Assessing Your Needs
No doubt most managers and elected officials can produce a long list of issues they would like to learn more about or discuss at a retreat. It is a harder chore, however, to craft an agenda to produce effective discussion, decision, and follow-through. As you progress through your retreat planning, you’ll want to consider the following as you deliberate.
- What are your objectives for your time together, and does everyone agree?
- How should the time be structured in order to meet those objectives?
- How much information is needed, when, and from which sources for members to feel they can be fully informed decision-makers?
- Is this a one-time event or part of a series of meetings designed to help the group improve its functioning over time?
- How can the group benefit by using a facilitator, and who might be best suited for your group?
More often than not there are multiple purposes being served by your retreat time. Careful thought and planning is needed as your group sorts through purposes and suggests a sequence for the discussion. As you establish an agenda and timeframe for accomplishing this work, be purposeful and realistic about allocating the groups’ time. A trained and experienced facilitator can be helpful with this task.
One temptation is to focus solely on getting tasks accomplished, decisions made, or plans in place and fail to assess how well the group actually works. Ineffective working relationships or behaviors can stymie a group, make it dysfunctional, or otherwise hinder the actual accomplishment of the tasks. Planning an agenda that meets your group’s needs is best done by considering not just what the group wants to accomplish in their time together, but also by paying attention to the relationships and the dynamics within the group.
Here are some circumstances that might warrant dedicating part of the retreat’s focus to improved, more effective working relationships:
- Have there been changes in the groups’ informal or formal leadership that might affect previously understood and established routines for how things get handled within the group, such as how items get placed on an agenda or being clear on what rules of order will be used for formal meetings?
- Did campaign activities create uncomfortable personal or group dynamics that are hampering the board/council’s ability to be effective?
- Is there a new manager who might be unclear about the board’s expectations on how routine matters get handled?
- Are relationships with other neighborhood groups, business leaders, or neighboring jurisdictions working as well as they should? Or are they hampering your group’s ability to do its work?
- Are incomplete, indirect, or misunderstood communication patterns disrupting effective working relationships?