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A Supervisor's Guide to Department Retreats

Departments are busy, schedules are tight, and budgets are carefully monitored as a new fiscal year approaches. It is in the midst of our busiest times that we must be especially intentional about maintaining the bigger picture of our work and strengthening working relationships.

The Importance of Retreats

Retreats give teams a specific time and location to pause, reconnect, reflect, and strategically chart their course with everyone's involvement. While the idea of retreats may conjure thoughts of large budgets and all-day events, there are ways to achieve significant results with little or no cost and seemingly less time.

Department retreats take many forms and contribute to an area's productivity, efficiency, motivation, and future planning. Time away from the office gives opportunity not only to replenish energy for the work at hand, but also to see beyond day-to-day distractions and reassess the overall direction and efficacy of an area.

Planning Successful Retreats

Determine the purpose.
Supervisors' pulse on their departments may help dictate the role of a retreat which may be one or a combination of the following.

Strategic and operational planning retreats may serve to evaluate existing systems and processes, review policies and procedures, and establish future goals and endeavors.

Team-building can effectively introduce new staff members to a team, re-energize current staff members, or both. Reflecting upon a department's internal culture may strengthen working relationships to meet both collective and individual needs.

Retreats focused on brainstorming may help solve problems, create innovative services, and imagine possibilities and potential within a department.

Identify the physical location.
A physical space outside of normal office duties is key in stepping out of the daily routine; new environments broaden thinking patterns and boost creative brainstorming abilities. Whether having lunch at the Getty Museum or meeting on a Malibu campus terrace overlooking the ocean, it is essential to change perspectives and gather inspiration from unlikely places.

Develop an agenda.
Determine how time will be spent to carry out the purpose of the retreat, whether it includes a guest speaker, group work, physical activities, or service work. To approach work-related items with appropriate energy and concentration, it is generally best to schedule leisure time after all business activities are finished.

Create an interactive experience.
Team member involvement is crucial in creating a sense of ownership and camaraderie amongst coworkers. Whether participants are engaged in discussion or team-building exercises, active participation will generate more significant and longer-lasting results over a passive experience.

Keep the momentum.
A designated record-keeper may distribute notes to the team afterward. Schedule times for the team to follow-up on ideas generated from the retreat, observe the progress made, and establish accountability. Reassess action plans based on more recent developments to maintain the retreat's effectiveness.

Retreats are a productive use of time for planning purposes, increasing energy levels and inspiration, and rewarding staff for their work to meet the team's goals. Supervisors are encouraged to address and meet the pertinent needs in their area to sustain morale and effectively lead their team's contributions to the University.

Additional Resources and Ideas

Relaxation and Renewal

  • Consider treating your staff to lunch in a special setting.  Whether you decide to eat on the Sandbar Terrace at the Malibu campus followed by a private tour of the Weisman Museum with Dr. Michael Zakian or to dine at the Getty Center in Los Angeles, sharing a meal is a good opportunity to enjoy one another's company in a setting outside of the office.
  • For a minimal cost you may take advantage of a 1-2 hour team exercise program led by master fitness trainer Sonki Hong, including strength training, aerobic exercises, muscle toning, agility drills, and flexibility exercises.  Keep your team's momentum and win prizes through Pepperdine's Physical Activity Club (P-PAC) by exercising during lunch and daily breaks. 

Service and Team Building

  • Consider leading your team in a service project for a morning or afternoon at Habitat for Humanity, Food Share, or the Union Rescue Mission.  For additional information on local non-profit organizations affiliated with Pepperdine, please visit the Pepperdine Volunteer Center Web site
  • Please contact Human Resources to learn about providing your team with an in-depth look at behavior styles in the workplace, common attributes of each style, and ways to meet the needs of others.  In addition to understanding your own behavior style at work, learn practical solutions to work effectively with any style and to increase social competencies. 

Vision and Strategic Planning

  • Engage your staff in articulating your department's intentional contributions to the University's community and values by which you work.  Your team may collectively define its role within the context of Pepperdine University, identify its stakeholders and constituents, and develop a plan to embody its espoused values and desired brand. 
  • Consider a working brainstorming session at a different venue on your campus to strategically chart your team's course in achieving its goals and leveraging its strengths.  Developing timelines and creating action items for accomplishing large projects help retain focus and allow team members to see beyond daily distractions.