Last Monday, I arrived in upstate New York to attend a week-long corporate retreat. Similar to 30 Rock’s “Retreat to Move Forward“, the event featured an overabundance of acronyms, workcest, and drunk people talking about synergy. There were two distinct employee types at the retreat: those who had drank the Kool-Aid, and those who had kicked the Kool-Aid man in the legs. The former spent most of their time fawning to the speakers and chanting “Cash is king”, while the latter gorged themselves on free food and made hand puppets out of the course materials.
Kool-Aid drinkers or not, all of us had been invited to the retreat as “future leaders” of the company. So throughout the five days, we went through the leadership curriculum specifically designed for twenty-something professionals: we built balloon furniture, ran paper fish races, and wrote poems about our values. We spent three hours discussing five simple principles of time management. We drew stick figures, reviewed the most potent action verbs, and learned that conversations are shaped like triangles… naturally.
While we constructed haikus and had serious discussions about the Snuggie, by Friday, our company’s stock had fallen 10%. Perhaps Wall Street was concerned that the company’s future leaders were bad poets with non-triangular conversing techniques. Or perhaps, it had known that “corporate retreat” really meant “costly company-sponsored drinking in a mostly futile attempt to indoctrinate employees with propaganda.”
But in defense of corporate retreats, by the end of the week, the Kool-Aid drinking employees and the tequila-drinking employees could both agree that we thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The company suckups were excited by newly-learned elevator speeches, synergistic terms, and reinforced business pillars. The corporate degenerates were content to count the layers of fat that they had accumulated over the five days of sitting, eating, and boozing. In both cases, one could argue that the retreat boosted employee morale, and in some cases, even productivity.
So, if that increased productivity is enough to justify the $56 billion in corporate training spent in 2008, then I’m down for more Retreats to Move Forward in 2009. If not, well, at least I can build some balloon armchairs to fill up my living room. It’s a recession after all.