Surviving “Retreats”

At this time of year there is an unusual level of activity devoted to “retreats“, “away days” and “strategy days”. Many managers believe that taking the team out of the office for the day, and having them engaging in games, scenarios, presentations, and brainstorming, will somehow magically set the tone of success for the year ahead.

I am doubtful about the success of “retreats”.   The danger with “retreats” is that they fail to tap into the talents, knowledge and passions of staff.  Some activities are timewasting, and disengage staff.  I am much more in favour of daily, weekly, and monthly focus on;

  1. Preparation and Planning
  2. Participation
  3. Performance
  4. Evaluation and reflection.

I think one day, once a year is not nearly enough to set the tone of performance for a team.  Ultimately, it is the discipline of the four activities listed above on a daily, weekly and monthly basis, that will ensure the success.  However, if you are absolutely determined to hold a “retreat” in 2011 here are a few tips.

1. Be honest with yourself and state clearly what it is that you want the team to acheive in the long term. Is it improved performance? Better relationships and communication? Developing a culture of learning? Whatever it is, be clear, specific and honest with the team.

The “retreat” is the Preparation and Planning part of our four step process. Devote the day to preparing and planning for achieving a long term goal.  Later, you will follow up the “retreat” with processes that foster participation, encourage and measure performance, and regularly evaluate and reflect on progress.  The “retreat” is a beginning, and not an end.

2. In the first session of the day, share the goal, and explain it. Discuss it at length. Answer any questions honestly and respectfully.  Have the team agree standards for performance of the goal. For example, if the team is to improve performance, what are the standards expected? Is there to be increased professionalism? Greater attention to detail? Improved customer service?

You will need at least three of these values to underlie your plan. Getting the standards out front first focuses everyone, and they will have a greater understanding of the long term goal.  These standards will form part of your later participation, performance and evaluative processes.

3. In the second session, have the team identify everything that needs to be done to achieve the long term goal. Listen carefully. There will be big things and little things that need to be done. All is important. Make sure everything is recorded. Identify where there is agreement and where there are alternative points of view.

4. In the third session, identify everyone you will need to help the team achieve their goal. Identify the people and their roles. Work out how relationships will be created and nutured. Plan for regular communication to everyone involved. Agree who will communiciate and what they willl communicate. Work out how you will obtain feedback.

5. In the final, and last session for the day, identify all the resources you will need to acheive the long term goal. Ensure learning is a key part of the resource gathering process, and that all information can be shared and built in an online community.  Ensure you know what is needed and why.

6. Thank everyone for their time and contribution. Promise to feedback on the day as soon as possible. Let staff know where information can be found and how they can track the progress of the plan.

After the retreat you will need a smaller and representative working group to refine and distribute the plan. They will commence processes of participation, performance and evaluation and reflection. Ensure you have the right people. This core group will be responsible for ensuring the success of the process, but not the plan. All staff are responsible for the success of the plan, so ensure you give regular feedback and support.

Using this simple model your “retreat’ the day will be worthwhile in terms of achieving your goal.  More importantly the model is respectful of your staff, their knowledge, skills, passions and interests.  It is their contribution that is vital for long term success. So forget the brainstorms, presentations, games and scenarios, and set the tone with respectful and productive work.

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One Response to Surviving “Retreats”

  1. Helen Martin says:

    This is bang on!!

    As gardeners you and your partner don’t sit down once a year with a list of questions, make notes, eat a big lunch and resolve to do better next year. As gardeners you and your partner talk about, evaluate and celebrate your garden every day, making constant adjustments to your practice, some major, some micro, according to your shared view of what is needed to help your garden flourish. Because you value it and you love it.

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