Advance, Don’t Retreat

Are you starting to think about a strategy, planning, or team “off-site” for your group in 2014? Good for you, but I beg of you—refrain from calling it a retreat.

Consider calling it an advance.

I prefer to think of off-site experiences as the polar opposite of an actual retreat, most often thought of as a “pulling away.”

I do not actually know when organizational groups started calling meetings in which they plan and think together a retreat, but I guess the roots are probably connected to the notion of retreating for time to think and renew/reflect mush as one would personally—like a spa day for the organization.

But today, in every organization, whether a board of directors, corporate executive team, or cross-functional leaders in any organization, there is huge benefit to giving people a chance to think and discuss deeply things that matter to them for the year (or more) ahead. This is antithetical to the notion of a private day for renewal alone, and encompasses the power of WE for organizations. Topics that often compel groups to set aside time together include such things as:

  • What market forces will impact our business goals?
  • What have we learned lately that has resonance to what we do tomorrow?
  • Are we organized properly to do the heavy lifting required for our goals?
  • Does our culture support the values that matter to us in order to mobilize people to their highest and best work?
  • Do we get along, and what barriers may interfere with our cohesion?
  • What must we execute and how will we know we have succeeded (lead and lag measures?)
  • What is the competition or market doing and what are the implications?
  • Where exactly is it we are headed?

What then are the ingredients necessary to ensure a good use of time in a team advance for your leadership group?  There are several factors that make a difference, that might justify the real lost time cost of having your top talent away from day-to-day tasks to think together to advance your company’s work.  We pay particular attention to:

  • A carefully designed agenda with the right amount of varied activity and time for purposeful engagement (based on the desired outcomes)
  • A great venue that doesn’t have to be 4-star, but has natural light, flexible seating arrangements, and creates a new space for new thinking to inspire individuals
  • Healthy food and refreshment where the emphasis is on quality not gluttony
  • Planned time for individuals to process what they think and believe in order to add value to the group’s interaction
  • Skilled facilitation, without powerpoint, that facilitates conversations that matter
  • Pre-work that makes efficient use of people’s time
  • An articulated connection between the business objectives and the advance: why are we here and what will success look like when the meeting ends?
  • A plan for carrying the learning meaningfully forward through visual, verbal, and other mediums for a longer shelf life
  • Ground rules created by the group to enhance the spirit of open authentic dialogue

In a nutshell, I say think of it this way. According to Webster’s, a retreat is an act of pulling back or withdrawing. To advance means to move forward in a purposeful way.

Advance with your team in 2014, and make it worth every minute.

Jim Morris