Tom Dennis 2018-02-26 12:48:53
So goes the motto of one Minnesota venue that hosts corporate retreats – and so say the companies that sponsor the gatherings GRAND FORKS, N.D. – But what about retreats’ cost? That was the question posed to Briana Scearcy, chief people officer for Stoneridge Software of Barnesville, Minn. After all, Stoneridge sponsors four company-wide retreats a year, one of them involving a day and a night at a Minnesota resort. For 200 people. That can’t be cheap. Right? Scearcy didn’t hesitate. “Certainly, these events are not inexpensive,” she said. “But neither is turnover, meaning losing people. And we kind of look at it in that perspective.” Michelle Mongeon Allen, CEO of JLG Architects in Grand Forks, agreed. “We are over 100 people in about 12 locations,” Allen said. “That means the investment in bringing people together is a big one. “But there’s something about getting people physically together that moves the needle. So we do invest, and we do get great value; but we also make sure that we’re very clear about driving outcomes when we make that kind of investment.” As a New York Times story described in 2016, companies nationwide are learning that corporate retreats can be “an effective way to accomplish seemingly conflicting goals: Getting people to relax and to work harder. … “And by all accounts, the business is growing.” That’s in line with the overall growth in business travel, which the Global Business Travel Association in July described this way: “Pending many global uncertainties, business travel spending is expected to accelerate significantly in 2018, advancing 6.1 percent, followed by roughly 7 percent growth in both 2019 and 2020.” And it seems to be the trend in the Dakotas and western Minnesota as well, with resorts, hotels, convention centers and other businesses investing to take advantage of the change. “We have about 300 resorts that are our members,” said Dan McElroy, executive vice president of the Minnesota Resort and Campground Association. “And while I can’t separate out what might be called corporate retreats or planning events or sales meetings, I can tell you that corporate meetings, broadly, are extremely important.” The main reason is seasonality, McElroy said. At resorts, family vacationers generally show up in the summer, while corporate meetings and retreats tend to get scheduled in the fall, winter and spring. “So, a big reason why we see resorts making investments in meeting spaces, ropes courses and so on is that the corporate and association business has a much longer season that the social business.” WATERSHED MOMENTS Among the resorts making corporate-retreat investments is Sugar Lake Lodge near Grand Rapids, Minn., the resort from whose website comes the headline to this story. “When the current owners took over in 1993, they put a real focus on group clients and built up the resort around that,” said Chad Simons, vice president of sales. “We’ve been very deliberate about that to get our corporate business here.” The focus includes blending old and new, offering not only traditional resort cabins but also golf, a full marina and a main lodge with 9,000 square feet of meeting space. “So it’s still that True North feel, but with high-speed fiber and a gigabyte of bandwidth,” Simons said. Sugar Lake Lodge also offers signature leadership programs such as L3 – leading self, leading others and leading the business. An L3 program may start in August with a three-day facilitated session on the first of those topics. The second topic gets covered at a three-day session in October, and the third over three days in January. “We actually have a group here today that is doing some leadership development,” Simons said in January. “They’ve done snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, we have a dog-sled team that will come out and give them a dog-sled tour. “We have another saying: ‘A lot of watershed moments in a company’s history can be traced back to a retreat.’” Those are the moments the lodge hopes to inspire, he said. A VIEW IN EVERY DIRECTION There’s no golf and certainly no marina at Coteau des Prairies Lodge; the lodge sits on a hill overlooking a North Dakota farm. But there is that same commitment to watershed moments: The best ideas happen when people are away from their workplace and its emails, deadlines and phone calls, said Olivia Stenvold, lodge manager. “The ability to basically disconnect from the office and be out of the city, away from distractions, but still have all the amenities you need to have a successful meeting: That’s what we offer,” she said. The 13-bedroom log lodge, which can sleep up to 25 people, occupies a striking geography: the point near Rutland, N.D., where the plains and the Coteau des Prairies range of hills meet. As a result, “the lodge boasts one of the premier 360-degree views of the northern Great Plains,” the facility’s website notes. “Where else do you find a tall hill with a full view of flat prairie that isn’t obstructed by more hills or trees?” Over the five years since the lodge’s opening, corporate bookings have grown, and the lodge even has hosted ag groups from Norway, Russia and Ukraine, Stenvold said. One unique attraction: the farm tours offered by Stenvold’s father, Joe Breker, owner of the surrounding farmland and co-owner of the lodge. “My dad is an active farmer,” Stenvold said. “So, he incorporates his farm and farming practices into an educational farm tour. He takes the groups out, and it doesn’t matter whether the combines are running, the sprayers are running or nothing is running, there’s always something for people to see.” RETREAT TO THE KITCHEN Square One Rental Kitchens & Events is another venue that offers a unique – and tasty – retreat. The commercial kitchen in Fargo, N.D., got its start by renting out space to food start-ups. “But we had a lot of people approach us looking for team-building opportunities, which ties into that idea of building morale,” said Casey Steele, owner and kitchen manager. So, Square One started offering Team Building Workshops. In these, groups split into teams, each of which prepares a different portion of a gourmet meal. “We have chef instructors, but they do not prepare the meal. The teams do,” using the recipes and ingredients Square One provides, Steele said. “The groups we’ve hosted have been looking for something outside of the workplace, something different. This is different because cooking together forces everyone to communicate and cooperate. Then they all sit down together to eat, and they’re always so impressed with they’ve made.” Favorite dishes include Beeramisu, a tiramisu-like dessert in which the ladyfingers are soaked in Guinness instead of coffee, then layered with both a cream filling and a chocolate-cream filling and topped with cocoa powder. “We get lots of happy faces when people are done,” Steele said. SMART RETREATS Such team-building efforts may seem indulgent. But again, they’re not, said Scearcy of Stoneridge Software. Stoneridge Software “collectively retreats” four times a year – twice in videoconferences and twice in person, with one of those all-employee gatherings in Minneapolis and the other at a Minnesota resort. At the latter, employees can bring their families at Stoneridge Software’s expense. Consider that – then consider this: In August, Inc. magazine ranked Stoneridge the 12th fastest-growing company in Minnesota. That’s not a coincidence, especially in a time of workforce shortages. Instead, it’s due in part to Stoneridge Software’s generous benefit and retreat policies, a big point of which is to attract and retain workers, Scearcy said. “Leading up to these events, there’s a buzz going on,” she said. “People are excited; there’s laughter and there’s motivation. … There’s a sense of always having something to look forward to, as well. “And afterward, there’s just a general sense of rejuvenation,” Scearcy continued. “You can tell that team spirit increases.” And just to be sure, Stoneridge Software tracks morale in surveys and acts on what it finds. Another tip: retreats work best when they’re strategic – when they’re set up to generate ideas in addition to goodwill, said Michelle Mongeon Allen of JLG Architects. For example, “one element that’s very important to us is design,” she said. “Design is a core value for us. We like to be inspired by the spaces that we’re in. “So, the experience of the space is also a major driver of where we go for our retreats,” she said. All things considered, “retreats have just become an invaluable part of our planning process,” Allen said. “And the more experience we have with them, the truer that becomes.”
Published by Prairie Business Magazine c/o Forum. View All Articles.