management retreats

Secrets of planning a terrific off-site meeting

December 21, 2011: 12:39 PM ET

Forget the falling-backwards "trust" exercises and other hackneyed stuff, says one CEO. Give people time to enjoy the locale, and keep the agenda down-to-earth.

By Anne Fisher, contributor

FORTUNE -- Dear Annie: I guess it is true that no good deed goes unpunished, because our office holiday party -- which took me six weeks to organize -- was such a hit that now my boss has put me in charge of a three-day management retreat scheduled for mid-February. The location, a resort on a Caribbean island, has been booked, but so far the agenda is a blank sheet of paper, which is up to me to fill.

I've never been responsible for planning one of these before, so I really don't know what I'm doing, but I'd like this meeting to be unique and memorable, and as productive as possible. Can you and your readers give me any pointers? — Smitty

Dear Smitty: Richard Moran sure can. A former Accenture (ACN) consultant and longtime Silicon Valley venture capitalist, Moran is CEO of Accretive Solutions, a Chicago-based consulting and recruiting firm.

He's also the author of a string of smart and irreverent guides to success in business, including Never Confuse a Memo With Reality and Fear No Yellow Stickies. His new book, Sins and CEOs: Lessons from Leaders and Losers That Will Change Your Career, contains a chapter that might interest you. It's entitled "Rome Is Burning and We're Off-site."

"Contrary to popular belief, retreats are really hard work for all who attend," Moran says. "Foremost, there's nowhere to hide. Anyone who monopolizes the airtime is assumed to be jockeying for a promotion. Anyone who doesn't participate is assumed to have checked out."

Trying to strike the right balance and still get some work done tends to stress people out, so Moran -- a veteran of many great and not-so-great off-sites -- recommends giving everyone a chance to decompress by building some genuine downtime into the schedule. More

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