Traverse City, Michigan

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Developing authentic connections at a corporate retreat in Traverse City, MI

When I started planning our company’s annual corporate retreat, I knew I wanted to do something more exciting than the usual meeting or conference. We’ve had a few new hires in the last year, and my main goal was to help foster meaningful connections within the team. I’ve visited nearby Traverse City on multiple occasions and always seem to find exciting venues, hotels and excursions there. I knew it would be the perfect destination for a positive team-building experience.

Bonding over beer

Our team is a fairly active bunch—and we have quite a few beer connoisseurs—so Kayak, Bike & Brew was the perfect spot to kick things off. It was a great way to ease into the retreat by exploring the city, getting a bit of exercise and tasting some really delicious craft beer. The tour started off with a leisurely bike ride that gave everyone a chance to chat as we pedaled along. I stayed toward the back of the pack and enjoyed observing not only the amazing views of Traverse City but also the conversations that were happening in front of me. It made me smile to see people from different departments bonding as they enjoyed the ride together.

We biked to a couple of different pubs where we tasted everything from hoppy IPAs to full-bodied stouts. The stops were 40 minutes each, which gave us plenty of time to savor the beers and even squeeze in a couple of board games. Then we launched the kayaks onto the Boardman River for an urban paddle tour through downtown Traverse City. After hitting a couple more pubs and paddling our hearts out, we wrapped up the tour with a late lunch of burgers and wings at the final pub.

“I enjoyed observing not only the amazing views of Traverse City but also the conversations that were happening in front of me.”

A new way to collaborate

After lunch and a little bit of down time, the group met at Escape Routes LLC. I was interested to see how everyone would react in an escape room challenge. My suspicion was that a new environment and unusual circumstances would cause some people to express themselves in ways that were different than at work. And I was right!

Without the pressures and expectations of an office setting, we were all on an even playing field. We had one hour to search through hidden compartments, find all the clues and solve the puzzles in order to escape. The clock was counting down, and while there was certainly a heightened sense of urgency, cool heads prevailed. It was exciting to see my entire team using their creative and critical thinking skills. They showed leadership, communicated clearly and listened to one another’s suggestions.

We made it out with five seconds to spare! After the celebratory cheers, we held a mini-debriefing where we talked about how we could use those same skills in our positions at work. The insight and conversations that stemmed from the escape room carried on into the evening.

Friends kayak through downtown Traverse City, MI
A woman stops at a pier along the Boardman River in Traverse City, MI
Two friends on a sailboat in Traverse City, MI

Unleashing creativity

Creativity and innovation are what keep us going as a business. And what better way to inspire creativity than to tap into our inner artists? We rented a studio at Painting with a Twist and settled in with canvas and brush in hand. It was a relaxed, open and fun atmosphere where no artistic ability was needed—although a lot of people on the team were surprised to discover they had more talent than they thought.

Before we started painting, we talked about the vision for our company, our mission statement and the values we hold. Then we painted our own versions of a painting called Dreaming in Color with the help of a professional artist. It was a landscape with mountains, trees and a brilliantly colored sky. As we painted, we discussed how the themes of our company could be found either in the painting itself or in the act of painting and creating. The conversation opened up some really interesting dialogue that I’m not sure would have happened in a more formal office setting.

I was encouraged at the level of engagement and interest each person was taking in discussing their own roles and the company as a whole. The most striking thing of all, though, was seeing that—even though we were all painting the same image—everyone had their own take on it. It was exciting to celebrate the individual style in each piece.


Let the fun times roll

Workplace happiness pioneer Tony Hsieh said, “Happiness is a business model.” I think he might have been onto something because the smiles on my team’s faces at Lucky Jack’s were priceless. Our first order of business was to get suited up for laser tag. My goals for this specific activity were to improve communication and adaptability, build trust and boost team motivation. Mission accomplished—we planned, strategized and zapped our way to a win.

After a brief and insightful discussion on lessons learned from laser tag, I gave everyone free time. We all reverted back to our childhood and took advantage of the amazing games in the 12,000-square-foot Fun Center. Several people headed straight to the arcade, with more than 80 games. Some sped around in bumper cars, while others headed over to the billiards lounge. After a while, the team gathered together and we wrapped up the day with a few frames of bowling. This wasn’t part of the retreat agenda, which made me very happy. This group of colleagues took the initiative to end the retreat together because they genuinely enjoyed being around one another. I call that a team-building success.

Bored of the boardroom?
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