Your Board Retreat: Tips for Success

 Board Retreats are an effective way to address issues needing deeper discussion. The retreat can pave the way for lasting organizational change. Usually lasting a half or full-day, your Board members will have an opportunity to address one or two salient issues and to go deeper than usual. The Board retreat should provide a safe haven for team building and important, or even urgent, issues to be well vetted.

Here are tips which will position your Board retreat for ultimate success:

  • Location: In order to avoid interruptions, the retreat should be off site at a location away from your organization’s headquarters or the home or office of any of the Board members.
  • Time allotment: Generally allot two and a half times that of a normal Board meeting.  So if your Board normally meets for an hour and a half, then a three and a half to four hour retreat might be the most effective time frame. But if you have more than two or three substantive issues more time is required.
  • Jazzy high tech stuff: Ok, chalk it up to my advancing age, but high tech tools such as power point is counterproductive and therefore not encouraged.  What you are seeking is to engage the Board in an open, frank discussion and stimulating dialogue so don’t let anything get in the way.
  • The role of staff/counsel: The retreat needs to be about the Board and not about staff/counsel.  This is their time to engage and vet issues of prime importance, rather than for staff/counsel to demonstrate their presenting skills.  Staff /counsel’s role should therefore be limited to that of facilitator.
  • Seating: This may seem like minutia, but it’s not. Avoid “classroom” seating, which inhibits open communication and instead opt for seating around a conference table or, if the retreat is in a home, casually about the room.  You want everyone to see each other.
  • Hospitality: Have plenty of time-breaks, plenty of good drinks and good eats! We don’t recommend alcoholic beverages. This is a business retreat.
  • Agenda: Intersperse the agenda with exercises, actual tasks for the Board to work on in smaller groups. For example, if your purpose is to start the process of constructing a campaign case, ask the Board to list some areas of what makes your organization unique?  Then, ask everyone to share their insights with the whole group.
  • Humor: Levity is always welcomed.  Consider having a fun quiz at the end of the retreat where I review what we decided and also note what’s been left for another time.
  • Follow-up: A retreat is not necessarily an end, but rather could also be the beginning of your decision making process.  Within a week after the retreat, send a confidential report to the Board, listing areas of consensual agreement with timeline recommendations and then start the next Board meeting by reviewing that report.
  • Action:   In order to move forward, select consensus items should be addressed as action items on the agenda of upcoming Board meetings.

A Board retreat represents an opportunity and it can provide the impetus for positive, organizational change if planned well.



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