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It’s August and time to kick-start the work of September. Many companies and boards are launching their summer retreats.  Why not make this one an “advance” on your agenda instead? Having led many such working groups, here are a few tips to making it a better experience for all.

1.      Move Out of Comfort Zones. Remember Family Systems Theory? Just like families, boards of directors and staff function according to rules (spoken and unspoken), patterns, relationships and boundaries. Creating a retreat with more interactive time and fewer presentations, mixing up people who wouldn’t otherwise sit together, and using physical spaces that allow people to connect more personally—i.e. no big long tables—can radically change the outcomes of your time spent together.

2.      Engage an Outside Facilitator. Experienced outsiders can offer a new perspective. But even more importantly, they can cut through some of the habits your group may have formed that can sometimes diminish productivity and creativity by drawing out different voices (see below) and using techniques to guide the conversation towards implementable tasks. Plus, using an outside person adds some entertainment value–it’s not the same boss/board chair/department head they are accustomed to hearing from. So this is not just self-promotional talk. (Though if you’d like to vet a project with me, please do shoot me an email at amy [at] amydelouise [dot] com!)

3.      Encourage New Voices.  Often we lean on leaders to, well, lead. They are the ones everyone looks to at the end of the meeting to say what they think or what should happen next. Not so at a retreat.  In this environment, they should hang back and allow other voices to come forward. They will get more fodder for what they ultimately need to accomplish this way.

4.      Think Out of the Box.  Use exercises that encourage your group to look beyond what they already know.  I like to use case studies from competitors, or even from industry groups or organizations in a completely different business area as a jumping off point.  I’m also a fan of giving teams different problems to solve with only certain tools they are allowed to use to solve them. The goal is creative thinking, not same thinking.

5.      Plan for Implementation. There’s nothing worse than spending the day at a workshop and finding that Absolutely Nothing Happens with all those little sticky pad notes and flip charts you filled up.  Spend a good chunk of time at the end of each day (or end of the retreat) planning how to implement the ideas and suggestions made there. Who is responsible for what? Is there a need for a small sub-group to help organize and re-distribute the information? What happens next?

Retreats are great. Advances are even better. Go for it!

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