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TW Magazine
June, 2005
retreats, strategy and visioning
to Advance

How Retreats Advance Your Organization’s
Causes and Campaigns

Off-site retreats are invaluable tools for furthering your group or organization’s objectives. Done well, retreats can set your group up for years of success. Done poorly, retreats can consign your group to frustration, failure and a fruitless expense of time and energy. As one who has planned, led and debriefed a variety of off-site gatherings I know from experience of the good, the bad and the ugly of retreats. Why bother? The benefits to well-run retreats are many.

An effective off-site retreat can help a new team congeal and help existing teams find new ways to succeed, Retreats help participants refocus, renew and replenish their spirit. For boards or teams adding new members or embarking on a new initiative, retreats let you clear the air and start on the same page. Perhaps most valuable about retreats, you often get to know each other beyond official roles. Trust engendered during a retreat on a personal level often proves invaluable down the road when the going gets tough.

Dating Dilemmas
The hardest part about designing a retreat may actually be picking dates that allow for full attendance of your invitees. Yet this is central to success. Take effort to find dates that work for all. Recognize others have various outside commitments and travel time is involved too.

Location, Location Relocation
Once your dates are solidified so all can attend for the duration, site selection becomes critical. Pick a location conducive to your aims. Having experienced retreats at country clubs, a Zen center and in an empty urban office building I can tell you not all sites are the same. To get out of the box thinking you should get out of the box!

Environment Informs Experience
I find great value in choosing sites with a nature component. It’s calming and helps put everything in perspective. Don’t underestimate the power of nature to nurture your team. Build in time for walks, contemplation and play, ideally in the woods or fields or on a coastline.

Balancing Focus and Fun
Part of your challenge is to identify overall goals and expectations and then create an agenda to allow for their fulfillment. Make sure your agenda has time for free thinking, problem-solving, strategizing and fun too. If you have birthdays or other milestones occurring during or around your retreat time make sure to build in time for recognition. Don’t fill up all your meal time with work. Magic can occur during downtime, “in-between” time and while having fun. Cultivate it through the tone set at your retreat. One board of mine bonded over the byproducts of potent eggplant served during a vegetarian meal. We’re still laughing about it two years later.

Retreats Difficile Sans Facilitator
I highly recommend a trained facilitator for part or all of your retreat. Whether internal or external, facilitators can play traffic cop, say things team members can’t, and they keep people on their best behavior. Help them help you. Prepare them as to your aims, who people are and about your organization or team’s ethos. I’ve seen facilitators crash and burn in the first 15 minutes of a retreat as a result of lack of preparation or inattention to details surrounding confidentiality, integrity and impartiality.

A Role for All
Retreats work best when every attendee has both a stake and a role in the outcome. Share leadership of your retreat where possible. Let each attendee prepare and deliver a piece of the programming. It’s good for all. Whether you assign attendees to lead ice-breakers, nature walks or serve as scribe and record retreat minutes, get others involved. Additionally, make sure you leave with action items that are publishable, sharable and track-able.

Additional considerations:

  • Identify dietary restrictions of attendees in advance and plan accordingly
  • Set expectations prior to arrival so tone, protocols and objectives are clear
  • If soliciting input in advance make sure to indicate whether or not responses will be held in confidence
  • Bring fun items like talking sticks, drums, noisemakers, idea-stimulating games to get peoples’ juices flowing. Bring a camera.
  • Facilitate carpooling and intelligent room-sharing to further foster teambuilding and camaraderie.
  • Make sure to have flip charts, colored markets and writing utensils. Someone always forgets a pen or pencil! Drums are optional.

Tricks and Treats for Retreats

To order Craig's e-report on ice-breakers Click Here.

For a PDF with more retreat how-to's and ah-ha's, e-mail Craig with the subject line of "Retreat handout"


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