Creating Board Retreat Opportunities

Spring cleaning, annual physicals, board retreats.  What do these things have in common?  Admit it, your first thought wasn’t completely positive.  On one hand, they can all be viewed as obligatory tasks to be endured once a year.   Some may see them as arduous, tedious, even uncomfortable.

But what if we chose to look at them as opportunities.  bright future aheadOpportunities to evaluate our health, our assets, what’s working well and what’s not – in our homes, our bodies and our organizations.  And, with that assessment we could plan for the future, fix what’s broken, and build upon our successes.

I’ve attended more than 50 board retreats over the years.  I’ve seen good ones, not so good ones, short ones, long ones, retreats focused on training and others built around strategic planning, but most of all I’ve seen missed opportunities.

As you prepare to make this year’s board retreat the best, most productive and inspiring ever, here are a few Dos and Don’ts to keep in mind:

  • Don’t procrastinate.  This is too important to wait until the last minute and throw something together.  This is an opportunity and you’ll only get out of it what you put into it.  Find a special place to hold the retreat, different from where you hold your regular board meetings.  Put together an ad hoc committee of board members, or use your executive committee, to develop the retreat objectives and provide input on the agenda.
  • Do be intentional and strategic.  Avoid the “we always have it the third week of March” mentality.  Your retreat shouldn’t be an obligation.  If the usual timing doesn’t make sense, change it.  The retreat should be held at the most strategic time possible, when it can have the greatest effect on your organization’s priorities.  Your  board members want to feel like their time is being used as effectively as possible.  By being intentional and strategic you ensure that’s the case.
  • Don’t forget the heart.  It’s critical to be productive during your retreat and part of your strategy should be reminding participants what really brought them there.  Invite a recipient of your services or a program staff to share their firsthand experience of your organization’s impact.  Board members join because of their passion for your mission, but we sometimes forget to keep that passion ignited and your retreat is a great place to do that.
  • Do be brave.  Retreats are an opportunity to address challenges that may be holding your organization or your board back.  Don’t shy away from tough discussions.  If participation in fund development or meeting attendance have been issues, make time at the retreat for the board to discuss how to overcome these challenges as a team.  It can be helpful to bring in an impartial facilitator to ensure these discussions are productive.
  • Don’t make Jack a dull boy.  As in all work and no play… Build in down time where board members have a chance just to talk and get to know each other better.  Your board is a team and that team will function better if they feel like they know and trust one another.  Maybe leave lunch open with no agenda or plan a cocktail hour at the end of the day.
  • Don’t lose momentum.  A critical part of the retreat will be creating concrete, actionable follow-up items for the board as a whole and as individuals.  One of the most common frustrations related to board retreats is around the lack of follow-through.  If you have applied the previous dos and don’ts, your board members will most likely leave your retreat feeling enthusiastic and excited for the future.  But without consistent follow-up and a well-developed plan, that enthusiasm will fade overtime.

We know how important boards are to the success of any organization and a board retreat is a critical tool.  If you would like to hear more on how to make your board retreat effective and strategic, join Laura Goodwin and me for a webinar on February 20th.  There are two time slots available, click here to register for the time that works best for you:

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