“Retreating” to Advance: Putting Together an Effective Affiliate Retreat
By Dustin K. Hunter
Dustin K. Hunter is an assistant editor of The Affiliate and is a name partner of the law firm of Kraft & Hunter, LLP in Roswell, New Mexico.
Advancing your organization’s goals for the year may require you to “retreat”—that is to plan and execute a board retreat. There are many reasons why you should plan and implement a retreat: (1) to review current efforts, projects, and plans; (2) to address one or two major issues affecting the organization and brainstorm about possible solutions; (3) to develop a sense of camaraderie and unified sense of purpose; (4) to integrate new board members; and (5) to align disparate views. Janet Britcher, Board Retreat , Transformation Management; June Bradham, Well-Organized Board Retreat Should Leave You Energized , Charleston Bus. J. (Jan. 21, 2008), available at www.charlestonbusiness.com/pub/14_2/news/11230-1.html .
“A board retreat can be one of the most effective ways to reinvigorate and energize the board,” says Brent Moore, Chair of the New Mexico Young Lawyers Division. “It is an opportunity for everyone to get to know each other in a less formal, more personal manner and plan for the organization as a whole. It can be one of the most effective tools to accomplish your goals for the year, as well as to ensure the health and vitality of the organization for the future.”
On the flip side, a poorly run, ill-focused retreat can be one of the most frustrating experiences while serving on a board. Bradham, Well-Organized Board Retreat , supra . To implement a successful retreat, there are a number of things to consider.
Define the Purpose of Your Retreat
The annual board retreat is often the board’s only chance to be proactive, rather than reactive. Kevin P. Coyne, How to Plan an Effective Board Retreat , Bus. Week (Feb. 26, 2008), available at www.businessweek.com/managing/content/feb2008/ca20080226_675637.htm?
chan=search . The purpose of the retreat should be to address one to three of the most important unresolved strategy issues facing the board and to brainstorm about possible other issues that might need to be addressed at some later date. Id. The retreat as a whole should be planned around a few specific goals that are crucial to your affiliate organization. Do not try to accomplish too much in the short time available to you. Any more than two or three issues will crowd the agenda and take focus away from the most important issues facing the organization. Instead, develop an agenda based on your key objectives.
Structure the Retreat to Maximize Creative Input
Location : Once you have identified the primary purpose for the retreat, you need to decide where to hold the retreat and how it will be set up. Although some suggest that a retreat can be held anywhere (such as an office, break room, or restaurant), they are in the minority. The majority opinion is that a retreat should be scheduled someplace nice that is at least an hour away from the traditional meeting location. Scheduling the retreat at a lush, remote location shows your board that they are important and that the goals of the retreat are important. The venue should also have breakout locations for various strategy sessions and provide ample activities for the board to engage in while not actively participating in the retreat’s formalized planning sessions. Another option is to specifically plan outings and team-building activities to encourage board members to get to know each other on a personal level and see each other outside of their traditional leadership roles. The best strategy for team-building with the board is to have ongoing opportunities for the members to get to know one another. Joan Cozart, Planning a Productive and Efficient Board Retreat , Chamber Exec. (2008).
Timing of the Retreat : Next, consider the time of the year that you want to hold the retreat, as well as its length. The event should be scheduled for a time that does not conflict with major holidays, cultural activities, or sporting events because you want as many of your board members to attend the retreat as possible. In addition, the event should be planned several months in advance so that your attendees can block out the date on their calendars. The actual length of the retreat can vary, but to be effective, it should be at least one full day, if not two—leaving ample time for the physical activities and team-building events mentioned earlier.
Encourage a Healthy Dialogue : Since the purpose of the retreat is to generate ideas to solve specific problems, you want to work to ensure that you have the proper groundwork in place. The first thing to do in this regard is to determine who should attend the retreat. Obviously the board members and officers should attend, but it might also be valuable to invite your affiliate’s key staff persons as well. In most affiliate organizations the staff does not turn over as often as the leadership. Therefore, staff members can offer significant institutional knowledge to help ensure that every bar year picks up where the previous year left off.
Next, determine if you need a facilitator from outside of your organization to assist with the retreat or its programs. An external facilitator can help keep the retreat’s atmosphere objective and upbeat and limit the likelihood that any one person will monopolize the agenda. Bradham, Well-Organized Board Retreat , supra . If your affiliate is interested in using a facilitator for your retreat, you can request a member of the ABA YLD’s Affiliate Assistance Team (AAT). In addition to on-site assistance, the AAT also can provide your affiliate with written materials and e-mail or phone consultations on various issues, including leadership training, long-range planning, orientation materials, and training for affiliate board members and committee chairs. For more information about the AAT, visit www.abanet.org/yld/affiliate.shtml .
Finally, ensure that during the retreat, all attendees’ ideas are treated equally. The goal of the retreat is to think of things that one might not come up with in a meeting room. The retreat should also be treated as an opportunity to maximize the board’s ability to hold open and constructive discussions and reach the level of consensus needed to move the organization forward. Bradham, supra . It is important not to shoot anyone’s ideas down. Instead, keep a list of all possible ideas and simply focus on the ones that seem most on point. In addition, ask members to think about the problems facing the organization and invite them to individually come back with solutions to address these issues. Keep working until you have concrete resolutions to the problems that you have identified.
After the Retreat, Follow-Up to Ensure Action
Follow-up from the retreat must be swift and specific. Every retreat should culminate with a set of goals and objectives that are measurable and meaningful. Cozart, Efficient Board Retreat , surpa . One of the last things that should be considered following every major decision of the board—whether in a meeting or at the retreat—is “what is the next action” to be taken. Such clear focus on the objectives and the things necessary to accomplish them is essential to provide your affiliate with a successful meeting and event.