The 5 Elements You Need to Create a Powerful Retreat | by Jennifer Britton MES, CHRP, CPT, PCC

Clients Holding Hands at Coaching Retreat

Create a Pause for Your Hardworking Clients through Retreats

As coaches, our conversations usually take place over an extended period. Some of your clients may want to take a deeper and more intimate dive into coaching conversations through retreats.

Retreats can take a wide variety of forms - from corporate retreats to wilderness retreats, retreats for writers or couples to virtual retreats. Over the last three decades I have enjoyed creating a "reflective pause" via retreats with a wide variety of client types.

This article considers 5 Key areas to keep in mind as you go to plan, design and execute your own retreats.

Let's Start by Taking a Look at 3 Common Types of Retreats:

1. Corporate Retreats or "Off-sites"

Corporate retreats or "Off-sites" provide an organization with the opportunity for team building, planning, reflection and strategizing.

From half day to multi-day sessions, corporate retreats provide an opportunity to get into the deeper layers of conversation that are not always possible in the workplace. They help organizations focus in on the results they want. And at the same time, corporate retreats create a pause to have the conversations needed - while building the relationships necessary - for peak performance.

2. Couples Retreats

I  have run couples retreats for several years and hear over and over that they love "getting away from it all" and spending time focusing on what's important to them.

While finding time where both partners can be available is challenging, once couples do get the chance to retreat it can be a powerful experience to reconnect, review and refocus the relationship.

3. Virtual Retreats

One of my favorite types of retreats are virtual retreats. This is where people call in (phone or video link) from their office, hotels or even the cottage.

Virtual retreats, although online, still provide a great opportunity to connect with others and take strategic action on your home, life or business. Virtual retreats can focus on any area where people want to take a deeper dive. They also provide a great opportunity to be more strategic - whether it's business planning, writing, organizing or creating a vision.

Here are 5 Elements to Get the Most out of Retreats in Your Coaching Practice:

So, what are the elements of a powerful retreat? I share 5 areas to consider below.

1. Be Strategic on What You Want to Accomplish

When designing retreats, we often want to throw everything in to provide maximum value and benefit. Yet, one of the most common pitfalls for retreats is that too many objectives are set.

Instead, be strategic about what you want to accomplish. Remember that a retreat is a pause, and pausing takes time.

Ask yourself:

  • What do your clients want to achieve during the retreat? As a result of the retreat?
  • What do you (or the organization) want your participants to take away?
  • Which are your clients' (or the organization's) biggest priorities?
  • What foundation do you want to create for the retreatants?

Be as specific as possible, making your objectives measurable. As the old adage says, "What doesn't get measured, doesn't get done".

2. Get Your Clients Involved in the Retreat Design Process

As coaches it's important that we co-create with our clients. So, ask yourself, what can you do to design some of the retreat with your clients?

  • What do your clients really want? eg. Downtime? Exploration time? Yoga time? Journaling time? DOING time?
  • What else is important for people? eg. Location? Start time? Supports?

To answer these questions you could create a survey or ask your fans on social media or your newsletter list. In addition you could ask people in person or on a Facebook Live.

For Corporate Retreats:

Ensure you leave sufficient planning time. And also allow plenty of time for discussions on expectations, outcomes and their past experience with retreats - what's worked and what has not. You may also want to request a retreat planning team or liaison throughout the whole process to ensure a seamless fit. This internal retreat liaison will bring "insider" knowledge as to what the organization is all about, the culture and their priorities.

3. Less Is More - Ensure You Schedule Enough Time

Linking back to tip number 1, less truly is more in terms of impact.

It takes time to pause. So in your design work, ensure that everyone (clients, team members, you) are clear. This includes being clear on what really needs to be covered versus what they would like to cover.

It may be useful to categorize the possible topics into:

  1. What's essential
  2. What would be nice
  3. What can wait to another time or forum

Also be sure to allow enough time during the retreat for participants to reflect on and discuss the topics which are important to them.

Finally, be sure to leave time for participants to create an action plan, linking the retreat discussions back to the workplace - or their lives.

4. Make Retreats Regular!

To gain the same "traction" in life that you have on retreat, make retreats regular and not just once a year. For example this could be bi-monthly, quarterly or bi-annually.

Corporate retreats: Schedule half to full days out of the office several times a year for departments and if possible the entire organization.

For both individual and corporate retreats: Consider utilizing virtual retreats to provide mini-retreat processes throughout the year. This removes the added expense of time and money of an off-site corporate retreat, and the costs of travel and accommodation for individuals.

5. Follow Up

One of the biggest "missing links" I see in retreats is a lack of follow up.

What can you do to provide a link back to the office or life? Many times learning is left at the retreat location and sadly does not transfer forward.

What You Can Do During the Retreat:

Throughout the retreat process surface questions such as:

  • What can we do to bring this learning back to the office, or into our lives?
  • What processes do clients already have in place that can be leveraged to discuss our retreat learning?
  • Action Plans: What actions are needed – in the next 24 hours? This week? This month? This quarter?

To strengthen the link back to daily life, schedule time during the retreat to create action plans. These action plans should be as specific as possible including a clear what and when.

What You Can Do After the Retreat:

After the retreat, to "keep the learning alive", consider offering follow up touchpoints to the participants. These might include post-retreat group coaching sessions with smaller groups - in person or virtually. You could also offer individual follow-on coaching sessions.

Specifically For Corporate Retreats:

Ensure action plans are created at the individual, team, department and/or corporate level as needed. Action Plans should identify time frames, resources needed and who is accountable.

Then the action plans need to be followed up on. This may be part of regular team meetings, through one-on-ones with managers, with you as the coach - or through other internal systems.

Corporate follow-up touchpoints are also important to support the transfer of the learning back to the workplace. Consider follow-on group or team coaching sessions in smaller groups, and monthly or bi-monthly coaching sessions.


With these design principles in mind, your next retreat should be meaningful, engaging and sustainable. And hopefully it leaves your clients asking "When are we going to do this again?".

If you liked this article on creating a pause for your clients through retreats, you may also like:

Jennifer Britton

Contributing Author:

Jennifer Britton, MES, CHRP, CPT, PCC, is the author of seven books and has influenced a generation of coaches in the realms of team and group coaching. You may have read her writing, including Effective Group Coaching (Wiley, 2010), the first book in the world to be published on the topic of group coaching; From One to Many: Best Practices for Team and Group Coaching; or her latest, Reconnecting Workspaces: Pathways to Thrive in the Virtual, Remote and Hybrid World (2021).

Since 2006, Jennifer's Group Coaching Essentials and Advanced Group and Team Coaching Practicum programs have become known as the must-do training in the area of group coaching. Focused on providing coaches with best practices in designing, marketing and implementing group coaching, these programs have helped thousands of coaches launch their own group and team coaching programs in a wide variety of settings (public, corporate, non-profit). Together both courses are approved for 18.75 ICF CCEUs. These are the first two of 10 course pathways leading to certificates in Group and Team Coaching.

Potentials Realized's ICF-CCE programs are geared for aspiring group and team coaches, especially those wanting to work toward the New Advanced Credential in Team Coaching (ACTC) with the ICF.

Also check out our neuroscience course for group and team coaches (NLE-A), Team Coaching Essentials  and ACTIVATE Your Team and Group Coaching Superpowers. Prefer podcasts? Listen in to the Remote Pathways podcast, which explores the many different pathways to remote work, business and leadership.

Learn more about Jennifer & see all their articles here >>

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