Turning the Offsite Upside-Down
With Jeff Sousa, CEO of Optima Healthcare Insurance Services
For the last seven years, Optima Healthcare Insurance (insurance products and risk management programs for health care providers) has held an annual three-day retreat. This may not seem so remarkable. What makes Optima different, though, is that rather than secreting the executive team away to develop the next killer strategy, they dedicate their entire organizations resources toward building interpersonal relationships. Sound risky? Well its a risk thats been paying off since Jeff Sousa, CEO of Optima, committed to changing the corporate culture from the inside-out.
One of my recent hires attended his first staff retreat with us last summer. He said that it was the best retreat he’d participated in nearly 20 years with our industry. When I asked him why, he said, ‘because you didn’t spend the entire three days talking only business. You balanced education, industry updates, networking and fun.’ He was right.
Jeff Sousa continues, Our goal was to build an organization with free-flowing information. In the past, individual teams operated in silos, rarely reflecting on possible adverse impacts on other departments. That’s the reason that every person in our company attends the retreat. And the reason that everyone is included in our profit-sharing plan equally. We’re all in this together, and nobody gets something unless the whole team succeeds.
We’ve found a formula that works for us as a company. Every year we retain the services of Adventure Associates to participate in interactive challenges around team work, leadership and communication and to help facilitate portions of the meeting. Every year we (and I mean our whole company) tackle one more major issue, making our organization stronger with each retreat. Outsourcing this key component to our retreats is one of our successes. First, we get a fresh perspective from someone who is truly neutral yet intimately familiar with our organization. Secondly, the Adventure Associates facilitator that we’ve used over the years, is a great teacher. While we have plenty of expertise in our organization, teaching is not necessarily one of them.
Equally important to the educational components of the retreat and industry knowledge, are the recreational activities we engage in: bowling, volleyball, dinners--people get to know each other in a new setting. We remember that we are humans. Building relationships is critical. People who get a chance to play games and share meals together are better able to solve problems together when they get back to the office.
We’ve seen how the teams come back from these retreats, energized and ready to tackle strategic planning--planning that goes much more smoothly thanks to the groundwork laid at the retreat. We remember that our first job is not to develop strategic plans. It’s to build highly functioning teams. Once we do that, everything else takes care of itself.
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