Recently, I attended a retreat with a number of editors and publishers from Hanley Wood, the company that owns this magazine. The purpose of the get-together was to generate initiatives to grow the business.

We gathered off-site to minimize distractions, and from the moment we convened there was a feeling of camaraderie and intense focus. For nearly two days, we engaged in high-octane brainstorming, building on each others’ concepts until we created an array of ambitious, exciting new ideas.

Sometime during those hours I became a staunch believer in company retreats.

For many business owners, it seems like a silly idea to pull staff away from their jobs so they can spend hours sitting around talking. But those highly structured discussions — away from phone, email, and looming deadlines — can yield far better results than a free-form meeting squeezed in before lunch.

One key to our gathering’s success was the moderator. He created exercises for every participant to complete beforehand, which helped focus our minds on the meeting’s goals. In addition, he had carefully planned an agenda that facilitated quick thinking and complete involvement from everyone present.

The power behind retreats is what one author has called, “the wisdom of a crowd.” The collective knowledge of a group is almost always more accurate than the insight of an individual. When a number of employees put their heads together to address a problem, the solutions they find are often pleasantly surprising.

Retreats can be tailored to meet virtually any need. Some companies want to discover new ways of attracting business, while others must address a specific challenge facing their firm. I’ve also heard of more issue-oriented retreats where staff members discuss dynamics in the workplace that may be keeping them from performing at an optimal level.

Whatever the reason, a professionally moderated retreat that contains clear goals can yield stupendous results. It’s well worth the investment.