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A Successful Board Retreat


I had a wonderful time facilitating the Strategy and Planning Board Retreat for Panhandle Community Services this weekend! We worked hard and came up with great results that will set the trajectory for the rest of the planning process and for the organization as a whole for many years to come!

This was a post on my Facebook page from a few years back.

So what exactly constitutes a successful board retreat?

I believe there are three very important factors...Read on.


A retreat is just that...A retreat. You are asking your leadership to break away from life, in general, and spend anywhere from 48-72 hours with complete focus on your organization. Therefore you must establish a venue that creates a comfortable, almost vacation-like, atmosphere. That means, if you have available resources, attempt to provide the following items:

  1. Separation - This means away from home...This doesn't necessarily mean hopping on a plane and flying to some exotic location. You can stay in town, just set everyone up at a lodge or hotel at least.

  2. Good Food - You should treat your participants to good food during the retreat. I suggest having at least one evening where the whole group can meet up and let loose a little at a really lovely restaurant.

  3. Ask Spouses to Attend - It is often a good idea for spouses to attend the retreat and provide them something to do while your business meetings are taking place, but certainly, ask them to come along when you are having your social gatherings.

  4. Speaking of Social Gatherings - A retreat doesn't have to be ll business and stuffy team-building activity. Make it fun for participants by allowing plenty of break times, social events, and alone time.

Attendance and Participation

This may seem like an obvious statement, but often organizations find it hard to successfully communicate how important it is for board members to be in attendance at retreats. Moreover, getting them there is step 1; the next thing is to have them participate in activities at the retreat. If you can accomplish the aforementioned list regarding the atmosphere, you will have a head start at fostering attendance and participation...However, here are a few more pointers.

  1. Engage - I can't tell you how many times I have heard stories of board retreats filled with nothing but reports and being talked at with significant, but frankly, boring material. Even the best of us are only good for about 30 minutes at listening to information before we begin zoning out and losing interest. Ensure that you share what information is essential in a concise manner and then ask for input and engage participants in the conversation.

  2. Applicable Content - You should only cover content that applies to the board about their role in the organization (There's another blog about this!). The focus should be given to subject areas, including direction of the organization through the mission and vision, planning, financial oversight, etc...Not to engage in discussion about how Susie, the new Administrative Assistant, does not dress appropriately and is a gossip, that's your job to deal with that.

  3. Unbiased Facilitation - I highly recommend (of course) you hire an unbiased, 3rd party individual or firm to conduct your board retreats. This will help take away turbulent political factors that may be present between the administration and the board, and most firms that offer this service are experienced at facilitating groups and can also help you plan and prepare the event to ensure the highest exposure to success. Hey...I think I know about a great firm that can help with this!

Relationships are Developed/Re-Established

Successful board retreats will always mend broken and/or strengthen existing relationships between board members, administration, and staff. It is best if you always infuse business activities with relationship development activities. These activities may include.

  1. Structured Team Building Activities - Again, these activities can be very effective if facilitated correctly. They can help reveal insights about one another and allow participants to develop/build trust.

  2. Social Events - This was already mentioned...But I genuinely believe you always need to integrate relaxing and fun social events into board retreats. Things like fun dinners, excursions, outdoor activities, movie nights, etc...

  3. Unplanned, Chance Interactions - There should always be some free time during retreats that may lead to board members, administration, and staff coincidentally meeting each other in the hotel lobby and visiting one-on-one or in small groups. These intimate conversations can often impact building or mending a relationship.

Understandably, this certainly is not an all-inclusive list of what entails a successful board retreat, but they will surely give you a better chance for success. Now, onward! Plan the best board retreat in your organization's history...Oh yeah, call Caldwell Business Group if you need a hand with that. We would indeed be honored to help!

Good Luck!

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