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Living the Strategic Plan

"Let's Retreat!"
By Suzanne Pine, Executive Vice President and Bill Norton, Vice President of Marketing

Would you agree that by slowing down and thinking through a plan for your potentially hectic day you can often turn an insane day into a totally productive day? If you are like most of us, forcing yourself to take the time to re-group often produces amazing results.

Now, let's take that very same theory and apply it to your Association or Society. What would happen if the Board of Directors were required to make the time to reflect on the "big picture" versus the day-to-day hustle and bustle? My guess would be that individual Board members, as well as the non-profit organization, would benefit from the restoration of focus and energy that sometimes gets lost in-between quarterly Board meetings and monthly conference calls.

Planning an Association Board Retreat is one way to regain that focus. There are many items to consider when planning a retreat and the more time that you spend on the front end, the more results you'll reap at the end. This short article will give you some of the highlights of what you might consider while planning your retreat.

Be sure to clearly identify the goal.
Based on your Association's current circumstance, you may consider some of the following goals:

  1. Review your most recent Strategic Plan to confirm that it still meets the Association's objectives. (Remember, this is not a Strategic Planning Session, it's a Retreat. You can consider combining the two separate meetings over a two or three day period to make the most of your time together.)
  2. Schedule interactive team building activities; explore new communication techniques or listening skills.
  3. Utilize role playing exercises to deal with member issues or to prepare for public speaking engagements or media encounters.
  4. Brainstorm to generate creative approaches to grow the Association or expand member benefits. Think outside of the box.

Next, determine the location.

  1. Choose a central location that can be easily reached by all participants. Consider an airport hotel that would allow directors to touchdown and arrive at the meeting with minimal additional travel time.
  2. Make sure that the location is bright and has enough room for all participants to be comfortable. Consider locations that would allow you to have a meal outside of the meeting room.

Will you need to hire a facilitator? If yes, make sure that you hire the right resource.

  1. Retreats will often be more effective if you engage an outside experienced facilitator. Ask colleagues for referrals and conduct a phone interview to determine who has a personality that will work well with your group.
  2. The major benefit of using a facilitator will be that he/she has no ulterior motive. Facilitators won't usually know where the skeletons or political landmines are buried and therefore allows for a more open and honest discussion.
  3. A facilitator can often help to more effectively convey the message, gain consensus, or guide the overall meeting direction when necessary.

Communicate.

  1. Make sure that the Board of Directors receives the retreat date with sufficient notice in order to lock it into their calendar. Having the full Board involved is a critical component that will allow your retreat to succeed.
  2. Share the retreat agenda with the participants as soon as it has been finalized. Don't let them draw their own conclusions for how the day may play out.

On-site at the Retreat.

  1. Check your ego at the door and turn off your cell phone and BlackBerry.
  2. Be prepared to hear things that might hurt and be open to new ideas.
  3. Create an environment that allows for honest, constructive input. Let participants know that it's okay to identify a challenge or problem, as long as a proposed solution accompanies the discussion.
  4. Strategically break into groups and use your exercises to tap into some undeveloped ideas that may be buried deep inside your volunteer leaders. What's their vision for the Association in 2 years? How about 5 years?
  5. Make sure that someone (the facilitator or a staff person) is capturing all ideas and suggestions for future consideration and implementation.
  6. Allow enough time toward the end of the day to summarize, develop an action plan, and assign tasks, if warranted.

Summary.

Don't allow all of the work, ideas, and camaraderie generated from the retreat to be lost after everyone goes home. Figure out how to build off of the momentum of the day to maintain the Board's focus and solidify their commitment to the Association. Share news of this valuable experience with your Association staff and members. And most important, schedule another retreat.