Site Retreat

Dallas: “I’ve read your book Elite Teams and thought it was full of useful information,” said Tim in a very complimentary tone. He then followed with his question, “I understand the importance of holding an annual retreat, but I’ve never held one. Is it too late to pull one together?”

My response was delivered in a kind-hearted chuckle, “It’s never too late to pull together an annual retreat.” Tim gave me a “deer in the headlights” look as he digested this fact.

As you know, it’s essential that every advisor comprehensively review every aspect of his or her practice, preferably quarterly, at a minimum annually with the whole team. Conducting this type of review meeting outside the office is healthy as the change in venue tends to get people to let their guard down, to have open discussions without interruptions; phone calls, visitors, etc.

Having facilitated numerous team retreats over the years, we have found that pre-planning is critical to a retreat’s effectiveness. The timeline within which an annual off-site meeting is conducted depends on the complexity of your team / practice; it can be held on a variety of timelines; ½ day, 1 day, 1 ½ days, or 2 days.

In explaining this to Tim, I reiterated what he’d read in my book. If you’re planning to hold an annual offsite retreat, and you’d better, the objectives should be:

  • Team Accountability. You might want to view this as a performance review of the entire practice. This is where you want everyone taking their portion of ownership in the annual goals and their connection to the team’s long range goals.

  • Individual Accountability. Yes, this does get a bit personal but only for those who aren’t pulling their weight. Since a team is only as strong as its weakest link, and peer pressure is a strong tonic for performance enhancement, individual accountability within an area of responsibility is essential in order for a team to continue to grow towards its potential. It’s also just as important to review performance standards for each area of responsibility as well as a clear description of that area. The idea is to make certain you have clarity and standards assigned to each area. This will enable you to break accountability into quality, convenience, personalization and value expectations.

  • Individual Action Plan. This requires fine-tuning everyone’s role, areas of responsibilities, performance standards and linking them to your team’s upcoming annual goals. Creating action steps should be an active component of every performance-based exercise you work through during the retreat. What you DO NOT want to do is discuss a critical performance issue, keep the conversation at 35,000 feet and then move on to your next agenda item. This will undermine your entire off-site. You don’t want grandiose ideas without a practical path to implementation.

  • Brainstorming. Here is where you venture away from the practical and facilitate a free-flowing conversation. What we’ve found to make this most effective is to select two to three topic areas and ask everyone to brainstorm, think outside of the box with no right or wrong suggestions, and come up with ideas that could improve a particular area. Have one team member serve as the scribe on a white board, write out an area of improvement and then write out every idea that is connected to that area.

Once you’ve exhausted everyone’s creativity, you want to determine which ideas are actionable, prioritize them per area, and set a task completion date for each top priority action step per area.

  • Teambuilding. This can be done in a number of ways. You can have each team member complete some form of behavioral assessment tool prior to the retreat as an ice-breaker for discussion. Or, you can assign a book or magazine article to be read prior in order to be discussed at the retreat. Another exercise creates a lot of laughs and discussion: have everyone list three personal pieces of information about themselves that most people don’t know—and let one of the pieces be false. Your teammates must guess which piece of personal information is fabricated.
  • Communication. You should always strive to improve communication among team members. The teambuilding exercise will help open people up. There is no magic formula for improving communication, but at the core it’s all about being open, honest, and respectful of other people’s feelings.
  • Conflict Resolution. As with any grouping of people, stuff happens. People annoy one another from time to time. This is to be expected, however if there is anything conflict, it needs to be addressed at the off-site. The following simple ground rules will help make this a constructive exercise:

    - Identify area of conflict.
    - Input must be constructive.
    - Each team member must give input.
    - Each team member must provide support for their input.
    - Nothing is to be on a personal level.
    - Agree upon action steps for resolution

Don’t be overwhelmed by the objectives aforementioned. Your objectives will help you establish your agenda. Yes, you need to develop an agenda for your annual off-site retreat. If you would like a copy of our sample agenda click here.

I’m not sure Tim will invest the time and energy required to conduct an effective annual off-site retreat, but if not, it’s his loss. All elite advisors conduct some variation on what I’ve outlined above. The time is perfect to pull it all together—just do it!

Also, if you haven’t already - join The Oechsli Institute’s Group on LinkedIn!

Once again, we want to thank all of you who have e-mailed comments and questions to us. We will continue to do our best to answer each one. If you would like to learn more, please visit

If you have any topic suggestions or special requests, please contact Rich Santos, publisher of Registered Rep. and Trusts & Estates magazines, at [email protected].

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