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Go Out and Play: Planning Company Retreats

Go Out and Play: Planning Company Retreats

Give the ol' company retreat a makeover. Company retreats can help you attract, keep and inspire productive teams.

By Catherine Seda and Jen Seda, M.D. |

Say “company retreat” at the office, and suddenly employees cringe imagining stuffy conference rooms and mind-numbing lectures. That’s not a retreat; that’s a meeting—and it’s neither inspirational nor effective. If you want a new way to motivate a dream team, try “play” first and “work” second.

Drew Warmington, 41, founder and CEO of in Newport Beach, California, lets his employees choose where to hold their annual retreat. The multimillion-dollar business, which matches professionals in the insurance and mortgage industries, has taken trips to Hawaii, Las Vegas and Wyoming.

“People like having the power to say where they go,” Warmington says. “You also learn a lot about your co-workers by getting to know them outside the office. Everybody comes back ready to move mountains, and they’re juiced up for months.”

What kind of retreat fits your team? Extravagant escape? Thrill-seeking adventure? Cultural immersion? Here are a few possibilities to explore at a range of prices:

Community Culture

Today’s highly mobile, technology-dependent work force often lacks a sense of community. By providing an opportunity to connect with your city’s culture, you can generate company and community loyalty. So take your team out on the town. Here are two ways to taste the local flavor you’ve been missing:

Culinary School of the Rockies: Let’s face it. Food brings people together. And a company quest in gourmet cooking is a delicious low-cost activity that includes the ingredients for success. Chefs from the Culinary School of the Rockies in Boulder, Colorado, teach up to 30 participants to tap into their inner chefs while handling time constraints and optimizing resources. Don’t worry if your team members are toast burners or top chefs; the school designs cooking events for all skill levels.


A group beams right before the meal they made together at the Culinary School of the Rockies

Corporate kitchen programs start around $175 per person and include a take-home Culinary School of the Rockies apron and recipe packet, pre-selected menu, chef instructor, photographs of your mouth-watering event and a multi-course meal made with quality ingredients. Because every person gets hands-on experience, your team will discover how to work together more efficiently while enjoying the fruits of their labor.

Gray Line: The possibilities are endless with Gray Line tours. With close to 4,000 guided tours in 150 worldwide destinations, employees can learn more about their city. For only $25 to $80 per person (average), this investment has many happy returns in generating location loyalty.

Care for a lesson in espionage? Washington, DC, is home to a “spy tour” offered by Gray Line and the International Spy Museum, which covers the time from World War II to the Cold War. Tennessee natives can check out Gray Line’s “Discover Nashville” tour to visit Fort Nashborough, the State Capitol, the Parthenon, Music Row, Ryman Auditorium and the Country Music Hall of Fame with backstage and behind-the-scenes tours.

For an even closer connection with your community, consider adding a volunteer experience. For example, Gray Line New Orleans and Travelocity partnered to combine the Hurricane Katrina Tour, which ventured through many of the hurricane-ravaged areas of New Orleans, with a five-hour volunteer project at a local school. Lending a helping hand provides a great bonding experience and does good for the heart and for the community.

Luxury Living

Many employees can’t, or won’t, spend time and money pampering themselves. By treating them to luxury, you not only provide a relaxing retreat, but also show your employees that you value them. Look for resorts that offer unforgettable experiences, such as the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa and Miraval.


The elegant, Spanish-inspired architecture at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa paints an enchanting backdrop of a weekend of relaxation and pampering.

Ojai Valley Inn & Spa: Set on 220 lush acres in a secluded valley 83 miles north of Los Angeles, the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa invites relaxation with Spanish-inspired architecture and quiet elegance. If the cost (rooms start at $305) is beyond your budget for ultimate pampering, you can customize a day of decadence.

One popular activity is the mixed media art class at the resort’s new, sun-drenched, 1,200-square-foot Artist’s Cottage. Prices begin at $50 per person; up to 12 participants (depending on the chosen class) are led through two to three hours of creativity to enhance communication and risk-taking back at the office. No Van Goghs wanted—stretch past your comfort zones and recreate the child-like joy of exploring art and trying something new.

If art isn’t your thing, the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa can arrange for a golf expert like Dr. Joseph Parent to demonstrate principles for business success through golf on its on-property championship course. This program starts at $2,000 for up to eight people. Golfing fees are extra.

Miraval: Miraval is not just a destination; it’s an inspiring journey of self and team discovery. Nestled at the base of the Catalina Mountains, Miraval encompasses 400 acres of Sonoran Desert north of Tucson, Arizona. In this tranquil paradise, you’ll find more than 100 “mindful” programs designed to enhance your self-awareness in all situations. This doesn’t mean meditating under a tree all day; Miraval’s transforming programs are geared to maximize communication and team performance.


Enhance trust in the workplace with Miraval’s outdoor challenge course, “Desert Journey.”

For example, in the Equine Experience participants learn to improve their nonverbal communication skills by interacting with horses and translating those skills in the work environment. In Miraval’s new outdoor challenge course called “Desert Journey,” participants collaborate to complete low-ropes activities successfully, and they discover how to support each other in high-ropes activities. Thanks to facilitators who customize each experience to the group’s needs, these challenge programs give participants powerful take-home tools while also having fun.

Though tempting, don’t overbook your team’s schedule with activities. Let them enjoy the luxurious accommodations, gourmet cuisine and spa to recharge. After all, indulgence is all-inclusive at Miraval for $450-$750 (average) per person per night.

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