I don’t know about you, but my day-to-day life is so scheduled and multitasked that I often become distracted and edgy. That’s why I need to take time away to decompress, contemplate my path and review my goals. I have just escaped to vacation on a boat on the Chesapeake Bay. Going on vacation is a great way to relax and relieve pressure. Most of us are more open minded and flexible when we set aside our normal routine. It’s one reason why we have such adventures when we travel. In a new environment with a fresh perspective, we are more willing to explore new solutions to old problems.
Retreats that are scheduled into the regular work and volunteer life of an organization or coalition are another way to put aside the demands of our daily lives. Pausing on an organizational level can lead to an entirely new and powerful orientation toward work, vision and community. A retreat, even of a short duration, signifies that you understand the dynamic relationship between process and product and are willing to invest in the long-term sustainability of your organization. The group setting allows participants to connect to one another and strengthen relationships. As people learn to be with each other in ways that are fun, relaxed and reflective, they develop deeper understandings of who they are as individuals and as a group.
Your leaders also need dedicated time beyond regular meetings to define strategic goals and priorities and explore innovative strategies and practices. A retreat provides a time for your coalition to take stock of its contributions and establish a learning agenda around emerging issues and needs.
Designing Your Retreat
The best retreats balance dynamic group sessions that move participants toward common goals, as well as time to contemplate and integrate lessons learned. No agenda is perfect, but create a structure and flow that supports people in their natural tendencies and needs. Begin the day with an activity that energizes the group and settles people into the agenda. After lunch or periods of intense discussion, provide a break to spend in unstructured reflection. End the day with a cohesive activity that allows everyone to hear each other and express their appreciation for the day. The following keys can help turn your retreat into an exceptional activity.
- Determine realistic objectives for the retreat. Seek input from leaders, prioritize the objectives and set a date for announcing the objectives. Choose one to three objectives that can be thoroughly discussed in the time allotted. Discussion that leads to real results communicates that participants’ opinions matter and that the organization is willing to commit the time to attain its objectives.
- Make sure your team knows why the retreat is being held. Communicate the retreat’s topics and objectives in advance so that participants come prepared for total involvement with lively discussion and reasoned debate.
- Avoid the same old, same old. Bring in an experienced facilitator with an outside perspective to lead and ask hard questions. This will make it more likely that the group will delve deeper into discussions and come up with fresh ideas.
- Don’t assume you know your group. Develop a pre-retreat survey that gives all participants an equal voice, airs ideas, and identifies what they see as key issues and expectations for the retreat. Survey results allow you to customize the retreat to deal with the issues that may have been unknown before.
- Deal with conflict. Be prepared to deal with conflict – it’s a sign of passion and creative energy. Recognize which topics might generate strong and differing opinions. To keep the discussion under control, the facilitator might ask each person to state his/her position and then ask others to weigh in. While the strong personalities will say what they think first, it will allow others to be more candid which will benefit the group.
- Follow up after the retreat. A successful retreat produces concepts, new products, innovation, team building and growth long after everyone has left. Before the retreat ends, state the next steps clearly, assign projects, and determine the follow-up timeline. Establish a plan for posting the progress of retreat initiatives.
Polonio, N. (2004). To leave a lasting legacy: the value of holding board retreats. ACCT Trustee Quarterly. http://www.trusteeeducation.org/images/04fl_valueofregboardretreats.pdf
The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society. Staff Retreats. http://www.contemplativemind.org/archives/socialjustice/staffretreats
Tomlinson, M. & Dreyer, J. (2004). The 7 Deadly Sins of Business Retreats and How to Avoid Them. http://meetingsnet.com/corporate-meetings/7-deadly-sins-business-retreats-and-how-avoid-them