Leadership Team Retreats

Seven Reasons Change and Development Programs Fail

A long list of studies shows that 50 – 70 of leadership, culture, and organization change and development efforts fail. Here are common root causes:

  • Speed Traps and Tyranny of the Urgent – flooded by e-mails, endless meetings, and crisis management many leaders become reactive micromanagers and lose sight of the big picture.
  • Partial and Piecemeal Programs – leadership training, succession planning, customer service, six sigma, safety, talent/performance management, IT systems, and such are disconnected and disjointed.
  • Leadership Lip Service – organizational leaders send contradictory messages about core values or embracing change by their inconsistent actions and behaviors.
  • Not Building Change Capacity – many change and development efforts fail to engage the hearts and heads of key leaders and frontline staff and don’t energize and equip them to make it happen.
  • Teams Not Pulling Together – strong leaders drive change in their “silo” and work at cross-purposes. This undermines both the team and the change/development effort.
  • Communication Breakdowns – leadership teams aren’t united in strategic priorities, key messages, behaviors that model the vision and values, and rigorous implementation planning.
  • Failing to Follow Through – strategies and development plans can quickly lose focus when they don’t have a robust implementation process engaging key teams with a disciplined follow through process.

The Positive Impact of Team Retreats

Retreat results depend on the objectives for the session. Some common results are:

  • Leverage team and organizational strengths
  • Pull together major change efforts and development initiatives under an integrated implementation plan
  • Leadership team building and development
  • Assess organizational and leadership effectiveness and build a strong and well supported plans for change and development
  • Develop a strong buy-in and agreement on leadership behaviors needed for leadership/organization development
  • Action learning (versus theoretical education) on the key elements of team and organization leadership
  • Better understanding and leadership of the interconnected elements to building a high performing organization
  • Significant and sustained culture change
  • Integrate succession planning, talent development, and performance management with organizational strategy actively led by the leadership team
  • Re-energize and refocus the leadership team so they can mobilize the organization
  • Build broad and cascading change coalitions and robust infrastructure for strong and sustained follow through

Retreat Configuration Options

Effective retreats are customized to an organization’s culture, team dynamics, development needs, strategic issues, and priorities. Identifying the retreat’s 3 to 4 key objectives is a critical starting point. This might include a combination of laying a foundation for leadership/culture development, team building, leveraging leadership strengths, improving customer focus, revitalizing vision, values, purpose, conflict resolution, increasing communication and teamwork, creating a coaching culture, building a consensus/engagement and implementation plan for organizational change and development, enhancing safety, or a more strategic approach to succession planning and talent/performance management.

1. Strategic Organization/Culture Development

Typically a two-day offsite retreat focused broadly on strategic organization change and development or building a peak performance culture. More specific variations include building a customer focused organization or achieving health and safety breakthroughs.

Day One’s agenda often starts with building a common understanding/language and framework for the retreat’s objectives such as leading change, balancing “hard” management systems/processes with “soft” leadership/people issues, key pathways to peak performance, agreeing on longer term objectives and outcomes, and assessing strengths to leverage the biggest shifts needed.

Day Two may include clarifying/revitalizing core values, critical leadership behaviors to live values/culture, team building, “Moose Hunting” with courageous conversations to address key barriers, agreeing on three to four Strategic Imperatives or “must do” initiatives to reach the retreat’s key objectives, scoping out each imperative with SI Team leaders, mandate, members, actions/projects and time frames, and agreeing on next steps and an implementation follow up process.

Optional Lengths – a one day condensed retreat can provide a strong starting point for organization or culture development. A three day retreat allows for more depth and/or including a larger number of participants.

2. Leadership and Organization Development

A two or three day retreat incorporates selected sections of Strategic Organization/Culture Development (#1 above) with The Extraordinary Leader Development System. This starts with participants asking their manager, peers, direct reports and others to complete our unique 360 leadership assessment before the retreat.

The Extraordinary Leader section of the retreat starts with reviewing data on the impact of leadership performance and key behaviors on employee engagement, turnover, safety, service, and job satisfaction. Discussion than moves to the high leverage of building strengths even when dealing with a critical weakness. Participants are given their feedback report and coached on analyzing it to avoid focusing on weaknesses (unless a “fatal flaw” in their leadership is dragging down their effectiveness) and look for key strengths to build.

The main focus of The Extraordinary Leader is building a personal development plan. Participants are guided to find their “leadership sweet spot” at the intersection of perceived strengths from their raters, their passion, and rater feedback showing which skills are rated most important for their role. Cross-training using the competency companions that research shows correlates with the strength they’re building then provides a personal development road map.

The retreat may finish with implementation planning for cascading The Extraordinary Leader Development System integrated with strategic organization/culture development such as succession planning or talent/performance management.

3. Coaching and Organization Development

A two or three day retreat incorporates selected sections of Strategic Organization/Culture Development (#1 above) with The Extraordinary Coach. This ground breaking coaching approach uses our well-researched and proven FUEL framework to significantly enhance coaching conversations. Our research shows that leaders with very strong coaching skills create exponentially higher employee engagement, discretionary effort, retention, customer service, safety, quality, productivity, and profitability.

A three day version of this retreat can incorporate Elevating Feedback and/or our 360 assessment on coaching skills. This approach to coaching skills feedback and personal development planning is similar to what’s outlined in #2 above for The Extraordinary Leader.

The retreat may finish with implementation planning for cascading The Extraordinary Coach to build a coaching culture. This might be integrated with strategic organization/culture development such as succession planning or talent/performance management.

4. Team Building

Sometimes leadership teams are highly conflicted and need help getting back on track. More often, leadership teams slip into less ineffective patterns like priority overload with too many crisis and pressing urgencies, “humorous” barbs with disrespectful undertones, eroding trust and cooperation, communication breakdowns, ineffective meetings, or building departmental silos.

A team building retreat often requires pre-assessment to understand team dynamics and what dysfunctional team behavior might be reducing teamwork. A one or two day retreat can focus on leadership team building using tools, approaches, or processes proven to address the team’s greatest needs.

An organization’s behavior ripples out from the management team leading it. One executive kicked off his team’s retreat with folders printed with the company logo and the words “Change Kit: Change Begins Here.” Inside, each manager found a large mirror.

Leadership team building is often interwoven with any of options 1, 2, or 3 above.

Retreat Participants

  • The intact senior leadership team heading up a department, division, or the entire organization.
  • Depending on the retreat objectives and length, one or sometimes two levels of managers reporting to the SLT may be included for all or parts of the retreat.
  • Frontline supervisors or staff may be included for smaller organizations for introductory foundation building.

Pre-Retreat Preparation/Assessment Options

Many retreats don’t have any assessment ahead of the session. Here are common choices for those retreats with some type of assessment before the meeting:

E-mail Survey

A customized series of 6 or 8 key questions that participants confidentially e-mail directly to the retreat facilitator. The responses are clustered for key themes and presented back to participants during the retreat. As shown with many on-line interactions, comments and feedback are remarkably candid.

Personal/Phone Interviews

Customized interview questions linked to key themes, issues, or retreat objectives. The retreat facilitator conducts confidential one-on-one interviews by phone and/or in person with each member of the executive team. A summary report is prepared on the key themes and input to each question. The retreat coordinator reviews and decides with the retreat leader how all or parts of this report may or may not be used at the retreat.

360 Multi-Rater Feedback

Used with configuration option #2 above, The Extraordinary Leader assessment process is primarily aimed at personal feedback and development for each retreat participant. Feedback data can be aggregated and analyzed for assessment of executive team effectiveness and planning for building team strengths.

Formal Assessment

A custom designed assessment strategy with the optimum combination of one-on-one interviews, focus groups, documentation review, team observations, and/or surveys. The retreat coordinator reviews and decides with the retreat leader how all or parts of this report may or may not be used at the retreat. These assessments may be structured around The CLEMMER Group key models and frameworks and focused on specific leadership/organization development strategies or retreat objectives.

Practical and Unique Approaches from Deep Experience

Jim Clemmer has facilitated intensive two-day offsite workshops and retreats with over 200 executive teams during the last three decades. He is uniquely qualified and skilled to lead highly customized executive team retreats that are tailored to meet the distinctive needs and dynamics of each team. Jim draws from a vast toolkit of team development exercises, experience, learning methods, observations, examples, planning processes, research, and team/organization development to facilitate powerful and highly productive retreats.

  • An internationally recognized leadership and organization development expert with an authoritative and authentic presence that stimulates, instructs, and inspires leadership teams to action and follow through
  • A highly energizing retreat tailored to key themes/values, team/organization culture, and objectives
  • A strong balance of relevant content, practical insights, and facilitation expertise to move teams from inspiration to application
  • Proven frameworks and best practices provide a foundation and common language
  • A range of customizing options to tailor the retreat to each leadership team’s unique needs and objectives
  • Integrating leadership behaviors/skills, management processes/systems, and organization/culture development

View Jim Clemmer’s full biography

Client List and Feedback – Read participant comments and Clients lists organized by sectors.

Contact us to discuss your leadership team retreat options