boosting team retreat effectiveness

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

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.