Getting your leadership team away from daily operations for a few days of reflection and planning is incredibly effective. I am clearly biased since I’ve facilitated so many retreats. When offsite retreats are well designed and facilitated (a bit more bias), the return on investment is exponential.
Planning a retreat starts with clarifying 3 or 4 key objectives of the session. Here are a few typical retreat objectives:
- Strategic planning to frame budgets and operational plans/priorities
- Agreeing on and planning for leadership/culture development to:
- Improve customer focus and service levels
- Boost quality levels
- Increase health and safety
- Boost financial performance
- Raise employee engagement
- Revitalize vision, values, and mission/purpose
- Leadership team building and development
- Identify key team/organizational issues, blocking progress and actions to reduce them
- Integrate succession planning, talent development, and performance management
- Re-energize and refocus the leadership team so they can mobilize the organization
- Build cascading change coalitions, and an implementation infrastructure for sustained follow-through
Setting retreat objectives depends on the organization’s culture, team dynamics, development needs, strategic issues, and priorities. Most retreats are 2 to 3 days. Having everyone stay overnight with dinners and casual time together is a great way to get into deeper conversations and bring the team together.
Here’s an agenda menu (often following this flow) that’s proven to be most effective:
Building on our Strengths/Successes
- Our most significant successes and progress milestones
- What do these tell us about our organizational strengths to be leveraged?
Possible Foundational Frameworks
- Which Framing Level: Lead, Follow, or Wallow. When we choose how to look at the challenges we’re hit with — often unexpectedly — we choose the frame to put around it. That frame makes our situation appear larger or smaller or brighter or darker.
- The High-Performance Balance: Managing Things and Leading People. Understanding the differences between technical expertise, management, and leadership and how to integrate them for greater success.
- Organizational Transformation Pathways. Assessment on the six key areas of organization effectiveness
Visioning our Desired Team/Culture
- Visioning on what this team/organization would ideally look like
- Pull together themes and clustering overall vision “snapshots of our desired team/culture”
Organizational Values/Team Behaviors
- Discuss using existing values or creating/refining them
- Leadership Behaviors: define the desired and undesired behaviors for each core value
- Conclusions/Next Steps
Strengths and Shifts
- Top three Strengths to Leverage and top three Shifts We Must Make to reach our vision
- Strengths and Shifts are gathered and clustered
- Review, finalize, and rank order clusters
Identifying and Addressing Moose-on-the-Table (like Elephant-in-the-Room)
- Courageous Conversations — common causes of communication breakdowns and failure to address barriers and obstacles to success
- Moose on the Loose? — use anonymous Moose quiz to see if we have a Moose Mess
- Moose Hunting — identifying and ranking the main clusters of issues/moose that we need to address
- Deepening our Understanding and Brainstorming Solutions — discussion of the biggest moose/issues to understand/agree on the core issue and brainstorm possible approaches to reduce the moose (click for Tips to Reduce the Moose)
Leadership Team Development
- Visioning exercise on the conversations, behaviors, and activities this team would be doing in a few years if it was highly effective
- What behaviors/actions should this team keep, stop, start doing to increase effectiveness
- How will we follow through, remind, or hold each other accountable for these behaviors?
Establishing Our Strategic Imperatives
- Discussion of using Strategic Imperatives to improve our team’s/organization’s development
- Agreeing on our 3 – 4 “must-do” initiatives in the next six to twelve months to move us toward our vision, leverage strengths, make shifts, and address the moose/issues
- Scoping out each Strategic Imperative with a leader(s), mandate, team members, high-level actions/projects, and time frames
Wrap Up and Next Steps
- Establishing united messages/talking points from this retreat
- Discuss and decide on next steps
Time away from daily operations in a strategic retreat is critical to “sharpening the axe.” Having seen the powerful R & R (revitalization and renewal) emerge from dozens of offsite retreats, it’s baffling that many leadership teams don’t do them. The main reason seems to be they’ve become , allowing urgent operational issues to crowding out strategic effectiveness.