This year, instead of the same old leadership retreat, why not give something new a try? Take a walk on the creative-side and embrace innovation, design, and collaboration across your team.

By pulling in design thinking tools and resources, you can build your own leadership skills as well as your team’s, all while learning from one another along the way. Below you’ll find five innovative leadership retreat ideas that will get your colleagues, organization, and competitors talking.

1. Build on Your Team’s Existing Skills

Unlock more meaningful results by encouraging creative skills, creative thinking, and creative problem solving. 

📚 Read about the Importance of Creativity in the Workplace or watch Why do we need creativity?

Building a team of well-rounded, skilled professionals can only benefit your organization. Get your team thinking creatively by introducing new skills and improving on existing ones.

What if your whole organization was better at:

  • Drawing?
  • Creative writing?
  • Graphic design?
  • Improv?
  • Photoshop?

If you’re worried not everyone will want to participate, try offering multiple skill building sessions so that your team can pick and choose the skill they are the most excited about.

Are you low on your budget or resources? You can utilize your team’s current strengths to build up everyone’s skills. Especially for larger teams, there’s a good likelihood that your organization has a graphic designer or someone who loves to play with Photoshop. Maybe you’ve got someone who loves to paint or someone that used to be a trained yoga instructor.

You never know until you ask. Chances are, if they’re passionate about their skill or hobby, they’d be more than willing, maybe even excited, to run a 1 or 2-hour workshop with the whole team.

2. Harness the Power of Human-Centred Design

Human-centred design, sometimes referred to more broadly as design thinking, began as the study of how designers think. It has evolved into a practice used in many areas outside of what you might consider to be traditional design.

Thinking through design is a fundamentally different, empathy-driven approach to interacting with the world around us—an approach that anyone can adopt.  

Here are 75 Design Thinking Tools and Resources to help you embrace design to reach better results as a team.

Not sure how to get started? Try working with empathy maps to better understand the needs of your colleagues, customers, or stakeholders. You can even complete an empathy map for yourself.


3. Use a Design Sprint to Solve a Specific Problem In One Day

What big problem could your organization solve together in 1 day? 2 days? 5 days?

Design sprints are often 5-day chunks of problem solving, but there’s a lot you can accomplish in just one day.

Overlap Five Day Design Sprint.jpg

A design sprint requires a set amount of time for team members to focus on one specific project, from 9-5pm, Monday-Friday. Your team can set aside whatever time you can spare to focus in on one desired problem.

What reoccurring problem could you solve if you all put your minds together?

What one system could you improve if you dedicated a full day of time and resources?

The key to a successful design sprint is in the prototyping and testing. Get to a prototype as soon as possible and test it in the best way you can. Gather feedback with this helpful grid for acquiring actionable feedback as soon as possible. If time allows, take that feedback and either begin a new prototype or make necessary adjustments.

📚 Learn more about design sprints and the steps involved from Troy Wiatr at the Early Literacy Alliance of Waterloo Region.

4. Plan For the Future Using Foresight

Adapting to change is tough. Keeping up with all of today’s rapidly changing technological, social, economic, and political changes is even tougher. 

Think about how much marketing has changed over the past ten years through social media or how many changes television networks have endured since the emergence of Netflix..

It’s important to plan for the future of your organization and your industry. Creating a foresight plan is a worthwhile process that can get your organization on the path that’s the most likely to lead to success.

Talking about the future can be a fun and interesting process for your team. It’s an extremely valuable group activity that gets groups thinking about and planning for the possibilities of the future.

What might the future look like 10 years from now? 20 years from now? 50 years from now?

📚 Learn more about How You Can Prepare for the Future Using Strategic Foresight

Try the Three Horizons exercise

Working through three horizons will help your organization recognize uncertainty while becoming more capable of responding to future changes.

You’ll draw three different horizons outlining your current state and your idealized future. You can then create a middle horizon by considering all of the things your organization would have to do to get from horizon one to horizon three.

1. Create the first horizon (H1) by describing the current way of doing things. This is what you can expect if we all keep behaving in the same way.

2. Next, you’ll jump to the third horizon (H3), which is all about the future. For the third horizon, describe a new system of existence including new ways of living and working as you envision it. These ideas and systems are beyond the reach of H1 and often seem unrealistic right now.

3. Now you can draw out the second horizon (H2) which acts as a transition zone between H1 and H3. The second horizon captures any emerging innovations that respond to the what’s missing in H1, and it anticipates the possibilities of your future horizon: H3.

📚 Continue learning about the three horizons and working with change from Bill Sharpe in his Association of Professional Futurists article.

This post only outlines the very basics of creating a foresight plan, but working through even the beginning stages can get you and your team thinking beyond today and tomorrow.


5. Explore to Create

This one is simple—go exploring.

Get outside, go out into the world, and explore with your team.

Your adventure can be anything from a short walk to an activity or talk in a park.

See 11 Reasons You Should Go Outside from Business Insider, or Here’s Proof Going Outside Makes You Healthier. Let’s add in that going outside can improve happiness and it will make whatever activity or topic you’re focusing on more memorable.

Go a step further and add in some community culture with a trip to a local or nearby museum. Worried it’s not on topic? That’s partially the goal. Create a leadership retreat like no other, and build a team that can communicate about more than what’s in the boardroom.

Continue reading:

📚 75 Design Thinking Tools and Resources Explained

📚 Why You Need to Focus on Human-Centred Marketing Now

📚 How to Create an Ideal Workspace Using Human-Centred Design