By Yoongie Min, OD
A staff retreat can be a powerful tool to motivate your staff and focus them on setting and fulfilling improvement goals. Careful planning and team-building exercises can make a retreat a measurable success.
Earlier this year, my staff and I spent one full work day on an office retreat at a conference center on a beautiful farm outside Columbus, Ohio, where our practice is located. Our purpose was to set improvement goals for our practice, and to put in place a plan to achieve those goals. The retreat was relatively easy to plan, and it was affordable, especially in view of the revenue and efficiency benefits that we derive as a result of this experience, which helps to focus us on our goals and motivate us to achieve them.
Choose a Venue
with a Proven Agenda
The venue we used for our last office retreat, Woodhaven Farm in Johnstown, Ohio, specializes in corporate retreats and teambuilding through cooking. Here is their standard agenda for a one-day business retreat:
1. A brief orientation on the menu, food safety and outlining goals for the day.
2. The group is divided into smaller teams responsible for their own part of the meal. Each "team" will work together to prepare one or more dishes. All the recipes, fresh ingredients and equipment are supplied by the venue. While cooking, teams are encouraged to problem solve, share ideas with other groups and receive as little instruction as possible from the chef.
3. Upon completion, each group presents their finished dishes. The entire group sits down together for a dining experience.
4. Afterwards, teams meet and discuss what they learned in the kitchen and about the team building process. The event usually lasts about two to three hours for lunch and three to four hours for dinner.
Planning the Retreat
It usually takes us one to two weeks to plan a retreat, including choosing the venue and setting the day's agenda. My staff and I typically share planning duties. We try to do two staff retreats per year if possible. Many doctors are probably concerned about taking a day out of the office due to loss of revenue. We have never seen a dip in income after a retreat, and, in fact, we usually see an increase in revenues due to better teamwork in making sales in the optical. Cost for the rental of the space, all food and drinks was $850 for 11 people.
Here is how we spent the day at this last retreat.
Teambuilding Through Cooking
We held our retreat at Woodhaven Farm in Johnstown, Ohio. The farm has been
converted to a conference center that specializes in team building through cooking
together. We were provided with a kitchen that was stocked with ingredients. We also had venue staff on hand to help us put together our meal. Figuring out a recipe together teaches staff the same skills they need to work together to serve patients. For example, as a group you must decide who will do which tasks to get the meal together, similar to how both the doctor and staff play a role in prescribing and then delivering the patient eyewear. You might say an activity like this helps us see how we blend our roles in the office to deliver just the right eye health and eyewear recipe for each patient.
Guided Discussion Using Optometric Publications
After successfully planning and enjoying our meal, I circulated photocopies of articles from various optometric journals and magazines that we used to stimulate discussions ranging from practice flow to instrumentation purchases. Sometimes stepping away from the office gives you the perspective necessary to talk frankly about how patient flow can be improved.
For example, when we are in the office, operating in our traditional roles, a staff
member who does pre-testing might be hesitant to bring up that processes in the reception area are tying up patients for too long and creating a bottleneck in the pre-testing area. But with all of us away from the office, and outside our job roles, we have the time to discuss the issue calmly rather than in the midst of a hectic office day while the bottlenecks discussed are actually occurring.
Review Technical Issues
In addition to discussion inspired by journal articles, we bring at least one laptop to log into our office computers to go over technology issues. For example, we might discuss how to ensure that needed patient information gets consistently entered into our practice management system or how to better organize patient data.
Improve the Interpersonal
We went over a lot of ways to improve practice attitude, patient interactions and reduce conflicts among the staff. This helps in our everyday personal interactions and staff morale. For example, we talked about how best to communicate when issues, such as errors or misunderstandings, arise. We talked about past situations and hypothetical scenarios and addressed how each of those situations could be improved with more direct, constructive communication.
4 Steps to Effective Office Retreats
Select a convenient day, time, and place to do a retreat. You don't want to waste time traveling, so choose a venue that is as close as possible to your office, and find out what resources are available at the venue to assist with activities. For example, they might have a kitchen where you can cook together or they might have an outdoor recreation area where you can play a game of volleyball or some other sport.
Set goals. Retreats are morale-boosters, but they also provide opportunities to set improvement goals. Some of our retreats have been like an extended office meeting in which we come up with new policies or sales techniques and measure resultant changes in eyewear sales or supplement sales.
Plan: Set specific blocks of time to address the topics you want to cover. Your serious agenda should also include time for fun to lighten the mood. Plan breaks for food, drinks and bathroom needs. Put in some fun activities or games in between the meeting topics. We have done trivia games, Pictionary and party games, among other activities.
Ask vendors for sponsorship. Companies often will help financially if they can do a 15- to 30-minute presentation.
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Yoongie Min, OD, is the owner of Northwest Vision Center, with locations in Columbus and Chillicothe, Ohio. To contact him: firstname.lastname@example.org.