If the words “corporate retreat” conjure up visions of falling backward into a trust catch, fervently hoping that Bob and Sally from accounting step up to prevent your impending head trauma, you’re a little behind the times.
Today’s business getaways have mostly ditched the touchy-feely sessions and replaced them with programs that create quality face-to-face time doing things employees actually enjoy.
“The need to connect is still great,” says Ed Tilley, cofounder of Adventure Associates Inc., a corporate team-building and training company. “We’ve heard from a lot of folks who are so glad the recession is over and they have training budgets again. They have a need to meet the people behind their texts and emails and tweets.”
Thinking about hosting a quality retreat in the New Year? Here are five great options, no floor dives required.
MOMENTS OF ZEN
Where: Green Gulch Farm, Marin County
The basics: Walk through the tranquil gardens of the Green Gulch Farm Zen Center and imagine yourself worlds away from the corporate grind. This Zen Buddhist practice community perched on the breathtakingly beautiful Marin County coastline offers a remote shangri-la 20 miles north of San Francisco with rustic accommodations that omit phones and TVs.
The mindful breakaway has drawn big names from Silicon Valley. Activities include instruction in meditation and yoga; several hiking trails, including a gentle, 20-minute trek to craggy Muir Beach; bread-baking workshops and strolls through the on-site farm, which provides fresh produce to the dining hall.
Bottom line: Overnight prices start at $1,845 for up to 12 people, including three vegetarian meals and rental of the Lindisfarne guest house, built with traditional Japanese woodworking techniques.
Bonus: Green Gulch is home to a traditional Japanese teahouse with a Japan-trained tea sensei who can facilitate gatherings that include whisked green tea.
Where: Company’s choice
The basics: Picture your colleagues designing and building boats made mostly of cardboard and duct tape. Now imagine them racing said vessels across a body of water, driest and fastest the winner. Puts a new twist on floating profits, doesn’t it? The key is having good engineers and a good skipper, but even the best boats don’t stay afloat.
This program by Adventure Associates retreat planners can be hosted on just about any type of water, including swimming pools, lakes, ponds and bays. Companies can choose a location, and Adventure Associates sets up the rest. Workshops on team-building, communication and decision-making can be added to the package. For employees who prefer dry land, the company also offers GeoTrekking, a version of the popular geocaching sport. Nearly 100 courses have been established around the country, including San Francisco, Sonoma, Old Sacramento and Monterey.
Bottom line: Half-day programs for up to 15 people start at $3,500.
Bonus: Companies that really want to get their teams shipshape can sign up for sailing sessions with Coastguard-certified captains. Groups are introduced to tacking and jibing, sail handling and steering. Depending on weather conditions and locations, teams may compete in a regatta or time trial.
A HEALTHY DOSE OF LUXURY
Where: Cavallo Point, Sausalito
The basics: Nestled at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge in the artfully restored former Fort Baker Army Base, Cavallo Point bills itself as “a view with rooms.” Settle in for a dose of luxurious pampering, daily morning yoga and healthy, gourmet menus.
Companies coming here for corporate retreats often take advantage of the spa offerings as well as facilitated cooking classes, bocce ball, croquet and hiking.
“The days of eating, sleeping, meeting and leaving are gone for a lot of companies, and they are looking for something different,” says Zeena Fakoury, director of sales for the lodge.
The spa is suited for group events, with a large atrium that can be opened onto a terrace with a fire pit. Cooking classes can be hands-on for up to 30 guests. The menu relies heavily on locally sourced ingredients with plenty of vegetarian and vegan options; the lodge recently hosted an entirely gluten-free weekend for 70 people.
Bottom line: Room rates including three meals are $600 per person per day for groups from 10 to 150 people.
Bonus points: An on-staff herbalist can discuss the health values of herbs and lead flora-focused hikes around the bay.
FOOD AND FAMILY
Where: Nick’s Cove, Sonoma County coast
The basics: Set on the Northern California coast, Nick’s Cove family-friendly resort offers food-themed activities ranging from oyster shucking to s’mores roasting. Several of the property’s 12 cottages accommodate four to six people, and there are plenty of activities for kids.
Events Coordinator Kathryn Marando works with companies to build packages that are as rigorous or relaxed as desired. Companies can opt for cooking demonstrations, food foraging, tours of the on-site Frog Creek Farms and fishing, no license required. For the outdoorsy, the resort is surrounded by a multitude of impressive hikes and the option to enjoy Tomales Bay via kayak. Opt for moonlit or bioluminescent kayak treks, depending on the moon and season.
Bottom line: Cottages start at $229 per night in the low season and $699 in the high season. Group maximum is about 12 people. Event charges vary, with the oyster demo at $60 per person with a minimum of four people and kayak/team-building starting at $138 per person.
Bonus: Gazing out to sea is a time-honored stress-buster, and Nick’s Cove offers that in bucketfuls, with 12 restored holiday cottages, many set right at the water’s edge and all with a view of Tomales Bay.
Where: Napa and Sonoma
The basics: Can stomping grapes and blending wine uncork your team’s potential? That’s the theory behind Wine + Dine Events, a company specializing in wine country retreats.
Exercises include grape-stomp competitions, blending sessions, cooking classes and photography lessons. Events are aimed at “getting people to talk to each other,” says Shelle Wolfe, Wine + Dine’s “chief evolution officer.” A recent wine blending session drew about 200 people from the legal department of a major Silicon Valley company, but “we’ve done this with everyone from librarians to CEOs,” she says.
Bottom line: Prices range from $100 to $400 per person, depending on activities and group size, with a 10-person minimum. Lodging and meals are not included, but Wine + Dine can make recommendations. Previous events have been held at locations like Castello di Amorosa and the Flora Springs Winery.
Bonus: For a change of pace, Wine + Dine can also arrange a team racing challenge in which teams can road race karts or professional Audi race cars at Sonoma Raceway.
In lean times, some businesses scrap corporate retreats as an unjustifiable expense to shareholders and staff, while others say that employee getaways are as valuable as ever. But all agree, 2010 is looking up.
Small-company advancement is on the rise, and more local businesses are seeking innovative leadership training that can help catapult their companies into a source of industrial growth.