Written by: Dr. Thyonne Gordon
CEO, Beyond Story
AABLI alumna, Class #3
You’ve managed to get your board to agree to a retreat? Well done! Board members come from all walks of life and must attend to their own professions and personal agendas, so it’s amazing when a leader can bring them together to reflect and strategize.
Here are five ideas to help you prepare for your next board retreat:
- Fail to Plan and Plan to FailPlanning the retreat requires more than simply placing items on an agenda. It should be the number one goal on the agenda. Retreat objectives don’t materialize out of thin air; you’ve got to consider them in advance.Work with a team when you set about the planning. Solo planning sets you up for a one-sided view of retreat objectives. Reach out to each participant for ideas, making sure the whole team has “skin in the game.” Your team should emerge from the planning process able to fill in the blank of this hypothetical: “This retreat will be a success for me if____________.” Planning with your board–not for your board–is key to a successful retreat.
- Use a Facilitator: It’s Worth ItCan you host a retreat on your own? Honestly, you can. But at the end of the day, you won’t have the benefit of an outside perspective, it will be difficult for you to fully participate and you’ll be exhausted.Put aside some funds to hire an experienced facilitator. This should not be a mere “traffic director” pointing to who speaks next, but a pro who is strategic and great at listening. Prior to the retreat, a good facilitator will help you put together a plan of action that includes all board members at every point: from the start, during and after the retreat.The facilitator should help you set expectations up front, balance and encourage participation, and capture highlights from your time together. He or she should help map out the action steps for the end of the retreat and provide a summary of outcomes and takeaways. Finally, your facilitator should be able to speak up to key management without fear of losing his or gig. You want forthright and honest communication–not a “yes” person.
- Pick a Place for Play, Passion & PlanningNow that you have your board’s attention, it’s important to keep the members engaged and comfortable. Find a nice place to host your retreat, perhaps a board member’s home or a facility that can provide refreshments, a space for breaks and a relaxing atmosphere. A formal retreat is fine, but the setting should be inviting. No one wants to spend a weekend in a conference room. As much as you want your board to be “in touch” with the organization, you’d do well to take them away from it in order to get your points across.
Board members rarely get to spend focused time with each other, so offer some time for socializing, or what I call play time. Everyone seems to hate the idea of an icebreaker, but do one without calling it that; it will provide an opportunity to socialize and relax. Ask everyone, for example, to put the “why” of your organization in one word and write or post it on a presentation board. Allow each person to share, briefly, thoughts about his or her word. The passion for the organization often comes spilling out through personal stories no one could have imagined, bonding your board members with each other and with you.Always end the retreat with something light, fun and positive: dinner, drinks or whatever your board might enjoy as a group. If you can afford a small personalized promotional item, it will remind your team members that they are appreciated.
- Emphasize the Organization’s WorkThe most successful retreats take participants on a journey, starting with the story. An enthusiastic staff member or someone from your client base should tell the most engaging story of the organization, how it serves, and why it’s important to continue your work. Someone else can explain–without complaining–what happens at the organizational level.
Divide the retreat day into large blocks and focus on what is most important. Allow committee chairs to report on what’s happening in their areas and to discuss mpacts, but keep it moving. If new board members are present, an overview of the organization and some basic board rules might be in order.Most important, keep your mission constant and clear during the retreat. You may even give it a seat at the board retreat: write your mission statement on a poster board and position it in a chair. This is the time to make sure your board fully understands the organization.
- From Talk To ActionDuring your time together, the facilitator will capture key points and outline next steps, listing responsible parties and time frames. The outline should use action words like “call, write, or schedule.”At the end of the retreat with all of its talk and thought, it’s time for action. Create a summary of what’s next. An accountability scale works. You may also consider putting people together as partners in lieu of appointing whole committees. This can help kindle closer board relationships and even more efficient action. Think of other ways to keep progress reports on the goals you’ve established during the retreat. And remember to thank your board for attendance and a job well done at the retreat.
Properly planned with a steady focus on outcomes, your board retreat can have a transformative effect on the organization. Make it the event everyone wants to attend, not the thing they dread .
This blog is not written by aabli.org or The African American Board Leadership Institute. The author is solely responsible for the content.