We all know that extended meetings are hard to schedule and coordinate. Regardless of the challenge, the fact remains that there are occasions that demand more time than a typical 60-minute meeting as we deal with issues of planning, goal setting, and problem solving. Following are seven ways to ensure a successful retreat meeting with productive and positive interaction.
- Schedule around key leaders. There are certain people who must be present at meetings. If major decisions are going to be made, the key leaders need to be in the room. Check their schedule first and coordinate accordingly.
- Get input on the agenda. Although you may have a sense of what you need to accomplish, there may be separate issues on others’ minds. You will need to include their thoughts on agenda items; this will help to provide more enthusiastic participation as participants are allowed to address issues they feel are important.
- Have your agenda be “action oriented”. This means decisions need to be made, tasks accomplished, objectives set, and problems solved. Sometimes even with the best of intentions, meetings become about reporting information, which can be put in written form and read at any time. Make sure you have an opportunity to make things happen at the meeting.
- Be aware that everyone needs to participate. There are always individuals who are more introverted and not as eager to speak up. A good facilitator knows how to encourage participation from everyone and keep the tone non-judgmental as people put forth suggestions, solutions, and their own thoughts.
- Record and chronicle the discussions. Taking minutes can be a tedious process. While not every word needs to be taken down and shared later, it is important to capture significant thoughts, ideas, and discussions as they happen. Even though we may think we will be able to remember the high points of a given meeting, it is always surprising how quickly the details can be lost.
- Build in social time. Although we have business objectives when we plan any type of extended meeting or retreat session, often the part that people look most forward to is the social time. People are social creatures and the opportunity to interact after the session over dinner with spouses and guests has the potential to be as valuable as the work session that was conducted. It is an opportunity for people to get comfortable with each other in a different setting and ultimately creates a trust environment which will be more productive for the organization in the long run.
- Follow up. It is not unusual that even with the best discussions and productive time spent at a retreat, decisions and actions may be set aside for some period of time before everyone is reminded. As assignments are made, people commit to certain activities. Follow up with a reminder to everyone on what was agreed.
Things happen when people get together. When we provide the right structure and plan in advance, the odds of a successful session improve dramatically.