Board RetreatStrategic Planning
When a board of directors of a non profit organization, or the senior management team of any organization, holds a strategic planning retreat the investment of time and money is significant. The question is;
“What does it take to make the best use this time?”
Here are three suggestions based on Meeting Facilitators International’s experience at several hundred board retreats.
1. The Right Agenda…
Agendas that are unfocused, overloaded, and don’t have specific outcomes are an invitation to failure. These agendas try to cover too much in too little time, with the end result being that nothing gets done properly. This lack of focus makes it all too easy for discussions to get “off-track.” Even worse, agendas that are overloaded with presentations leave no time for meaningful discussion. And isn’t that why we are here in the first place?
Before designing a retreat agenda, be very clear about the following:
- “What has to happen for this retreat to be a success?”
- “If we could only accomplish three things, what would they be?”
- “What specific issues do we want to deal with?” and
- “What is not up for discussion?”
- “Do we want to spend time on Mission, Vision and Values, or are we satisfied?”
- “What are the decisions that we need to make?”
- “What can we take off the agenda?”
2. The Right Activities…
At far too many retreats a host of incompatible activities will be jumbled together. How often have you seen the following?.
- Unbalanced participation with some people dominating and others not contributing.
- Endless presentations without enough time for meaningful discussion.
- People jumping to solutions without adequately considering alternatives.
- Brainstormed lists of ideas that aren’t priority ranked or vetted. (Are all 45 of these ideas really equal?)
- Cryptic notes on flip charts.
- Action plans that don’t capture all of the essential ingredients (who will do what by when.)
You can avoid all of this by having the right facilitator, the right agenda, and the right process.
You need to allow the time for discussion and minimize the time in presentations. You need to make good use of pre-readings and pre-session surveys.When it is time for brainstorming you need someone who knows how to run a brainstorming session. If you don’t have unlimited resources, then you better have a process for setting priorities. Furthermore that process better be transparent so that everyone knows why something is, or is not, a priority.
When you have strategic issues, then you better dedicate the time needed to resolve them. And you better have a good process for capturing all perspectives so that when you reach a decision, the decision sticks. You want to take the time to resolve the issue once and so that it is not the subject of endless future debate.
Finally your process better be able to document everything you have just agreed to, and why.
3. The right pre-work…
Pre-reading can be of tremendous assistance in getting the most out of people’s time. But you need people to do more than just read. When you ask someone to read a report you should also ask them to identify the key take-aways and to think about what parts of it gave them hope or made them worry. When pre-reading includes a book or article, you should ask them to come prepared to discuss how the author’s ideas can be applied to your organization.
On-line survey tools like Survey Monkey are incredibly valuable, in the right hands. Being able to see in an instant what the group sees as the top priorities for the organization, or the biggest issues facing your members, or the major trends that will affect your future success is invaluable.
Professional Facilitation of Board Retreats and Strategic Planning
The right facilitator can help you with all of the above. If you would like to discuss your next board retreat, please Contact Meeting Facilitators International. The initial consultation is always free.
From Our Clients
“Over the past five or six years we have worked with Bruce more than a dozen times as a focus group moderator for our pharmaceutical and medical device clients. The clients are always impressed with how quickly Bruce picks up challenging concepts and how easily he communicates them. The high-quality feedback and insight he draws from the focus group participants is what we are all looking for. Bruce’s track record in exceeding client objectives makes me extremely comfortable recommending him to any of our clients regardless of therapeutic area.”
“We wanted to find somebody unbiased, with no agenda, who could lead the retreat and pull in all points of view. Bruce did this and more. He brought some clever ways to make sure that we fully explored our ideas and he forced the discipline of setting priorities and of committing to an action plan. We have now used him three years in a row since everyone sees the value he adds and trusts his process.”
Mary Todd Peterson