Interesting Techniques for Retreats & Strategic Planning

Seek a remote location to run strategic planning retreat
Seek a remote location to run strategic planning retreat

The purpose of a strategic plan is to document what your business does, who your customers are and what are your plans for success. The process for establishing the vision (which defines the future state of the company) and the mission (which describes the goals and purpose of the company) is often best accomplished by scheduling a retreat for the business team away from the everyday workplace.

Strategic Planning Retreat Techniques

As facilitator, your first task is to pick a date and location that suits your timing and budget, typically a weekend within a few hours driving distance. Popular destinations include sites which offer opportunities to partake in local outdoor activities which may serve to inspire the participants. For example, planning an event in New England in the fall may include an afternoon forest hike to view the autumn foliage.

Establish an agenda, invite participants and communicate the ground rules for participation before leaving. Provide some initial reflection questions so that once at your event, participants will be ready to think strategically. Your goal is to provide opportunities to reflect on tough questions, discuss new ways to handle challenging situations and propose solutions while allowing for some relaxation and novel team building.

Begin the first day with a team ice-breaker activity such as each person introducing themselves with a little known fact about themselves such as "I was a high school cheerleader." Then continue by brainstorming completions to a thought provoking sentence such as "For our company to be successful, we must excel at these three things." Provide materials (such as paper, markers and flip-chart easel pads) to record ideas as they unfold throughout the retreat. Provide group activities so that small groups can take a realistic and candid look at the possibilities and challenges. You may decide to maintain a list of topics you do not want to discuss as well. Set expectations that the team can do the unexpected. Plan a reinforcing activity such as supplying participants with potatoes and straws so they can experience what happens when they each position a potato on the edge of a table, hold the finger over one end of the straw and attempt to pierce the potato with the straw.

If you have a large group, divide the participants into smaller groups to clarify goals, recommend different approaches and produce a concluding report. An interesting technique to accomplish this task includes each person writing a letter from five years in the future to describe what the company has achieved to currently assembled group. Alternatively, pass out postcards and instruct participants to describe the retreat events. Plan to mail these in three months to each participant.

Ultimately, decide what you want to communicate and with whom to share the results. Depending on your company's size, structure and culture, the results may be the strategic plan itself or the groundwork for subsequent meetings.

Often, even if participants leave an event energized, they lose enthusiasm for executing the plan once back into the chaos of everyday life. Support the team with follow-up meetings to continue pursuing the goals established during the retreat.

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