Annual Strategy Retreats

Let’s be honest, growing business is extremely difficult. This notion is attested by the fact that 1 in 3 businesses fail in the first 2 years. There are numerous reasons why businesses fail; however, a leading cause of business failures centers around the inability of leaders to develop a clear vision for the company and communicating that vision to their staff, especially the executive leadership. Regardless of how technically strong or intelligent a leader might be, unless they can communicate vision they are unlikely to be successful. As part of this process, leaders need to build a culture centered on accountability and trust.

Chris Alexander is a huge advocate of annual retreats, focused on strategy sessions. He attributes these annual retreats as contributors to success in building cohesive and strong teams in both the for-profit and non-profit sectors. Listed below are several recommendations for consideration when planning the annual retreat:

  • Select an offsite location. This is very important as this event needs to be viewed as different than a normal staff meeting. One option is to have the meeting at an out of town retreat center that includes an overnight stay; this helps facilitate building strong bonds between team members not possibly during the "daily grind".
  • Prior to the meeting, an agenda needs to be put together by the group leader. Idealistically, there should be a single focus for the retreat. For the first several retreats, it is recommended that the focus be centered on building relationships. For groups not used to participating in annual retreats, the closeness experienced during retreats can be an unusual experience as the interaction among team members is often more intense than experienced in daily interaction.
  • Team members should be given “homework” prior to the meeting. Suggestions include reading a book, or select chapters, in a book. One of the best books on the market for team building is Patrick Lencione’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.
  • Personality tests, such as the DISC test, are an excellent way to help team members get to know each other and also explore their own strengths and weaknesses. Members should take the test prior to the retreat and the leader should compile the results so they can be reviewed and discussed at the retreat (see example graph below). A simple version of the DISC test can be downloaded by clicking here.

  • During the retreat, someone should be “recording” responsibilities to help facilitate follow-up after the meeting's over. It’s easy to get back in the groove upon returning to the office and not complete mutually-agreed on responsibilities.
  • If you’re a leader and not comfortable hosting and facilitating the retreat – hire someone! It’s completely acceptable to bring someone from the outside to facilitate meetings and retreats. It will free you up as a leader to listen to your group. Don’t let this concern get in the way of using retreats to strengthen the bonding of your team members and set vision for the future.
  • Post-meeting follow-up is extremely important. Although having a good time and building relationships at the retreat is very important, the real “metric” of success of the retreat (or any meeting for that matter) is measured by what happens after the retreat. Every retreat should produce a Roles & Responsibility Chart (or a formal document like it) that establishes who’s in charge of getting stuff done!

Retreats can be a powerful resource for leaders. It should be recognized that the first several retreats can seem awkward for a group not accustomed to open dialogue and honest interactions; however, if a leader is willing to "push through" early challenges in hosting retreats, the long-term results can be incredible.