… From the desk of Jayne Battey

Making Good on Your Investment

Here’s a quick question for you: When you think about your next board or staff retreat, is your gut reaction:Miramar Farms - The Barn

A. The excitement and energy that comes from the thought of sharing a day of conversation, innovation and good times with colleagues, or

B. The cold feeling of dread that comes from the thought of spending 8 or 12 or 16 hours locked in a room going through what is really nothing more than a really, really long meeting?

Consider this: A retreat is a big investment in your organization and your team. If you are like most organizations, getting your key players together for a day or two isn’t easy, and it’s often expensive, so you really want to make the most of the opportunity. Retreats can be powerful tools to bring people together, take stock, explore new opportunities and build high functioning teams. But to really get a return on this investment, you need to plan ahead and be strategic about the day.

Here are my top fundamentals to creating retreats that are worth the investment:

1. Pick a theme song.

Depending on your music tastes this analogy may or may not work for you (personally, I am a big fan of Eye of the Tiger from Rocky III), but here’s my point: You really need to think about a theme for your retreat. In other words, what is your focus for the day? What key message(s) do you want people to walk away with? What key issues or initiatives do you want to build team ownership around?

Having a clear theme provides a great launch pad for the rest of your agenda. It helps you keep your eye on the ball, so that when your agenda becomes packed with more items than you can possibly address, you can easily cut the things that don’t stay true to your theme.

 

2. Don’t be afraid of white space; do be afraid of an overly-ambitious agenda.

Give people time to talk to each other.

We’ve all seen this—the agenda with 12 hours of work to get through in about 6.5 hours of real meeting time. Resist the temptation! An effective retreat agenda includes “white space”—time for people to visit with each other on a personal level, to take a moment to reflect on a conversation, to think about the future you are trying to create, and to share lessons and laughter.

 

3. Yes, you really do need a facilitator.

I think this is the top mistake most leaders make—thinking they can lead the retreat themselves. A retreat, done with an earnest focus on shared learning and creativity, needs a conductor to orchestrate the day. You want all of the voices in the room to be heard–the loud and assertive as well as the small but brilliant notes. And if you happen to be the “boss”, you especially want to be able to do more listening than leading or talking—so that you can take it all in, share a common experience with your team, and be better able to synthesize all you hear into your leadership vision.

 

4. Space Matters.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: Space matters. Food matters. Comfort matters. This isn’t rocket science—we are biological beings and we react physiologically to our setting. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to break the budget on your retreat venue, but it does mean you need to think outside the box and find a setting that will create the kind of energy and human dynamics you are looking for. Whether you like it or not, your selection of a retreat venue (including that windowless conference room down the hall) sends a message to your team. What do you want that message to be?

Fresh blueberries

Fresh, healthy food goes a long way.

One last note on food—bad food typically costs the same as good food. People just don’t like bad food. It makes them cranky and unhappy. Cranky and unhappy people don’t tend to be that helpful in developing your organizational strategy. Demand good (and healthy) food for your people.

 

 5. Manage the Energy of the Day.

Walking meeting at Miramar Farms.

Get your meeting moving.

The best retreat agendas are built around the fundamentals of natural human energy and flow. Think about tackling your toughest work in the morning when the team is fresh. Plan time for reflection and small group interactions. Incorporate some sort of movement or interactive work after lunch. Make time for mini-breaks throughout the day. Movement of any kind, even a shared stretch-break standing in place (often accompanied by laughter), can really reset the energy level of the room. And last, wrap up the day on a high note—a shared experience that brings the day together, builds comradeship and confidence, and instills a sense of renewed purpose and vision.