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Checklists for Managing a Retreat

January 23, 2003
Related Topics: Ergonomics and Facilities, Featured Article
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Two different sections follow. First, there are checklists for the convener.Then, there are checklists for the facilitator.

Checklists for the Convener

    1. Overall Retreat Logistics

--After selecting the facilitator, consult with him or her on the appropriatelength for the retreat.

--Determine when the facilitator is available for your retreat.

--Check available dates with senior managers whose participation in theretreat is critical to its success.

--Select a retreat facility and determine dates when it is available for yourgroup. (Your facilitator may have suggestions for appropriate facilities.)

--Announce the retreat and give participants two or three options for dates.They should tell you which dates, if any, do not work.

--Contract with the retreat facility for the dates you choose.

--Make arrangements for transportation, meals, lodging, and audiovisualsupport required.

--Announce the dates of the retreat and provide participants with theinformation they need, including lodging arrangements; directions to the site;recreational options, if any; the dress code; and how family members can getmessages to them during the retreat.

--Ask invitees to confirm their participation, indicate any food preferencesor limitations, and supply emergency contact information. 

2. Assessing Facilitators

    When you check facilitators’ references, try to find out as much as you canabout their ability to do the following:

--Listen accurately to what others are saying without injecting their ownbiases.

--Be neutral (and be perceived to be neutral) about the outcome of thediscussions.

--Suspend judgment of retreat participants.

--Understand multiple perspectives, help bring them to the surface, andresist colluding with the group in avoiding thorny issues.

--Encourage participants whose viewpoints may not be popular to speak out,and urge others to listen.

--Help retreat participants recognize and deal with any behavior that mightbe hampering the group’s work.

--Deal skillfully with the members of the group who might not want to accepttheir guidance.

--Empathize with others.

--Analyze and summarize key issues.

--Remain comfortable with ambiguous situations and those they do not control.

--Recognize and manage differences that may stem from the diversity(cultural, racial, gender, age, sexual orientation, and so forth) of theparticipants.

--Hear feedback from the participants without becoming defensive.

--Adjust their approach, acknowledge missteps, and ask for help when theyneeds it.

3. Finding the Right Retreat Site 

    Look for a retreat site with:

--Soundproof rooms, so you won’t have to compete with a speaker with amicrophone on the other side of a thin wall.

--Hard-surfaced, easy-to-move tables that don’t have to be covered bytablecloths.

--Comfortable chairs--either padded, rolling executive style or comfy sofasand upholstered chairs.

--Enough room in the main meeting space to allow participants to circle thechairs and work away from the tables when needed.

--Space to use for breakout groups: either a main room with moveable chairs,large enough for groups to move away from each other, or smaller rooms adjacentto the main space or very close by.

--Ample supplies of flip chart easels and pads, masking tape, and markers.

--Space where people can congregate informally to talk or grounds where theycan walk.

--Snacks and drinks available all day, rather than just at scheduled breaks. 

Checklists for the Facilitator 

    1. Structuring the Interview Questions

    The success of the retreat will depend in large measure on your ability toask questions that get to the heart of the issues. Here are some questions weoften ask, which we recommend you modify to suit the needs of the organizationyou are working for.

--What do you think is most important to accomplish at this reatreat?

--What might impede the group’s ability to achieve that outcome?

--[If this group has held retreats before:] What did you find most helpful atthe last retreat? Did you find anything troubling or frustrating about the lastretreat and the actions that resulted from it?

--What words would you use to describe your experience at [yourorganization]?

--What do you think is going well at [your organization]? What do you likemost about it?

--How would you describe relationships among the staff? Between staff andmanagement? [Or between the staff and the board?]

--In every organization there is some conflict, disagreement, or differenceof opinion. How is conflict or disagreement handled at [your organization]?

--If you had the power to change anything at [your organization], what wouldyou change?

--Of the changes you said you’d like to see, are there any that you thinkwould not be possible? Why not?

--How do you feel about taking part in this retreat?

--Do you have any concerns about what might take place?

--Is there anything else you think I should know, anything I haven’tthought of asking, or anything you’d like to add to something you’ve alreadysaid? 

2. Matching the Retreat Design with the Convener's Expectations

    Is your design:

--Suitable for the participants, taking into consideration their level ofexperience and expertise and their comfort level with certain types ofactivities?

--Focused sharply on delivering the expected outcomes?

--Likely to engage the participants so they are strongly committed to thedecisions they make?

--Attentive to using participants’ time wisely?

--Adaptable enough to allow for changes if something unexpected happens, butstill able to move the group toward the desired outcomes?

--Flexible enough for participants to have time to discuss how decisionsreached at the retreat will be implemented and integrated into the organization’swork? 

3. Setting the Conditions for Design Success

    Have you:

--Come to clear agreement with the convenor about mutual expectations?

--Interviewed participants and other relevant stakeholders in advance?

--Provided enough variety in the retreat activities?

--Included in your design opportunities for people to think before theyspeak?

--Allowed for spontaneous changes to the retreat plan?

--Built in unstructured time?

--Devised activities that will force participants to make hard choices?

--Left adequate time for action planning?

--Provided an appropriate close?

4. Inspecting the Meeting Room

--Room Arrangement. Are the chairs and tables set up exactly as you planned?If not, move them now.

--Your Materials. Is there a table for your notes and supplies? Has thefacility provided the supplies you requested, such as pads of writing paper ormasking tape?

--Wall Space. Where will you post flip chart pages as they are filled? Isaccess to the walls blocked by tables, chairs, or lamps? Will you have to postthem on windows? Where will you put charts as the walls fill up?

--Equipment Supplied by the Facility. Do you have the right number of easelsand pads of flip chart paper? Are the pads full, or do some only have a fewsheets left? Is all the AV equipment you ordered in the room and set upproperly? Does it work? Do you have extra bulbs for your projector?

--Markers. If you haven’t brought boxes of new markers, have you testedevery marker supplied by the facility and discarded those that are dried out?

--Facilities. Do you know where the bathrooms are? Where the snacks will beset up? Where lunch and dinner will be served?

--Participant Place Setups. Are the supplies--markers, writing pads, andpens or pencils--and handouts that participants need in place? Do you haveextras in case they’re required?

5. The Facilitator’s Toolkit

    No matter how dependable the retreat facility seems, we always bring thesethings with us:

--Several sets of fresh markers, in black, blue, green, and red.

--Two sizes of Post-it® Notes, in multiple colors, one of each for everyparticipant, plus about 20 percent extra.

--Name tags for the participants.

--Several rolls of masking tape.

--Colored labeling dots (for "voting" on choices).

--Pocketknife or box cutter for opening boxes of supplies, if you ship themahead. (Note: You’ll have to check these items if you are flying to theretreat site.)

--Bell, chime, whistle, or whatever you like to use to indicate the beginningand ending of timed exercises.

--A timer (so you won’t have to keep looking at your watch during timedexercises).

Excerpted from Retreats That Work: Designing and Conducting EffectiveOffsites for Groups and Organizations by Sheila Campbell and Merianne Liteman(November 2002; $45.00, Paperback) by permission of Pfeiffer/A Wiley Imprint.

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