Spring Into Retreats


Table of Contents

A. Functions, 1

B. Link to Organizational Trends, 1

C. Common Retreat Outcomes, 2

D. Retreat Themes, 4

E. Location, 4

F. The Retreat Process Steps, 4

G. Elements of QWLC Retreats, 5

H. Frequently Asked Questions, 6


Overview. Retreats are an opportunity for an organization’s leadership and other significant participants to take a short breather from the "heat" of routine business. The time is spent gaining a realistic perspective on organizational conditions. From this more realistic perspective decision-makers can alter the course of the organization so that success can be clarified and be more easily achieved with fewer resources. The conditions are normally informal and engaging. Heated dialogue typically punctuates the scene. Seeking the truth about operational conditions is paramount. Reaching concordance about new directions is critical. Synchronizing immediate changes that must take place and assigning accountability as well as identifying needed resources is an imperative.


A. Functions.

A retreat has two functions:

1. To remove the leadership/management team from engagement so that it can more readily take stock of its conditions, and

2. To plan operational adjustments as necessary so that re-engagement will be more effective and efficient.


B. Link to Organizational Trends

1. Retreats can close the "gap" Between Top Leadership and Front-line Employees. The attitudes, innovation, and enthusiasm of those who are the farthest from top leadership and management (on the organization chart) represent most of the strategy-implementing potential of an organization. Inviting selected "centers-of-influence" from that "distant territory" close to the customer effectively creates empathy and closes the information gap. When non-supervisors who are unfamiliar with the top participants attend, top leaders and managers have an added responsibility to help create the atmosphere within which people feel sufficiently comfortable to say what is on their minds.

Excerpt from: 21st Century Organizational Trends: A Foundation for Developing Organization Citizenship

Trend G1 - The "gap" between the front-line and the executive suite

is growing; leaving a battleground of mistrust and misunderstandings that rob the organization of capacity. There is a disconnect between "doing the work" and "developing the capacity to do the work more effectively." Many in senior management positions would argue that the responsibility for making strides in enhanced capacity is within the province of management while the non-supervisory workforce is supposed to do as they are told. When this cultural barrier to improvement pervades, both the individual and the organization loses.

2. Develops Respect. Empathy and respect unfold through sincere dialogue between people of good intentions. Sincerity cannot be judged in any other way than by being in each other's presence. Attempts at any other method will fall short of the mark needed to develop genuine respect.

3. Provides a Conduit for Communications. Not everyone can attend the retreat. Even without being officially informed, the grapevine will let people at the front-line know that a retreat is underway and that things will be discussed that have an impact on them. In the absence of genuine communications from a credible source, front-line employees will make up their own mind as to topics and the tone of dialogue at an off-site retreat - and it is far more likely to be negative than positive. By including credible peers in the retreat, top leadership will have provided a potentially credible resource for those who did not attend.


C. Common Retreat Outcomes.

Retreats of any kind are aimed at:

1. Relieving organization tension or stress. The retreat environment is an ideal time to get relationships straight by engaging in meaningful dialogue. Without a mechanism to reduce organizational tension and stress, it will tend to build until the dysfunction between people prevents high yield from those critical relationships.




2. Collaborative problem solving by key decision-makers. Although extreme collaboration on every issue is probably not the ideal situation, moderate degrees of collaboration between top leaders and managers involving front-line employees is a healthy initiative. Senior executives often complain that they feel out-of-touch with those they serve yet often resist placing themselves in a situation where they can work it out. The retreat environment is an ideal condition to do just that.

3. Team development activities that are both fun and productive. Team development activities often take the form of games that generate fun while teaching lessons about leading, managing, and following. "Learning games" offer a unique alternative to have fun and learn about each other in the process.

4. Getting key decision-makers off-site in a more informal atmosphere. Traditional work environments often prevent learning about each other in a "person-to-person" way rather than a "boss-to-subordinate" way. The retreat environment affords the opportunity to learn about each other's basic similarities without destroying authoritative realities - in fact we believe it strengthens those relationships.

5. Leveling the playing field for a fresh start. Retreats are not a time to "start over." They are a time to make critical shifts toward new directions as a way of building on strong past performance and thinning out weaker initiatives when necessary. The informal atmosphere created during an effective retreat allows for an environment from which innovation can spring.

6. Re-energize individual performance. The retreat environment provides the opportunity for individuals to become re-energized in such a way that organizational performance is increased synergistically. At the foundation of organizational performance is the individual. Individual performance is optimized when synergy is possible - organizational performance will always be below the "Ideal" level when individual performance is sub-optimized.

7. Refresh work group innovation. The retreat environment fosters the premier conditions for out-of-the-box thinking without throwing away the box. Participants are often encouraged to let their imaginations roam and think of new and different ways to solve problems. The traditional meeting environment is replaced with a more functional working environment that places problems at center stage, solutions at center stage, and people in a total support role to make change happen.

8. HAVE FUN LEARNING. Having fun at work is atypical. After all, people aren't paid to have fun. Fun allows people to see each other differently and bask in their similarities rather than the differences that often impede their working together. During the retreat, fun can be a constant, not for the sake of just having fun, but for the chemistry this natural catalyst brings to the productive working relationship equation.


D. Retreat Themes*.

1. Stand-down Retreat. A stand-down retreat is a short duration off-site workshop designed to "regroup" an organization and "reform" an approach which will better lead to success.

2. Diagnostic Retreat. A diagnostic retreat is a retreat during which information is collected and presented that will more clearly enable higher quality decision-making concerning alternative courses of action. (*A QWLC diagnostic retreat uses on-site CapacityWare™ as the diagnostic regimen.)

3. Strategic Planning Retreat. A strategic planning retreat casts a look at the distant organizational horizon so that plans can be made to achieve success over the long haul.

4. Team Development Retreat. A team development retreat is used to improve the performance of team members as they interact to do the jobs expected of them and promote problem solving as they work together.


E. Location.

Retreats are best conducted in off-site and away-from-the-ordinary places to assure participants are not called away from the retreat by routine business. Retreats ought to be held away from the normal work site. The importance of decisions that are made in a retreat environment cannot be overstated. Out-of-the-box thinking is required and is nearly impossible to stimulate in the routine environment. Often, getting out of town completely is the right thing to do, but at minimum retreat planners ought to "get away" to a suitable environment where lofty thoughts are more predictable.


F. The Retreat Process Steps.

1. Pre-retreat Planning. Retreat planning begins long before the actual event. Normally someone in the organization is given the responsibility to organize the retreat. Planning will include date and time coordination, participant selection and notification, location selection and reservations, menu planning, facilitation team selection and involvement, theme creation, agenda design, activity coordination, production planning, and other tasks that emerge based on the design.

2. Pre-retreat Production. All technology that will be used before, during, and after the retreat will be prepared in advance so that last-minute requirements are eliminated or minimized. This includes: handouts, publications, software, video and audio support, identification of equipment, participant aids, and the like.

3. Transition to the Retreat Environment. Regardless of location, regardless of the careful planning and site visits that happen in advance, regardless of the best intentions - something can be expected to go wrong at the last minute before the retreat begins. The facilitation team and support personnel ought to arrive well in advance of the participant group.

4. Conducting the Retreat. Be prepared to execute Plan A, B, or C (always have Plan B and C on paper or in mind) at a moments notice. Refrain from filling the agenda and relying on the agenda to be set and unalterable. The facilitation team and support personnel must be ready to adjust to the needs of the participants quickly. This often means staying "just ahead of the group" and anticipating what their needs will be before they do.

5. Post-retreat Considerations and Actions. When the retreat event is over, the work isn't finished. Transition out is of equal or greater importance than the transition in. The speed with which retreat follow-through occurs will often determine the success of the entire event. After the retreat there will be required follow-through activities that depend entirely upon the agreements made before, during, and after the retreat. Some requirements are predictable, other requirements surface on the spur of the moment. Members of the facilitation team are notorious for promising to follow-through with some action while packing up during transition and then forgetting the promise. There are checklists available to assist with post-retreat activities.


G. Elements of QWLC Retreats.

QWLC handles the entire retreat process so that everyone gets to participate. All too often we find that organizations assign internal people the responsibility to manage the retreat. When this happens, people in the group often participate minimally, or not at all. Key players are neglected at the retreat and the full benefit of the event can be diminished. QWLC retreats are totally managed by QWLC staff. We provide the link to everything from the off-hours entertainment to managing meals. This way everyone gets to focus on what's happening during the sessions.

We also use our own organizational surveys and interpersonal style inventories. Our own materials are unique to QWLC and unique to organization development. We often facilitate retreats around our "RGB Inventory," which identifies participant work style preferences

QWLC retreat services include a comprehensive preparation cycle, and a complete follow through regimen. Every detail is well planned and designed for exacting follow through. Comments from retreat participants are available on request that testify to superior client satisfaction.

1. Introductions with a Twist. We begin with an overview of the session, and move on to introductions that provide an opportunity for participants to portray their overall fit in the organization. Our intent is to break the ice and diminish some of the barriers that may exist to open communications. Our outcome is to facilitate new perspectives and expand work relationship understanding.

2. Learning Games. We use card games or puzzles with a focus on learning about life in the organization. These provide opportunities for fun with a point, usually generate laughter and open the opportunity for some good-hearted banter. We facilitate learning about coworkers and "how things really happen" around the workplace.

3. Theme Module(s). Several suggested theme designs or combinations of designs may be effectively used as the centerpiece of the retreat configuration. The theme module(s) address the compelling rationale for having the retreat. Although those activities that occur before and after will influence the success of the retreat, it is this central theme that must receive the greatest attention in both design and execution for the event to fulfill its intent.

4. Action Planning. Being on retreat often allows participants to expand boundaries and think in new ways as opposed to the circumstances at work where they might be inhibited by familiar surroundings and everyday pressures. We help groups capitalize on the energy and synergy generated. We facilitate practical commitments by the appropriate people to be met in a realistic time frame.

5. Re-entry Preparation. Whether time on retreat lasts one day or one week, returning to the everyday workplace is a challenge. Participants have had an experience that included organizational learning and perhaps even significant revelations. Coworkers who did not attend have been in the midst of "the same old" issues, probably with an extra workload as they covered for those attending. It is important that stories from the retreat are told, learnings are shared, and that there be consistency so that ownership in the results of the retreat can be widely shared.


H. Frequently Asked Questions About Retreats.

1. How often should a retreat be scheduled? We recommend that retreats be scheduled twice yearly, normally Spring and Fall. Many organizations retreat on an annual basis, however. Routinely those on an annual retreat cycle complain that they wish they had more time. Naturally, an organization ought to retreat in the face of any significant condition (such as reorganization, or downsizing, etc.)

2. Who should attend a retreat? We recommend a "slice" of the organization weighted toward senior management. If a union or other bargaining unit exists, representatives should be considered for attendance. We also recommend that some selected non-management personnel attend. These are typically influential people who can accurately tell the story of what happened at the retreat and provide valuable front-line information about what is going on in the depth of the organization.

3. How can we ensure that concrete follow-through happens after the event? It's common for promises to be made, and tentative action plans to be developed during a retreat event only to have those enthusiastic beginnings fall short of expectation a month later. There are three courses that can be followed to help prevent this from happening:

a. Engage an External Facilitation Team for Full Involvement. If the organization is conducting the retreat for "serious" reasons, the problems and solutions surfaced during the retreat ought to have an "external" facilitation team assisting with full implementation. Organization habits die hard, and without an "external" helping, the solutions are apt to be ignored by the same culture that created the issues.

b. Take the "Red Team" to the Retreat. Using RGB Technology, find the best "Red Team," those individuals who often resist leaving the "real work" to be done. Those on the front line who do the day-to-day tasks that keep the organization alive.

c. Document Follow-through Assignments during the Retreat. As part of the retreat model, an essential activity includes "Next Steps." Once accountability has been assigned for follow-through and everyone has a copy of those assignments in-hand at the conclusion of the retreat, something is far more likely to happen. This information can be captured in QWLC’s CapacityWare™ and linked specifically to essential follow-through activities.

4. Can we use our own internal facilitators to conduct the retreat? Yes! There are tradeoffs to consider when you use internal facilitators, however. An "external" group may be able to inject technology into the retreat that might otherwise not be available. The familiar internal facilitation team may be at a distinct disadvantage because of familiarity or because of potential "career defining moments." We recommend that internals become part of the facilitation team lead by an "external" facilitator to form the best combination.

5. How long should a retreat last? Our rule is "at least twelve hours over two calendar days." Naturally, there are exceptions, but our research and our experience support this notion. The most important dialogue takes place only after sufficient barriers are overcome and this takes time. Trying to force this happening in a shorter timeframe just doesn't work. Longer retreats may be more productive, but shorter retreats bear little fruit.






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Quality of WorkLife Consultants

12388 Warwick Blvd., Suite 109B

Newport News, VA 23606

(757) 591-0807