• Annual Retreats, Part 1: Why hold a board retreat?

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    By Lydian Altman and Margaret Henderson

    It is the responsibility of elected and appointed leaders to set a vision and direction for their communities. This function involves convening the stakeholders who can influence the future and modeling strategic leadership so they can all align their work with the shared vision.

    Why hold a retreat? Often this strategic work begins with a one to two day retreat, which can serve multiple purposes. Here are some examples:

    • Provide an opportunity for board members to learn more about each other’s motivations, interests, and work preferences,
    • Clarify their mutual expectations, goals, and identity as a governing board,
    • Receive information about key issues or the current state of the jurisdiction,
    • Establish broad priorities for the organization or community,
    • Develop strategies that are consistent with community values, resources, and limitations, or
    • Define what “success” or “progress” will look like.

    This posting considers some basic elements of putting together a successful retreat, including a link to a retreat planning checklist.

    Advantages of treating this work differently   Retreating from the normal course of business allows governing boards a more relaxed setting that encourages strategic thinking while building relationships. It provides an opportunity to clarify what the board members hope to accomplish together. Ideally, participants will have open and frank discussions about both the critical issues facing their community and their working relationships.

    To be successful as a board, both the strategic focus and daily practices are important. Ideally, a retreat should be a balance of how the board expects to do its work (process) and what the board wants to accomplish (goals).

    Begin with a realistic budget   To begin the planning process, first discuss how or whether the group might benefit by using a facilitator, and agree upon the budget for this event. Ensure the budget is adequate to cover the facility, food, and facilitator. A facilitator’s daily fee can range up to $2,000. Be sure to ask what the rate is applied towards, e.g., pre-event planning, on-site facilitation, and/or post-event documentation. If the group does decide to use a facilitator, the next step is to consider which facilitator might be best suited for the circumstances.

    Given that board retreats are time-limited but could focus on a wide variety of objectives, it is important to hold a planning meeting to set the intention for the retreat. This will be addressed in the next blog post.

    Lydian Altman joined the School of Government in 1999. In her current work with the Strategic Public Leadership Initiative, she consults with elected and appointed leaders to create strategic plans that help organizations set clear priorities, allocate resources to pursue those priorities, and assess progress toward carrying out planned activities.
    Margaret Henderson joined the School of Government in 1999. As director of the Public Intersection Project, she researches and communicates strategies that strengthen cross-sector working relationships for more effective public problem-solving. Her current responsibilities also include teaching in the School’s MPA program.

    One thought on “Annual Retreats, Part 1: Why hold a board retreat?”

    • David Rogers says:

      I notice that you did not include a Board’s making operational or policy decisions — conducting votes — in your “Why Hold A Retreat?” section. I am aware of at least one Town Council that annually goes on retreat two hours or more away from the town they govern for up to three days, making decisions (voting on things) re: issues that really should be taken up publicly. They SAY the meetings are open to anyone, but when those “retreats” are held two hours or more away and require people to be away from work and family — as well as the costs for transportation and lodging that is being provided to the Council members and town employees at taxpayer expense — then those retreats realistically become de facto closed meetings.

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