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Retreats allow for peaceful planning

The Gray Center opened in Canton in 1991 and is open to outside groups for meetings.

The Gray Center opened in Canton in 1991 and is open to outside groups for meetings.

Sometimes businesses and other organizations feel they need more than an on-premise staff meeting. An off-site conference, retreat or team building session may be necessary for a variety of reasons.

Consultant Phil Hardwick has facilitated a number of strategic planning retreats for non-profit organizations, economic development agencies and businesses. He says it’s a definite advantage to get away from the daily business location. “First, getting away makes a statement that we are in a different environment where the focus will be something other than daily activities,” he said. “It’s a good way to set the stage. Second, it takes participants off the dance floor and onto the balcony, as one leadership expert likes to say. Participants remove themselves — literally and figuratively — from the action and are able to look at the business from a different perspective; that is the so-called 35,000-foot view.”

Hardwick, who recently retired from the Stennis Institute of Government where he worked in community development, believes a third advantage of off-site retreats is that these locations provide a better opportunity for team building and for participants to get to know each other better. “Team building activities are expected at off-site retreats,” he said. “The effects would not be the same if done at the place of business.”

He adds that off-site retreats should have a purpose and participants should know why they are going off-site.

The Duncan Gray Center, which opened in Canton in 1991, is open to outside groups and hosts a variety of businesses, schools and non-profit organizations for meetings and retreats.  “Our appeal is definitely our location in central Mississippi near a lot of businesses,” says Linda Cain, conference coordinator and office manager. “It’s quiet and secluded but near major highways and the Jackson Airport. We offer airport pickup so we can have national groups meet here.”

chapel_front_rgbIn addition to meeting facilities, this center has full dining and sleeping amenities and a campground. A lot of groups come during the week with an average stay of three days. “We have some day groups who wish they were spending the night,” Cain said. “Participants can have their business and then socialize. Approximately 85 to 90 percent of our business retreats are repeat visitors. A couple of examples are Millsaps College and Ivy Mechanical of Kosciusko.”

The McClain Lodge off U.S. 25 in Brandon is another popular meeting place. It’s known as a site for weddings but has a steadily growing corporate division, say owners Buddy and Joni McClain, who were married there seven years ago and have owned the facility two years.

“We have 820 acres that are very serene, quiet and not expensive,” Joni McClain said. “Yet, we’re only six miles from Dogwood Festival. We have three different places where people can congregate, and it feels like you’re out in the country.”

Business retreats have been increasing at McClain Lodge since cabins were built there. “Meeting off-site is great for businesses and other groups. It gets them away to a setting that’s peaceful and very private,” she added. “We have golf and fishing and that helps people get to know each other.”

Hardwick, who plans to teach management at Millsaps College, says off-site retreats allow participants to discuss matters in depth. “At a good retreat, the business will take a look at, among other things, its values and beliefs,” he said. “I once facilitated a retreat for a bank board of directors and witnessed a serious discussion about whether the bank was making an inappropriate amount of money from overdraft fees in low-income neighborhoods.

Buddy McCLain

Buddy McCLain

Joni McClain

Joni McClain

“The result was that the board decided to focus more effort on educating low-income customers and getting more involved in the subject neighborhood.”

Hardwick says off-site retreats are one of the best ways to grapple with the thorny issues. “Retreats provide a way to allow all perspectives to be heard in a relatively relaxed and comfortable setting.”

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