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Don’t Let Your Next Board Retreat be a Waste of Time!

If you have a board of directors or have ever held a retreat, you might enjoy this one! And if you ever need an outside facilitator, give FireStar a call.

Have any of these things ever happened at one of your leadership retreats?

You craft a plan, but everyone expects aliens to fly down from outer space to implement it.
Half the board doesn’t even bother to come, but they feel free to rip apart the work of the attendees.
Some members attend the session, say nothing, and also feel free to rip apart the work of those who actually participated.
The aliens get the plan, rip apart the work of the attendees who participated, and abduct your most helpful board member.

If not, either you are absolutely fabulous or completely delusional. To keep you in the first category, I’m going to offer some tips for making your next retreat a solid investment:

Chose the place carefully. I do think that getting your leadership team away from their usual meeting place can be effective, but make sure it won’t adversely impact attendance. Picking an attractive, fun place can be a draw, but if two key people can’t take the time to travel far away, that consideration must take precedence. You need your top players in the room.

Consider an outside facilitator. I’ve worked with two boards recently that had a great deal of dissent over the organization’s direction. Bringing someone in from the outside who has no dog in the fight can be a great way to unite the factions. They don’t know the personalities, they don’t have favorites, and they can take the emotion out of important decisions. They can also question sacred cows that have long needed to be questioned.

Don’t try to build Rome in a day. Too many groups devote maybe a day to plan for the entire year. This would be fine if some of the preplanning had already been done in committee. But too often, nothing has been done and the board is starting from scratch. Sometimes something way too broad is crafted and there are no follow up meetings to create actionable items. Sometimes all that is done is tweaking the previous year’s plan with no assessment of what actually happened during that year.

Don’t insult your leaders. The worst thing is to be asked to attend a retreat where all you are expected to do is rubberstamp the staff’s plan. Do you really need all that brainpower for that? Don’t expect anybody worth a darn to continue to attend meetings where their input is meaningless. Their time is way too valuable.

Give them something juicy. Every organization has some juicy, sexy stuff that board members want to tackle. Examples? How can we help our members make more money? What is the future of our industry and how can we help our members prepare for it? You know what would be a similar issue for your organization. That’s the stuff retreats should be made of – let them be heroes.

No Blackberries. Keep their technology away from them. I’ve been in retreats where this wasn’t enforced and a couple of people were texting the entire time. This is distracting and disrupting and loudly and clearly sends the message that this meeting is not worthy of the texter’s attention. I conducted a corporate planning session where the CEO told everyone to leave their phones in a nearby break room. They couldn’t even have them in their possession. This made a huge, huge difference.

Don’t have the Executive Director serve either as scribe or facilitator. Someone needs to take great notes, and it should not be the Executive Director. He or she needs to be free to participate. As a facilitator, the Executive Director isn’t always objective and because he or she reports to the board can’t call them out when they are micromanaging or failing to fulfill their obligations.

Don’t kill them. Give them breaks and don’t try to do marathon sessions. After about 7 hours (with breaks) they are smoked. They will rush to approve things just to escape. Some will be praying the aliens abduct them. Work them hard, but take good care of them.

Retreats can be a vital part of your success, but make sure you take the time to insure their effectiveness. Otherwise they can be a great waste of time and money. (Not to mention intergalactic strife.)

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