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Making the office retreat experience less groan-inducing for your staff

(ENTREPRENEUR NEWS) No more awkward icebreakers, cheesy trust falls or awkward team pictures jumping like this atrocity.

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Building trust and community

Many leaders consider the company or team retreat a vital part of building their business.

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They view these gatherings as an opportunity to build trust and community among employees, and may also use retreats as meetings, with the premise that a change of scenery could lead to a change in thinking. Especially among startups, the employee retreat has become a kind of hallowed ground.

Make the most of your retreat

The downside of company retreats? A lot of staff think they’re a waste of time or an incursion on their personal lives. At the very least, employees have grown tired of summer camp-style icebreaker games and cliché ropes courses. With that in mind, those in leadership positions are being pushed to revolutionize the staff retreat if they plan to save it.

Luckily, for those determined to stay the course and take their team on a retreat, there are many options to choose from – and plenty of options outside the sitcom standbys.

Here are three ways you can take your business retreat up a few notches.

Give back to get more

Participating in community service events is one of the most rewarding ways to bring your team together while playing down the retreat format.

Depending on your team’s interests and preferences, you could be a fundraising group or sponsor for a major walkathon, participate in a Habitat For Humanity build together, or spend a day helping out at a community garden or urban cleanup.

This type of activity gives your retreat a focus while helping team members build memories together and get to know each other better in a low-pressure setting.

Try a change of scenery

If you are going to make your team travel to go on a retreat, make sure you’re not just replicating your current setting with a different zip code.

Holing up the team in a hotel’s conference suite isn’t likely to encourage revolutionary thinking or redefine the relationships between employees.

You need to make a more dramatic change.

Since many major companies are based in urban settings or suburban office parks, consider finding a nature-based retreat space. For example, the Art of Living Retreat Center offers a Hillside Hall that’s perfect for team meetings, featuring breakout rooms that are great for corporate planning meetings. What makes it different from your average conference room? The Hillside Hall is surrounded by thickets of trees and open to the sounds of breezes and bird songs, ensuring this won’t feel like just another meeting.

For those seeking a more low-key version of the nature retreat, another idea is to take a meditative walk. If you have a nearby nature preserve, that would be an easy place to do this. Giving your team a chance to slow down and reconnect with themselves, rather than with each other, can help them think more clearly and feel less stressed when they return to the office.

Be outrageous

Finally, if your team is really up for an adventure – and in startups where each new venture is about testing the limits, this may be the case – consider choosing an outrageous activity for your team retreat. At the top of the list is blindfolded driving, offered by the UK-based Teambuilding Company. Yes, that’s right. You can drive a car blindfolded… with the help of your coworkers.

As the company explains, the exercise is really about creative problem solving, but when you broach this activity, you team will either jump at the opportunity or think you’ve gone off the deep end. Either way, they’ll never forget the experience – and no verbal directions allowed!

No matter what you choose for your team retreat – if you choose to have one – the most important thing you can do to make it a success is define your goals. Are you hoping to come away with a five-year plan or is this retreat about breaking out of a communication rut?

Ultimately, it’s the aimless retreat that team members rebel against. Use everyone’s time wisely.

#RetreatRight

Larry Alton is an independent business consultant specializing in social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship. When he's not consulting, glued to a headset, he's working on one of his many business projects. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Business Entrepreneur

The top 10 startup cities in America

(ENTREPRENEUR NEWS) If you’re thinking about launching a startup anytime soon you may want to check out this list on the top 10 cities for startups.

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The digital revolution is in full swing, and some cities are setting themselves up to capitalize upon these innovations by supporting startups.

In order to “better understand the U.S. cities driving the digital revolution,” several groups have come together to rank which cities are making the most of the tech startup boom.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, 1776, the U.S. Chamber Technology Engagement Center, and FreeEnterprise.com have teamed up to publish a report called Innovation That Matters (ITM).

The report analyzes and ranks U.S. cities on such factors as startup capital, the connectivity of startups, startup culture, the availability of worker talent and specialization, and more. Data was taken from surveys of entrepreneurs and businesspeople, startups, and leaders in public and private sectors.

J.D. Harrison, senior director of strategic communications at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce says that the “digital revolution has the potential to make winners of some cities and leave others behind.”

The study aims to find out which cities “embrace this shift to a digital economy and actively support technology startups,” arguing that these cities “will be the best positioned to unleash the power of high-impact innovation and cultivate vibrant, thriving communities.”

The top ten ranking cities are as follows:

10) Portland, Oregon because every city needs a nickname, has been dubbed the Silicon Forest, referencing its leadership in green tech.

9) New York City, New York. The largest tech hub on the east coast.

8) Seattle, Washington. Home to Amazon.com and several other tech firms, with Microsoft’s headquarters in nearby Redmond.

7) Dallas, Texas. Dtown moved up significantly by increasing startup connectivity and tapping into a large, diverse workforce.

6) Atlanta, Georgia. The “most improved” city on the ITM list, moving up 15 places to number six due to a surge in financial, educational, and health tech industries.

5) Austin,Texas. Home of The American Genius, Austin has become a “haven for tech-savvy millennials seeking good-paying job opportunities.” Besides hosting many tech startups, Austin still has a relatively affordable cost of living.

4) San Diego, California. San Diego is full of cybersecurity, Big Data, robotics, and software startups.

3)Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Also known as Philicon Alley, moved up from number eight by deregulating and becoming more business-friendly.

2) San Francisco Bay Area. The Bay also ranked number two last year. The seaside neighbor to the Silicon Valley has been doing a great job attracting seed funding these days.

1) Boston, Massachusetts. This is the second year in a row that Boston has topped this list, due to its large number of startups and robust entrepreneur population.

How does your city rank?

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Business Entrepreneur

Customer surveys tell more than just satisfaction

(ENTREPRENEUR NEWS) While they can be annoying for the consumer and cost time for the company, customer feedback surveys are crucial to your business.

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While Richard Dawson, Louie Anderson, and Steve Harvey may not be able to personally help you with customer service, what they have in common can. Surveys, and personalized follow-up attention in general, help clients and consumers know that they mean something to your business.

For the sake of this article (and the fast-paced, technological world we live in) I am going to be speaking about surveys. However, I want to share this anecdote first.

I used to work front desk at a salon and part of my job was to follow up with new guests about a week after their appointment.

Now, most of the time, my calls went to voicemail, which were never returned; but every once in awhile a human answered.

After going through the spiel of why I was calling, I could almost always sense a sound of surprise from the other line before the person answered my question. One conversation in particular left me realizing how important this seemingly useless task was.

I called an older woman and asked her about a recent appointment she had at the salon. She thanked me for calling and then went into detail about how great the appointment was and how much getting her hair done meant to her.

Before we hung up she said, “thank you again for calling. A salon has never done this before.” It then hit me like a ton of bricks just how significant something as small as a callback is.

If you have the time, definitely make those callbacks to clients as it could be very meaningful. However, it’s understandable that most of us may not have the time in our schedule for personalized phone calls.

So if that’s the case, don’t forget about surveys. I know most of them will either go to spam or go unanswered, but the mere fact that you’re sending it out shows clients and customers that you care about their business.

And, for those surveys that do receive responses, it can be extremely beneficial for your company as you can get insight into what works and what doesn’t. There’s really no disadvantage to this tactic, so remember to make time for that follow up with existing clients rather than just focusing on getting new ones.

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Business Entrepreneur

Entrepreneur blunders to bypass

(ENTREPRENEUR NEWS) Being an entrepreneur takes a lot of hard work, as a result, it’s easy to make mistakes. Here’s how to avoid hurting your business from the get-go.

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entrepreneur motivate emplify apprenticeship gender blue-collar workplace culture

The entrepreneur business can be a tricky one. It’s not one of those career choices that have more of a clear-cut path, and it may require you to make your own rules along the way.

Along with making your own rules, it is also 110 percent likely that you will make mistakes along the way, as well. This is true of any career, but, when within the sphere of being an entrepreneur, responsibility has a tendency to weigh even heavier on your shoulders.

This is completely unavoidable, but if you keep an eye on your methods and not just your desired outcomes, you can help combat some of the biggest mistakes. Here are some things to keep in mind.

It’s obviously one of the first priorities to get the word out about your business. You may be inclined to hit up every social media platform known to man.

This can be harmful to you if you spread your social presence too thin and have no focus. Pick a few channels that are the most fitting for your business, build your presence, then expand to other channels from there.

Never promise more than you can deliver at the start of your business. You only get one shot at your first sale with a consumer and not delivering what they expected can hurt your next chance.

Also, be approachable and keep an open mind when it comes to networking and communicating for sales. Confidence can carry you and your business a long way.

So, you’ve found a strategy that works? Great! But, don’t get complacent. Consumers want to see innovation, and employees yearn for that, too.

Try and start each year with a calendar and determine what changes you want to make from the last. Figure out what worked and how you can expand upon it to make it fresh and possibly more successful.

With this idea, don’t settle for reusing the same knowledge over and over again. Keep learning as your business grows and turn that knowledge into actions.

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