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What's more important, preparation or a plan?

"I'm not sure they'll have much to say. You might want to have a backup activity." A client recently advised as we were finalizing their retreat plans.

I always welcome hearing such comments and ideas. I want to know what's on my clients' minds. That way, I can be sure to address their unique needs.

As a facilitator, I come to retreats prepared. That means I have all the materials required. I've taken care of my needs so I may show up and be fully present. And I possess a deep understanding of my client's culture, aspirations and challenges.

An essential part of my preparations is developing a purpose and three objectives with my clients. The purpose answers the question: Why are we having this retreat? And the objectives answer the question: what three things do we need to accomplish for this retreat to be successful.

My commitment is to support fulfilling the purpose and objectives.

Of course, we have a retreat plan that includes an agenda as well as a variety of activities. But I don't believe people need overly contrived activities in order to fulfill their retreat purpose and objectives. What they need, are conditions to have collaborative conversations where people say what they mean, mean what they say and follow-through.

Conversations like this tend to evolve organically. I never know what's going to come up. There's a level of uncertainty I'm comfortable embracing whenever I step into my role as a facilitator.

What I do know is fourfold. I will fulfill the purpose and objectives. People at the retreat will feel good at the end of the day. I will get everyone present to feel engaged and committed to the outcomes of the retreat. We will start and end on time.

Luckily, applying the Neuroscience of Conversation gets people talking like never before. All while sparking the release of oxytocin which makes folks feel good, even in hard conversations (more about that later).

In other words, I know how to create the conditions for success, even if I can't control for what arises in the conversation. As a result, ideas develop that I can't anticipate. They're good ideas that people are excited about. Ideas that they want to develop further.

As long as the ideas fit into the purpose and objectives, who am I to reject them.

This means, that sometimes the agenda I developed, along with certain activities get tossed out the window. To build on the collective engagement, I adapt on the fly.

I did this for a retreat earlier this year. My client was seeking input from stakeholders to illustrate the needs they will address for a grant application. We worked together to co-create the retreat, which included customized activities I developed.

Once the retreat started, the ideas stakeholders suggested were entirely different than what we anticipated. We adapted the second-half of the day to build upon the insights we gained in the morning. My flexibility enabled them to garner valuable input for their application.

They were awarded the grant, which funds the development of a brand new initiative.

My job as a facilitator is not about getting people to do things my way. It's about cultivating conversations that lead to new possibilities, along with a shared commitment to taking action afterward.

One of my greatest pet peeves is all talk and no action. Sticking steadfastly to a plan that doesn't fit the needs of the people in the room is a surefire way to stifle collaborative conversations and follow through.

Yet, this is what so many facilitators and consultants do. They shutdown the juicy, aligned and purposeful conversations that are unfolding organically in order to finish the activities on time so they can get to the next one. And in doing so, they fail to deliver on the purpose and objectives of the retreat.

So when my client advised having backup activities, I wholeheartedly agreed. I'm always ready to adapt. I come to retreats fully prepared and part of my preparations are the years of experience, training, and know-how I posses about effectively guiding co-creating conversations.

I'm not suggesting we eliminate the plan. It's still valuable to have a plan. But, the plan isn't the end-all-be-all. It is one of many facets to be taken into consideration when organizing a retreat where you want people talking like never before.

Sometimes retreats go according to plan. Other times they don't. Either way, I'm prepared to ensure the purpose and objectives are accomplished.

Interestingly, the retreat where my client asked for backup activities went exactly according to plan. It just goes to show, you never know til you do it!

Do you want get your team talking (and following through) like never before at your next retreat? Let's chat!

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