May 28, 2018

The annual retreat

The nonprofit annual retreat - we've all been there, and (hopefully) survived that. Now, finally, it's time to laugh about it.

3 min read

Day -30

A committee is convened to choose a committee to plan the retreat. The managers each select a person they dislike to be a part of this committee.

Day -29

Everyone on the committee already hates each other. There is an argument about where the retreat should be held. Everyone suggests Goa wistfully before the Finance Guy waves around a piece of paper shouting “Budget!” It is unclear whether the paper has a budget on it.

Day -15

The former private sector consultant who just transitioned to the nonprofit sector launches into a story, again, about the sheer extravagance in consulting, and how it’s so much better in the development sector where they respect the value of money.


Everyone hates her even more.

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Day -5

Everyone is googling ‘team building sessions’.

Annual retreat team building

Photo Courtesy: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0

Day -0

The finance team is late en masse for the bus. They then sing loudly on the entire journey. Everyone hates them.

The entire organisation finds out how much Senior Management likes them (or not) based on who they have been assigned to share rooms with.

The first session is off to a great start as everyone listens enthusiastically to the impact they have had this past year. Someone asks a question about attribution versus contribution. Everyone quickly swivels to check if any funders are in the room (they haven’t arrived yet) and then glares at the questioner.

Related humour: Decoding development jargon

Everyone has lost interest after one hour and is Instagramming/snoozing/playing Sudoku on their phones. Even the intern isn’t pretending to pay attention any more. This is the perfect time to have the finance presentation on the budget.

Lunch, thankfully.

Everyone has had too much rice. The next coffee break is so, so far away. Their eyes are closing, gently.

Oh good, there is a break for a team building activity.

Team building activities are the worst. No one likes drawing on chart papers that will be immediately discarded as soon as this is done. Can we go back to listening to plans for next year?

Thank God for chai. Can’t say the same about the soul crushingly watery Nescafe.

Everyone escapes joyfully as soon as there is an evening break. The finance team jumps into the pool immediately in an impressively synchronised display.

Everyone is reminded that there is a play their groups have to prepare for dinnertime. They all sulk. The finance team splashes louder and pretends they can’t hear.

The former consultant is very aggressive about preparing for the play. She has decided to put on a solo performance given the incompetence of her teammates.

Related humour: Your nonprofit colleagues as F.R.I.E.N.D.S. characters.

Everyone decides to have a beer in the 15 minutes available before the plays are supposed to start. It is decided to cut down the time available for performances by half.

More drinks are had. Everyone forgets to award the winner for the best play.

The finance team is dancing on the tables. Everyone else is recording them, mouths agape. Any children in the vicinity are quickly whisked away lest they be scarred for life.

The rest of the party moves inside in various factions. Everyone tells each other how much they love working with them, and commits to changing the world, man.

Day +1

Everyone has a headache. Three people oversleep for the morning session. They turn up eventually and must sit there without breakfast.

There is a Distinguished Corporate Guru who has been invited to share his wisdom with the team. He has magnanimously offered to provide his gyaan for free. He talks at length about the Scrambled Egg Theory of Positive Reinforcement, and Recharging Your Inner Batteries and Un-cluttering Your Mind (ie. expensive glamping trips in unpronounceable Nordic regions).

Everyone’s confusion turns to disbelief when they find out they have to organise volunteering opportunities for his core team–in return for his pro-bono inspiration.

Related article: Five little known secrets for organising an awesome nonprofit site visit

There is another team building session. The Cheerful Facilitator is making everyone do a TREASURE HUNT. No one likes treasure hunts or being forced to talk about what lessons they learned from working together. They like naps in the shade on Saturdays.

Everyone actively resents the Cheerful Facilitator and wishes bodily harm upon him. They preferred the Distinguished Corporate Guru.

Lunch passes by too soon and is followed by a presentation by a consulting firm doing a pro-bono project on how the organisation can achieve ALL THE IMPACT.

Everyone glares at the two rookies stammering their way through a mixture of the obvious and the obviously stupid. They want to go back to team building activities. There is some momentary amusement through the gentle snores of the finance team, who have found this presentation conducive for nap-time.

Day +2

Comms sends out an email with the highlights of the retreat. They will keep sending a link with a feedback form for the next three weeks, asking people to fill it.

Response rates shoot up only when it is implied that lack of responses could lead to more than one retreat each year.

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Karan Malik-Image
Karan Malik

Karan Malik is Head of Programmes-India, British Asian Trust. Previously, he worked with the Social Impact and Development Practice at Boston Consulting Group. Prior to that, he worked on issues relating to maternal and child health and adolescent girl empowerment at Dasra. Karan has also worked with PRS Legislative Research and the Singapore Economic Development Board. He has a Masters in Public Affairs from Princeton University, where he focused on International Development.