There are many different types of retreats. Whether it’s a project team offsite, a leadership team strategy workshop, or a forum or mastermind deep dive, these all have similar intentions and desired outcomes. The goal of a retreat is to get out of the day-to-day and outside of your regular environment so that you can focus on an issue or set of issues with greater purpose and intensity.
However, just getting out of regular routines won’t ensure that you’ll make progress or create value. You need to make decisions, clarify your focus, set your intentions, and do the work. Without these steps, you’ll likely be wasting your money, and more importantly, your energy.
I’ve planned and facilitated dozens of these types of retreats for leadership teams, non-profit boards, Entrepreneurs’ Organization and Young Presidents’ Organization forums, and mastermind groups. I know first-hand what goes into designing, planning, and executing these types of programs.
I use five focuses to make sure everyone gets something of value out of the experience:
1. Have a goal.
Start by having a clear and well-defined goal. This can be solving a specific problem, advancing an issue, or building bonds within a team. Regardless, make sure that you have a clear set of objectives and the desired outcome before you start planning details.
Often times I will do a simple survey of each member. I ask what they want out of the experience, what they want to accomplish, and previous experiences they have had.
I then do one-on-one interviews to tease out any details and differences that might exist between the individual members. Based on this data, I can create goals and the objectives that create the most impact.
2. Create the right space.
One of the main reasons groups do retreats is to get out of the standard day-to-day environment. This allows everyone to see things in a new light and from a different vantage point.
Your surroundings will have a big impact on your conversation. Consider carefully what your physical environment should be and what resources with which you want to surround yourself.
Don’t stop at the physical space. What psychological space do you want to create? Do you want comfortable and relaxing or high energy and creative?
Take some time to consider how you want to shake things up in order to shake up your thinking and your team dynamic. I’ve had retreats that have met in a hotel lounge, a hut at the top of a mountain, and while huddled around a campfire.
3. Come prepared.
Nothing makes your retreat time more valuable than when people come prepared and ready. Have everyone gather information or do some prep work. I make sure that people have done everything they need in order to be totally present and engaged.
Coming prepared includes getting important work done before the retreat so they are not working their regular jobs on the night shift. I also make sure people have set their vacation responders on their phone and email so they are not preoccupied with taking calls and answering messages.
4. Do the work.
It’s not enough just to show up at a retreat. You need to be ready and willing to do the work. Make sure everyone is contributing their best ideas and insights and staying fully engaged.
This is especially your responsibility if you’re the retreat’s planner and facilitator. Make sure you have a good agenda and stay on topic during the meetings.
Beyond the basic agenda, it’s a good idea to set clear ground rules that will help everyone stay focused and on point. Give everyone a role so that they are participants, not just observers. Set clear expectations regarding technology use, breaks, conversation protocols, and processes.
5. Make commitments.
A great retreat can fail miserably without action items and commitments. At the end of each session, review decisions and agreements such as who will do what by when. I like to capture these using sticky notes on walls so we can build a visual artifact and remind everyone during the meeting what has already been completed.
At the end of the meeting, we review, photograph, and create documents of these items that are distributed to everyone. We also create calendar reminders to check in on progress and completion before we leave the meeting.
While the purpose of a retreat is to explore and discover new ideas and possibilities in a novel and stimulating environment, you don’t want to leave everything to chance. Proper planning, focus, and goal setting will make sure you make the most of your time. And done right, the planning will make the experience even more fun than a vacation would have been.
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