Planning the Retreat
Pre-retreat planning makes the most of participant’s time together during the retreat. Investing time up front and agreeing beforehand on what you’d like to achieve and how that work is best accomplished at your retreat will help prevent surprises or glitches that could distract the group from its work on-site.
About six to eight weeks in advance of your retreat, someone (usually the manager) should begin gathering input from participants about issues they’d like to discuss, and outcomes they’d like to achieve. Considering and clarifying the purpose for introducing an issue helps craft an agenda that meets participants’ specific needs. Items can be organized as:
- Information only
- For discussion
- Changes in relationship or behavior: understanding views; clarity on different approaches; agreement on expectations
- Reaching a decision or outcome
Setting realistic time frames
We all want to get more done than is realistically possible in the time available. This is especially true when the discussion is likely to focus on long range thinking or forecasting and not quick decision-making based on reporting of events or facts. As one experienced SOG facilitator put it, “To a group that is accustomed to dispatching dozens of agenda items in a few hours, a whole day or two can seem to stretch ahead interminably—that is, until the discussion begins to deepen, as it invariably does. Then in many instances, the time available becomes too short.”
- Be realistic is your agenda design so the group does not end up feeling rushed, frustrated, or exhausted in their deliberations of an issue.
- Minimize the amount of time spent simply presenting information unless that information is critical to the decisions expected to be made during the retreat.
- Vary the manner in which information is provided:
- in advance
- through pictures, with short descriptions
- graphic, figures
- dialogue rather than uni-logue
- Do not extend discussion beyond the established timeframe set forth in the agenda unless the group agrees to do so.
Remembering the details
- Check to see what kind of equipment will be needed by presenters, facilitator, and others; make arrangements for such on-site.
- Send out the agenda and any background materials ahead of time so everyone can be prepared upon arrival.
- Include directions or a map so everyone can find the retreat and/or dinner location.
- Consider the agenda, as well as group traditions, when making arrangements about food. Boxed lunches or in-room buffets allow for maximum discussion time but may cut short time for socializing, relaxation, or reflection.
- Be clear who is taking notes or making a summary record of the discussion highlights and decisions. Oftentimes a facilitator will include providing a written record of the retreat in the MOU.
- Arrange seating for retreat participants to promote and encourage conversation and eye contact. Allow extra seating for audience or press that recognizes their role and/or level of participation in the retreat.