The Manager and Why Staff Retreats Matter!

By Assoc. Prof. Martin M. Lwanga

Since the start of the year things had not been moving well at Safe Mothers, an NGO addressing teen pregnancy.  Because of the lockdown the organization had had to resort to remote working. But work had not gone smoothly with rising instances of delayed report submission. Alarmed, the Executive Director, Dr Mutumba, decided to call back staff to office. But this move back fired when one staff contracted Covid and was admitted. Dr Mutumba decided to send all staff back home.

Once government suspended lockdown, Safe Mothers ordered all staff back to office. When they finally converged one observer pointed out it looked like they had just descended from the bush, each used to doing things their own way. This was quite evident not just in the manner of dressing (one staff came in shorts and sandals); haphazard working style (there was a staff who insisted he was better at working at night and kept snoozing on his desk); but also a lack of focus concerning organizational goals. It seemed something had been lost during the time of remote working.

Dr Mutumba had been observing this situation with growing concern as each project team worked reclusively, apart from the rest.  Once an open conflict broke out between two project teams. The way they accused each other of “stealing secrets” from either made it clear that neither believed they were working for the same organization!

“I am seeing our organization has become so fractured,” Dr Mutumba one day shared in a top management meeting.

“You are right,” conceded Isaac, the Programme Manager. “I see a lot of infighting but what can we do!”

“Sir, I suggest  we have a  staff  retreat  to  help us  focus together  as one  organization,” suggested  Rose, the Human  Resource  Manager. “Besides, I see many of our staff have lost focus of our vision and company goals.”

“But that will interrupt our work” argued Dr Mutumba, an action oriented man coming from the medical field. “I can’t see us putting a day off just to take staff out for a good time.”

“Sir, the benefits will be worth the investment,” Rose persisted. After the meeting she followed Dr Mutumba to his office. “I beg you hear me out on the idea of a staff retreat!”

“Do we have a budget for it?” Dr. Mutumba asked. “And aren’t people too busy for it!”

“Sir, each of the departments can find money for this activity,” Rose insisted. “We should actually have started with a retreat once we returned from the lockdown.”

After a back and forth exchange, Dr Mutumba finally bought into the idea. He delegated the HR office to organize what was dubbed as a “strategic planning and team building retreat.” It drew together all the department heads and key staff for an out of town one and half day staff retreat.

The day started with an invited motivational key note speaker who gave a riveting speech on goal setting. It left everyone fired up.  After he left each of the 5 department heads was allocated 15 minutes to share their accomplishments against annual targets. Discussions then followed for about 10 minutes. Dr Mutumba realized this was a good method to assess the progress of each department against set goals.

For the afternoon session staff broke into their departments to brainstorm on the goals and planned activities for the rest of the year, based on the strategic plan. Towards evening a Team building expert came in and took all staff through several fun exercises, which proved to be very uplifting.

Early morning soon after breakfast each department shared their planned goals and key activities. Before leaving, Dr Mutumba as he closed the retreat, observed that while initially opposed to the idea of a retreat he was grateful. Safe Mothers had come together as one organization, been able to evaluate her progress and refocus. The benefits of this retreat became quite obvious once staff returned to office. There was better teamwork and renewed sense of direction. 

For some a staff retreat is an expense that can be avoided. This shouldn’t be for as we see in the case above, there are multiple benefits for the organization.

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