“Everyone needs to feel that he or she makes a difference to the organization. It is what gives meaning to their involvement.” – Heidi Richards

Retreats are great opportunities to review and assess current programs, align volunteers and move forward in the organization. They are one of the best ways to plan for the future of the organization, create greater buy-in of programs as well as create a stronger team. Retreats can give a powerful boost to the spirit and effectiveness of any group.

Well-designed and delivered retreats can lead to better understanding, clearer alignment and much stronger motivation for all stakeholders. A good retreat does not have to cost a fortune to host or attend.

Places that offer peaceful surroundings can create harmony and encourage quiet reflection. Why not hold your retreat during the off-season in your community? Hotels, resorts, bed-and-breakfasts and the like can be much less expensive during that time. A stakeholder’s home might be a viable alternative, if it is conducive to fulfilling the agenda. A casual atmosphere can help create the quiet reflection participants need to share ideas, develop plans and be “honest” in the process.

Organizing a retreat is a big responsibility. Use these ideas to make your event a well-planned and memorable success.

1. Set the tone with an inspiring theme. Telegraph the tone and purpose of your event with a theme that helps establish what you wish the outcome of the event to be. The purpose of a theme is to create excitement and anticipation. Here are examples of themes I have had the opportunity to co-create. “Lighting the Way Through Leadership:, “Meet, Mingle and Mastermind” , Leadership is…Growing other People”, “Play Hard, Think BIG”, Weekend Among the Stars”, to name a few.

2. Select your site with care. The best way to reduce distractions and promote a “big picture” perspective is to host your retreat away from the day-to-day surroundings of the organization. Make sure that the location helps to promote the “theme” for the retreat. An ocean-view location might not be the best place if your theme is “Getting Down to Business.”

3. Create interest to get the most participation. Use memos, bulletin boards, posters and internal meetings to arouse peoples’ curiosity. You could distribute a list of objectives and issues for the retreat, or even conduct a survey prior to the meeting, announcing actual results during the program. The survey is a wonderful tool to gather information from stakeholders, especially those who might not be able to attend. It will assist you in finding out what their issues are within the organization. This will also help plan the agenda.

4. Involve others in the planning process. Put together a planning team for the planning retreat. They can also be a part of the actual process during the retreat. I’m not sure who said it, but “many hands make work light.” This is also a great way to develop future leaders for the organization. By breaking down the tasks, you can concentrate on what outcomes you would like to see achieved.

5. Design the sequence of events with great care. Timing really is everything. And the key to the success of your retreat is planning the activities to get the most out of and give the most to the participants. Do you want a high-intensity working event, a laid back more relaxing atmosphere or somewhere in between? If you combine work with play, carefully consider, which should go first. Consider including some fun activities in the planning process, with the major recreation as a bonding in between the process and a celebration at the end.

6. Send out a pre-retreat agenda.
Let stakeholders know what your vision and objectives are for the retreat. This will give them the opportunity to fully prepare for the event. It could also get their creative juices flowing.

7. Balance Energy, Enterprise and Entertainment.
Stimulate interest and get involvement by using a full range of activities. Planning can be challenging and fun. Engage both sides of the brain, mental and physical stimulation to get the best results. Sitting in a room talking for 7 to 8 hours (or even 2 or more) without some form of physical activity can actually hinder the creative process.

8. Allow enough time to process, discuss and apply.
Allow enough time between each activity for discussion, learning and application back to the organization. It’s better to have a full day with two activities and enough time for discussion, than a day “packed” with three or four exercises and little time for reflection.

9. Focus on new actions with “More”, “Less”, “Start” and “Stop.”

To help in the planning process, during the program, have participants develop clear answers to the following questions:

“What do you want to do more of?”
“What do you want to do less of?”
“What do you want to start doing?”
“What do you want to stop doing?”

10. At the end of the process, you can ask participants to make another list of personal commitments using the following outline:

“I am committed to do more ______________________
“I am committed to do less _______________________
“I am committed to start doing ____________________
“I am committed to stop doing _______________________

11. If you’re the one “in charge,” don’t dominate discussions. If you do, not only will it inhibit open dialog, it will keep important issues from being fully addressed. Participants may go home with a feeling that they just wasted their time.

12. Lead participants to find areas of agreement. Finding issues people can agree on increases the chances they will also solve their own areas of disagreement.

13. Use an outside facilitator. Someone not intimately involved in the day-to-day of the organization, might actually help participants discover issues they did not know were issues. An experienced facilitator can also serve as an impartial party to keep the group on track, make sure all voices are heard and everyone has the opportunity to contribute to the process.

About the Author: Heidi Richards – is a professional speaker, Entrepreneur and the author of “The PMS Principles, Powerful Marketing Strategies to Grow Your Business,” “From Wantrepreneur to Entrepreneur”and 7 other books. She is also the Founder & CEO of The WECAI Network™ www.WECAI.org – an Internet network of organizations that “Helps Women Do Business on and off the WEB.” Basic Listing is FREE.

Copyright Heidi Richards – reprinted with permission

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Posted on 16 January 2007

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