A brief getaway from familiar surroundings can help your team re-energize and break out of creative ruts, says Adriana Girdler, CEO of Cornerstone Dynamics in Toronto.

Through regular work routines, team members may get pigeonholed into roles and behaviours that hinder the development of new ideas, Girdler says. Stepping outside of your normal setting can encourage your team to produce fresh ideas to help you achieve your business goals.

While you may have a plan for the year ahead, an off-site planning retreat with your staff can help you fine-tune your plan and build consensus as you head into 2017.

Here are some tips on how to hold a productive strategic retreat:

> Include a facilitator
You can't be both participant and facilitator, Girdler says. It takes a certain skill set to be an effective facilitator, and you should bring in an outside perspective to hold everyone to account.

A neutral third party can help guide the discussion, illuminate challenges and help you and your team members understand each other. You need someone who can help the team break out of assumed roles and generate new ideas that advance your overall objectives.

Another benefit of having an outside facilitator is that people are more inclined to participate, or be less dismissive about the process, when a new person is involved. Work retreats often involve activities that many may at first regard as silly, but when these activities are led by a skilled facilitator, they can stir up people's creative juices.

"Sometimes when we do these wacky things," Girdler says, "it's to shake up our brain."

> Set specific goals
Develop a concrete agenda that defines the parameters of your discussion, along with an outline of what you hope to accomplish. Without a sense of purpose, the exercise can devolve into an aimless talking session that just rehashes old ideas, Girdler says.

Don't overload your agenda with too many goals. Instead, lay out a few priorities that need to be tackled. For example, if the retreat is about revamping your marketing efforts, structure the activities and goals around that objective. 

While you will determine the agenda, consider seeking input from your team on what other issues should be raised. You can decide whether these suggestions fit the theme of your retreat, or should be tabled for another occasion.

> Assign "homework" beforehand
Share the agenda with your team in advance, so that they can prepare some ideas, Girdler says, or at least have a sense of what to expect. While their ideas don't need to be fully fleshed out, they can provide a starting point for discussions.

For example, you might ask team members to reflect on past accomplishments and how they might replicate or build on those successes for the year ahead.

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