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3 Steps to Simplify the Many Decisions of Planning a Retreat

"We need to do a retreat. Get people off site so we can take a look at the big picture and set some 3-5 year goals."


Such a statement is often where the idea for a retreat begins.


It's wise to want to get the team together so everyone's efforts are aligned and moving towards a shared vision. It empowers team members to make critical decisions when they have a collective understanding of where their going, what's important and what it means to succeed.


Well run retreats also deepen engagement and follow through. As a result people are more likely to go above and beyond the day-to-day humdrum of work.


Once a retreat is on the docket, it is alluring to move into discussing specifics. Asking, "Where should we have the retreat?" Or sharing ideas for what everyone should do at the retreat (or not do). Essentially, going straight to the "what" part of Simon Sinek's Golden Circle.


But starting with the what doesn't set the foundation for success nor is it a wise use of time.


Instead, step back and look at the big picture so you have some parameters to operate from before getting too mired in all the details. There are a lot of decisions that need to be made when planning a retreat. And setting parameters makes it easier to figure out the rest, while ensuring your efforts are fruitful.


There are three basic questions to help you set parameters:

  1. What's the point?

  2. Who needs to be there?

  3. What's our budget for this?


What's the point?

Clearly stating the point of the retreat so there's a shared understanding for all involved in planning it is like having a north star for a sailing voyage. Without it, there's no frame of reference for all the other decisions that come.


And while the point of the retreat might seem obvious at the outset, i.e. enhance sustainability. It's imperative to Double Click on what that means. Using common language does not guarantee a shared understanding.


"Enhancing sustainability" is a perfect example. When I've Double Clicked on that kind of phrase with clients in the past there was a variety of answers given. From financial solvency, to regenerative environmental practices and a plethora of different definitions in between.


Conflicts, misunderstandings and disappointment are avoided by exploring the deeper meanings of words and phrases commonly used.


Landing on a shared understanding of the point of the retreat drives everything else. It's what Simon Sinek calls, "Starting with why." Or as I call it in the Co-Creating Retreat Experiences process, crafting the purpose.


When we have a collective understanding of why we are there together, we stay focused on fulfilling that purpose. This ensures the retreat is a worthwhile investment of time, money and other resources. Otherwise we get mired in the what without it fulfilling the true needs of the organization. At best, that's when retreats don't yield the desired results. At worse, they erode morale and trust.


Who needs to be there?

Deciding who needs to be at the retreat for it to be successful impacts the rest of the logistics.


Sometimes, leaders know who needs to be there from the get go. Last year I had a client who wanted to bring the directors of the Product and Engineering teams together for an in-person retreat.


These dispersed teams had been working independently since the company was founded. And it was clear they needed to learn how to work together collaboratively in order to meet ambitious goals to drive innovation and capture greater market shares.


Other times, it takes more effort to discern whom to include. This is where having a sense of why the retreat is important can inform the decision of whom to include.


If the point of the retreat is to enhance employee engagement and only the leadership team is present, there's a problematic disconnect. Or if the purpose is to plan a new business division and employees that have critical information to that aren't there, the plan will be woefully lacking information essential to success.


Having the right people at the table from the get-go ensures that the ideas coming out of the retreat are integrated afterwards. Otherwise, you run the risk of having a retreat that's all talk and no action.


In successful retreats, the why and the who were closely related. It is imperative to figure out who's voices need to be at the retreat in order to adequately address your needs. Not having the right people at the retreat can negatively impact morale as well as waste time, money and energy.


What's our budget for this?

There are a number of direct expenses associated with doing a retreat such as facilitation services, facility fees, food, travel, and payroll costs.


Holding a retreat is not only an investment in your team, it’s a valuable practice for achieving you vision. While it’s often hard to correlate a direct ROI, there’s ample evidence which shows that misunderstandings, miscommunication and low employee engagement costs a lot of money.


It’s easy to want to short change the upfront financial investment. When an organization is new to organizing retreats, the total cost can cause sticker shock.


Again, returning to the purpose is valuable. If your team needs to be able to work together collaboratively to succeed. If you’re worried about a lack of engagement among employees. If your wasting time dealing with misunderstandings. If you’re experiencing lost productivity that’s eating at your profit margins. Then it’s worth considering, what’s the cost of not doing the retreat right?


Following these three steps, the why, the who and the budget, will give you parameters for making all the other decisions to plan your retreat. With those guardrails in place, your time and energy planning the retreat will be well spent.


If there's one thing everyone can agree on, it's that they don't want their retreats to be a waste of time or money. You can start achieving that from the get go with how you plan the retreat.


Are you planning a retreat but are struggling to articulate what the point of it is? Schedule a free 30-minute call with Ariana to get clarity and focus on setting your retreat planning parameters.

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