The Successful, Agenda-less Corporate Retreat

Building lasting memories without structure

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The last night of our company retreat arrived suddenly. I looked across a bright bonfire to watch six of my teammates crowing the chorus to “Sweet Home Alabama” — they knew most of the lyrics. Others were shoulder to shoulder chatting while roasting marshmallows or sipping champagne. Superlative awards were being passed around and the stories were being retold.

There were no strategy presentations, no work session conclusions shared with the group, no trust falls, no new company plans announced. Despite missing a typical corporate retreat sign-off, the 103 Tuft & Needle employees gathered were bright eyed, energized, and ready to get back to work.

Having a company retreat is an uncommon but not an unusual company perk. But having a company retreat that follows no agenda and only asks attendees to “make memories” is unheard of. So, why would a bootstrapped company dedicate the time and resources to host a completely unplugged and unstructured company vacation?

On the Team Experience (TX) team we use the filter of “quality over quantity” daily. We want to invest in and offer only high quality, valuable experiences across our organization.

So rather than demanding a myriad of “things” from our team at R&R, we try to keep it simple. Here is why: we are taking a group of coworkers away from home to a beautiful and stimulating environment for three solid days. Let’s say we ask that our team members bring their best ideas and their best selves; that they remember to pack everything including a laptop; that they must brainstorm, design, or devise ways to make a project or operation more efficient; and then that they should go rock climbing, sit around a campfire, and have a drink with a coworker. That is, in fact, a staggeringly tall order. As companies strive to address stress in the workplace, why would a “retreat” that demands so much sound like a solution?

Actually, that sounds a lot like charging your phone by plugging it in, then pulling the cord out repeatedly until the phone is charged.

How about this? We just want one thing: to make memories with your team mates.

We want them to attend (and it’s optional to come by the way), enjoy the outdoors and improve relationships with their team mates. When we get back to the office, they will know the person they are debating with, supporting, or sprinting alongside. Communication and empathy abound. Trust and context that support interpersonal professional relationships are built.

Some activities are structured for either time management or safety reasons, but generally the team is free to go do and create their own experiences. Team members take this seriously and bring their own passions and hobbies to share with one another. For example, a yoga class taught by a remote team member, a dance party with one of our own at the mixer, or our co-founder sharing his high-tech telescope during a clear night.

Organized excursions always include a challenge or an element of wonder and discovery. Trying new or scary things (think zip-lines) together creates commonality and strong, anchoring memories. And, boy, are the stories we take home memorable!

Most of our team is introverted. We love hanging out and interacting with each other, but we also need time to recharge. Familiarity is key to this. I want to be comfortable sitting in a circle of my team members reading quietly without feeling obligated to fill the silence with chatter or work. The extroverts in our group find each other and recharge by hanging out together. This type of team building is more foundational and higher quality. A traditional corporate retreat’s team building activities or agendas are “one size fits all” (may the most outgoing and energetic man or woman win!). But, letting team members interact at their own pace allows for a more genuine bond which translates into our workplace naturally.

We totally still talk about work. A lot. We’re visionaries, and one of our company values is

‘We Shape our Own Future.” When we talk optimistically and/or hypothetically about the future it creates hype and excitement.

However, our company retreat is not the place to create new objectives or goals. This is the place to reset and reevaluate. Our team comes out of R&R with a better perspective on priorities. We encourage people to take notes, be introspective, and think out loud, but we can put ideas to a whiteboard later.

Finally, T&N honestly wants to thank our team with true Resting and Relaxing. Completely unplugging proves that we genuinely care about work/life balance. There is a saying that goes, “the pioneers take the arrows, and the settlers take the land.” We are the disruptors. We are the pioneers. Tuft & Needle has blazed a trail right through the mattress industry that has taken an enormous amount of effort and has created opportunity for those that follow in our footsteps. That means that out of the 365 days of the year, we are going to take five days to recoup. We are a stronger and more effective organization because we actually take a little R&R. 

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