Top 10 Checklist for Retreat Planning

When you are considering a staff retreat,

here is the top 10 list of key planning determinants:

1. Purpose and Themes

Understand the purpose of your retreat. Knowing why you want a retreat will moderate all other planning decisions. List everything you need to achieve with your team, and select the most critical topics. Retreats are meaty, requiring intense thinking and emotional investment. Each theme takes considerable time to address thoroughly. Retreats are fatiguing. Even the fun is fatiguing! So define a narrow focus.


2. Goals and Desired Outcomes

Identify the outcomes you desire. Only after you have determined the purpose of your retreat can you focus on your exact goals. Staff retention? Sustained performance? Wake-up call? Motivation? Clarity? Business or divisional planning with staff input? Determine what you want each staff member to leave with, what changes you want to foster within employees and within the team, and what your team will leave with as a unit.

Outcomes can include not only improvements in staff performance and workplace cohesion but also the way the retreat will make employees feel and how the experience will be imprinted on them afterward.


3. Location

Go off-site. The key is to get away from daily demands by securing an off-site venue, controlling the environment and buffering staff from distractions. In general, the more unique the environment, the better it will be for shifting attention away from daily business and personal demands to the open- and creative-minded focus of retreats.


4. Budget

Determine the retreat budget. Apart from obvious expenses such as travel and accommodations, factor in any short-term loss of revenues from the retreat itself, including hours spent preparing resources for the retreat and the cost of shifting staff focus from “in the business” to “on the business” while you are off-site.


5. Moderator: Internal or External?

Decide who will moderate the retreat. You may want to act as the moderator yourself, or you may prefer to hire someone with experience as a facilitator.


6. Schedule

Settle on the dates and the number of days. Retreats usually range from 3 to 6 days, including travel time. Determine what workdays you are willing to sacrifice, if any.


7. Business Agenda

Once you have defined your themes and know the budget, location and duration of your retreat, think through what you will cover each day, who will present which topics, what group or subgroup(s) will attend and interact, and what preparation will be required. Give ample lead time to permit everyone to be successful. Include meal plans and activities, along with initial to-do checklists.


8. Team Builders

In addition to your business items, factor in experiences designed to foster trust, disclosure and inclusiveness. The most important part of a retreat is setting the stage to facilitate the interaction needed to move the group successfully to your objective and desired outcomes. Plan some interactive activities (e.g., disclosure exercises, personal sharing and team challenges) to help people feel open, creative, supportive and close. Map out your ideas. It is important that some occur at the beginning, to set the stage for participation in the retreat; however, others can be interspersed throughout the schedule. These activities require an emotional investment and respectful attention by co-workers, so be careful how long they run.


9. Social Activities

Don’t leave social cohesion to chance or expect it to be a byproduct of success. Fun, engaging, let-your-hair-down moments can still be very purposeful. Plan ways to include these. Your social activities need not be expensive. The key with these activities is to make sure it becomes an event, with the host groups investing thought, consideration and effort to provide a good experience for co-workers.


10. Movement Experiences

Include opportunities for movement. Short respites from the meet-and-talk business agenda or longer outings interspersed with breakout sessions will be key to having fun and staying fresh and attentive. Know your co-workers, and plan regularly scheduled breaks to help them stay alert and enthusiastic. Of course, movement experiences can be social and team-building in nature as well; for example, you might plan a sunset run at the beach, followed by a fire-pit circle to capture the moment and get staff to speak from the heart on why they are in this industry, why this team is important to them and what they will do to help everyone succeed.

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