Is this the right location for your strategic planning retreat?
By Janine Vanderburg, CEO, Joining Vision and Action
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Strategic planning: Where to hold your retreat
When designing strategic planning retreats with clients, I’m often asked: Do you know where we can hold our retreat?
Some criteria for a retreat location site that facilitates good conversation and creative, strategic thinking are:
- Ability to configure tables and seating into pods of 4-5 people. We know from years of experience—and this is now supported by research—that organizing people into small groups will produce more ideas and better ideas in a short amount of time. The typical long conference table found in corporate board rooms does not lend itself to creative full day sessions.
- Lots of usable wall space. Beware of sites that don’t let use post flip chart paper on the walls. Or write in marker on the flip chart paper. And that absolutely refuse to allow you to post up sticky screens, even with painter’s tape.
- Space to move around, but not so much space that you lose the feeling of we’re in this together to address an issue. Last year, I facilitated a session in a room that was so narrow that I was stuck in a corner the entire time, and it was distracting every time someone wanted to get up. Alternatively, 10 people in a 2,500 square foot space is going to feel a bit like a party where not many people showed up. It makes a difference in people’s attitudes.
- Inside. We want people to focus on the dialogue and the strategy, not the weather. We like a source of natural light, but not direct sunshine and distracting mountain views. And certainly not wind.
- Posh is not necessarily great. I’ve facilitated board retreats in luxury hotels. But carved wood and fabric-covered walls make it challenging to post output of productive conversations.
- Free is not necessarily great. Generous board members often offer their homes and offices. Sometimes they meet the criteria above, but believe me, it’s awkward to start rearranging furniture and taking artwork off the walls in a board member’s home. Additionally, the site may lack the neutrality that is important for successful retreats.
- Values fit. My colleague Adam Brock talks about the importance of a retreat site fitting your values. For example, an animal activist organization might not want to have its retreat in a mountain lodge decorated with stuffed animal heads.
The JVA Space
Why I like our space at JVA: We have whiteboards, sticky walls and tons of wall space to showcase the output of productive conversations and group consensus. Retreat participants can see that they are getting work done, and they have visual reminders throughout the day of what they have accomplished. We’re right across from Sloan’s Lake, making it easy to take in nature during breaks.
What if you don’t have time to visit a possible site? Make sure to get copies of the room layouts and photos of all sides of the room before saying yes. Ask if there are restrictions on use of walls, and whether it’s OK to move tables around. You’ll have a much more productive and fun experience.
Like this topic? To find out what science has to say about it check out Strategic Planning Sessions: Location does make a Difference.