Why Your Board Needs to Retreat

fall-retreatDoes your Board take time to look beyond the usual agenda items and focus on the big picture?   Holding a longer meeting  (often called a retreat) can create stronger focus and allow for more in-depth processing of ideas to keep your board focused on a strategic direction.  Retreats also allow for a more relaxed climate so members can enhance their relationships and address issues in a more systematic way.  Retreats may have gotten a bit of a bad rap in the past as more social outings than effective tools.  In reality, they are important longer meetings that can help a group form, align and move forward.

As I talk with non-profit executives and board leaders, they are often hesitant to ask board members to commit time to meetings.  Many are focused on keeping meetings short out of respect for the busy schedules of Board members.  I agree there are tools and methods to keep routine meetings focused and brief.  We have all been victims of long, tedious meetings where information is presented in excruciating detail or side topics and egos dominate the agenda, so that little else happens. The key to any effective meeting is to use the time wisely.  Fundamentally, there are really only three ways to “spend” any meeting time:

  1. Giving information
  2. Gathering information and input, or
  3. Solving problems. 

Of these three activities, solving problems is by far the most valuable use of face-to-face group time.  It helps teams align and it produces the highest ROI for the participants and your organization. 

Really great meetings—especially longer meetings for serious consideration of planning and problem solving—are different.  First, let me explain that I use the word “problem” interchangeably with “opportunity.”  Bringing a group of committed individuals together in a focused format is the best way to achieve outstanding outcomes.  An effective meeting generates new ideas and approaches, ensures that the attendees have a stake in the process going forward, and builds the commitment necessary to make things happen.    

Pre-reading before the event or invited speakers at the opening can provide background and level-set the understanding of the challenge you will address so participants can fully participate.  The agenda should offer plenty of chances for attendees to engage and document their progress along the way.  The ideal retreat agenda helps the group gain a common understanding of the issues and provides a process for solving some meaningful challenges the organization or their constituents face.  A good meeting facilitator can also use the agenda to offer “teachable moments” that provide the group with skills for making future regular meetings more effective. 

Maybe now is the time to plan your next retreat.  When boards come together with the right climate and agenda, they solve problems as a team.  The shared ownership of those solutions makes it easier to implement the resulting plans and has a positive impact on board meetings going forward.