1. Clevenger, Kay RN, MSN, Recruitment & Retention Conference presenter

Article Content

Team building retreats are an exciting, creative retention tool in today's competitive marketplace. Their purpose? To offer staff members a fun, productive day in which to thank them for their hard work throughout the year. Doing so ultimately leads to bonding experiences that contribute to team cohesiveness. Additionally, improving team relationships promotes staff satisfaction and retention.


Initial planning

The initial team building retreat sets the tone for all future retreats, so plan carefully. With all nurses and support staff invited, it's key to focus on professional development topics or topics that all team members best relate to. Also, keep the day structured, but not entirely packed. Flexibility with the ability to improvise is important, as is recognizing that involvement and participation are key to keeping the retreat a happy endeavor. Start with a fun icebreaker to warm up the group and set a positive tone. Integrate team activities throughout the retreat to avoid sitting all day.


Plan two retreats in different weeks and on different days to maximize attendance, and avoid any weeks with a heavy vacation schedule. Spring and fall are great times to have a retreat, especially if you're having outdoor activities. Start talking about the retreats a few months in advance, asking for input and volunteers for a planning committee. Hold the retreat outside of the hospital so team members are really getting away from work. Potential locations include parks, clubhouses, and community rooms. Planning a "pitch-in" helps to keep the budget reasonable; team members are often willing to bring a favorite dish. Of course, if budget allows, treating team members to a catered lunch is nurturing.


Select a theme and icebreakers

Selecting a fun theme and having decorations can make the retreat an event to remember. An initial retreat that our organization, Indiana University Hospital, planned had a racetrack theme to coincide with the Indy 500 in May.


Icebreakers and team activities can be found in books and on the Internet. Always have a backup plan due to unpredictable weather. One inside activity is to divide the group into teams and give each team a designated time to build a freestanding tower with 50 straight straws and 25 straight pins. The tallest tower wins door prizes for the team. Observe team function of each group and debrief with questions about this activity. It's great to see nurses, secretaries, and nursing assistants pulling together on teams, trying to win the different competitions.


Retreats are a great opportunity to celebrate accomplishments of the past year and to set goals for the upcoming one. For instance, each person can create goals on a paper frog ("leaping into the future") or some type of paper cutout that coincides with the theme of the retreat. Also, select agenda paper that matches the theme. Goals can then be compiled and discussed at future staff meetings, with staff members selecting three to five goals to implement immediately.


Staff feedback

Many positive comments came from the evaluations that staff completed at the end of the day in response to the question, "What did you like best about the retreat?" These included:


[white diamond suit] "Liked having 'down time' with people I work with-to have the opportunity to see each other simply as people."


[white diamond suit] "The opportunity for all shifts and all positions to get together in a neutral environment and speak as equals."


[white diamond suit] "Spending time off the unit with my work family. The team building really let me see people have fun, and show who they are as well."


[white diamond suit] Enjoyed the break from work to focus. Also, I enjoyed seeing the fun and laughter, with managers being a part of it."


[white diamond suit] "Since I'm a new employee, I didn't know many people. This is a great chance to strengthen relationships."


[white diamond suit] "I think these retreats are so awesome to remind staff members that they're truly making a difference and to help their units improve overall. It helps us remember why we're in this profession."



Scheduling and budget

The most challenging part of planning team building retreats is scheduling night-shift team members. For best results, hold the retreats on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. Decide on a minimum number of staff-this also depends on the size of the clinical area. A nice group size is 20 to 25 people. To facilitate the retreats for smaller units, set a minimum of 12 team members, excluding leadership staff, that could attend either retreat. Also, cluster or care center retreats have been used for staffing purposes. Regarding staff needs, consider offering an evening-shift retreat if there's an acceptable number of attendees.


The budget includes facility rental, honorariums for speakers if having outside/guest speakers, food and paper products, decorations for theme of retreat, agenda paper, cutouts for goals, portfolios, printing costs, fun giveaways for all staff members, and door prizes. Additionally, factor in costs for photo development.


The most expensive portion is the nonproductive time for staff to have an 8-hour education day. Recommend appropriately staffing the days/nights of the retreat and seeking overtime for the other shifts of the week. Don't schedule a team member to attend a retreat after working an 8- or 12-hour night shift.


Positive outcomes

The major outcomes of team building retreats are staging ongoing activities that create, nourish, and nurture a positive morale. Other outcomes of these retreats include:


[white diamond suit] professional development


[white diamond suit] employees sharing a positive social experience


[white diamond suit] staff satisfaction, rewards, and recognition


[white diamond suit] initiating a celebration/morale committee


[white diamond suit] developing a mission statement for specific unit/area and core beliefs


[white diamond suit] goal setting.



The common denominator for staff retention is to find ways to improve job fulfillment and staff satisfaction. Team building retreats accomplish this and more by creating an educated, comfortable setting in which an individual can talk, learn, share, and generate unique bonding experiences.