Look for an appropriate location.
Retreats work best in off-site,
flexible, casual environments. Resorts in the
off-season offer much less expensive rates: You
could rent a beach house in the winter or a ski
chalet in the summer, for example. The rustic lodges
and cabins located in many state, county and
municipal park systems offer another affordable
alternative. You could even hold the retreat in the
living room of a coworker if the space is large
enough. Although you’ll need to bring all the
materials (flip charts, markers, coffeemaker, meals
and snacks), the relaxed atmosphere may help spark
meaningful dialogue. |
Get the length and size of the retreat
right. The most effective
retreats last only 2 to 2 12 days. That’s enough
time to create the climate of trust necessary to
make genuine progress, to explore issues
thoroughly and to build a commitment to change
(but not so long that participants lose interest).
Limit retreats to reasonably small groups (fewer
than 40 participants) if you want to accomplish
serious work while making sure you include all
necessary participants. Sometimes, though, it can
be invaluable to have the broader perspective a
larger group provides.
Interview participants in advance.
Too often in the initial planning
stages, a retreat facilitator speaks only to the
senior officer that hired him or her. The
executive’s input, while helpful, does not
necessarily represent participants’ real concerns,
and it’s not uncommon for the facilitator to get
blindsided when unexpected issues come up during
the retreat. By insisting the facilitator
preinterview a good cross-section of retreat
participants, you’ll help uncover some potential
land mines while there’s still time to address
issues in a productive way.
Be present. It is critical
to the success of the retreat that the leaders of
your firm be present—physically and mentally.
Participants won’t take the work seriously if you
and your peers don’t make the commitment of time
and energy to be present and engaged. Show up on
time for all retreat sessions and activities. Turn
off your pager and cell phone and do not allow
yourself to be interrupted unless there is an
Let participants in on the discussion.
Don’t dominate the talks or take
over the proceedings, even if you’re the “big
cheese” and others defer to you (which they will
at first). Holding back may go against your
nature, but if you don’t, you may inhibit serious
discussion and suppress differing viewpoints. To
maintain control over a big retreat and allow each
participant a voice, the facilitator might
institute this rule: No one will speak twice until
each person has spoken once.
Resolve conflicts on the spot.
Look for points of agreement instead
of dwelling on points of contention. If the
facilitator can lead participants to discover
areas of agreement, it will greatly enhance the
climate for resolving disagreements. One way to
diffuse tension is for him or her to break the
group into pairs or threesomes for 5 to 10 minutes
for more casual discussions or call a short break
to give people a chance to cool off. The
facilitator also can ask people to change their
seats: Sometimes this literally gives people a new
Back in the office, make the plan stick.
Design simple, clear implementation
strategies and show people how they apply to
everyday priorities and decision-making tasks.
Management must demonstrate support and commitment
because everyone will be watching its behavior. Be
willing to change systems and structures if they
prove to be inefficient. Frequently report on
progress because people need a sense their efforts
have been worthwhile. Hand out a lot of praise and
thanks for participation.