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How to Plan a Successful Team Building Retreat for Your Parks and Rec Team

Written by Brian Stapleton

An off-site team-building event in one of your local parks may be the key to creating unity among your parks and rec staff.
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Your parks and recreation staff is a team, and any team is only as strong as its weakest link. To successfully manage thousands of miles of trails, dozens of parks and ballfields, shelters, golf courses, and aquatic facilities, your team needs to act cohesively, collaboratively, and courteously. With limited resources, high expectations, and constrained budgets, however, stress levels can run high and negatively impact morale and unity. A team building retreat may be the change agent your parks and recreation team needs to reset perspectives and regain a unified approach to citizen service. If you have yet to plan and execute a team-building retreat for your staff, follow these best practices to implement a successful and outcomes-oriented event. Ropes course optional (but we bet you’d know where to find one).

What Is A Team Building Retreat?

Try not to feel burdened by planning a team building retreat that complies with a specific format, set of rules, or criteria. If you bring your staff together and you’re actively working to get to know one another, problem-solve collaboratively, and think strategically about the future of your community offerings and your department structure, then you are doing it right.

Where Do Team Building Retreats Take Place?

Often, team building retreats are hosted offsite to mitigate the chances of anyone sneaking back to their desk to “just check on an email.” Team building requires focused and deliberate attention. When planned far enough in advance, barring any true local emergencies, everyone should be able to give the requisite time needed to dedicate to the valuable tasks at hand. Team building events are also often held outdoors in rural locations that allow staff to feel physically and mentally disconnected from the whirlwind of day-to-day task-based activities so they can focus on internal mindsets and changes.

What Activities Take Place During Team Building Events?

Any coordinated activities during a team building event should aim to strengthen co-worker relationships, improve departmental communications, and build trust. Any exercises from games to trust falls that help to accomplish such goals are encouraged. What is more important than the types of activities that you facilitate is that you lead all exercises in a way that ensures safety and the personal comfort of all involved.

How to Execute a Successful Team Building Retreat

  1. Set Specific, Measurable, and Actionable Goals

The need for better collaboration is a valid reason to host a team building retreat, but with taxpayer dollars funding your efforts, how can you assess if your efforts were successful unless you set specific goals? For example, maybe due to the size of your community the majority of your staff do not work together regularly and do not feel like an integrated team. Facilitating activities that allow staff to get to know one another personally will be an appropriate way to meet the goal of building strong team relationships. Lecturing and training staff in a manner that does not allow them to interact with one another, on the other hand, will not enable goal facilitation.

  1. Set an Agenda

Being offsite, especially if you hold your event in one of your public parks, will provide a fluid, unstructured environment for free-flowing creativity, dialogue, and strategic thinking. You will still need to give your day some structure; however, otherwise, you could find that you don’t have enough time to accomplish your goals, or that you wrap up early and have too much downtime. Make sure your agenda supports your goals. For example, if you intend to collaborate on strategies to bring more Millennials and Gen Z community members into your parks, you should have several agenda items that involve brainstorming creative strategies, identifying barriers to engagement, and assessing the challenges that your team needs to overcome.

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  1. Foster a Culture of Creativity and Innovation

Team building events are intended to place staff members in an environment that encourages creative thinking. Equally important, however, is leading discussion in a manner in which staff members feel enabled and comfortable sharing unconventional ideas and feel confident that their suggestions will be received respectfully and without judgment. To create such an environment, as the leader of your department, you must not only set an expectation and specific ground rules that all dialogue will be constructive and collaborative, but while facilitating events and discussion, you must continuously reiterate positivity, praise feedback, and emanate encouraging body language.

  1. Have Fun

One of the most effective tactics for team building is simple: Have fun. When coworkers can relax and enjoy one another as people and friends, they will be more likely to develop feelings of trust, comfort, and camaraderie. No doubt your department is responsible for meaningful work that requires a serious focus on important projects and initiatives, but adding time on the agenda for some fun activities whose sole purpose is to encourage laughter and help your staff get to know one another better is just as critical. Hosting your team building event at one of your parks and rec facilities can help facilitate this best practice. Host an opening game of kickball, challenge staff members to complete a team obstacle course, or host a water balloon toss. After all, laughter is an essential component to the success of any team.

Final Words of Wisdom

Your team is vital to the success of your community parks and rec offering. Whether you are a county of millions or a village of hundreds, your role in the community deserves the time and attention of strategic growth and employee development initiatives. By hosting events that bring out the best in your people, they will be inspired in turn to bring out the best in your community.