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Retreat to move your team forward

Tuesday, May 12, 2015  
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By Jackie Sloane

Regina took on a challenging new leadership role. To succeed, she would need to quickly dial up the rigor, energy, commitment and effectiveness of her team.

She had to make some tough personnel calls to achieve the results she envisioned and needed everyone to be more creative, proactive, collaborative and productive. To align everyone on team goals, habits and practices, she invested in a one-day team retreat. After, the team talked about how fun and energizing the day was and how much they learned. A new vibe was palpable, evident in how people worked together even as some team members left and others were hired.

Related: 10 ways to spur innovation

Shortly after the retreat, Regina learned a critical marketing document had serious issues, rendering it unusable. She needed 15,000 copies of a replacement version in six weeks or would miss an important opportunity for her organization. Historically, this piece had taken over a year to create given all the detail, departments and approvals involved. She called her team together to brainstorm an innovative way to address the crisis. Together, they came up with a plan and produced a superior result within the timeframe that all previous evidence had said was not possible. Her people used the urgency of the situation to cultivate more collaborative relationships outside their department and build their reputation in the larger organization, which was one of Regina’s transformational goals, articulated as the retreat was being planned. It was a huge early win for her newly energized and aligned team.

A retreat can be a turning point for an organization, a transformative tool for setting a new tone and direction, impacting how people communicate, think about their roles and the team, and infusing new enthusiasm and commitment. But the power of a retreat rests on how you think about it, the goals you set, how you talk about it with your team and how you design the day and process leading up to it.

Consider these strategic questions as you plan a retreat:

What’s the urgent need for transformation?
A shift in approach, energy or how people work together? A need to dial up energy, enthusiasm, collaboration, creativity? What’s the cost if there’s no change? Being in touch with this is critical to planning.

What’s the transformational goal?
How would the outcome look? What would be happening? We often don’t clarify the new behavior or outcome we want to see. We may know more about what we don’t want.

What must be in place to achieve your transformational goal?
Your team may need details, a better handle on the urgent need for a change and what’s in it for them to operate differently.

What new habits or practices need to be cultivated to achieve the goal?
The team may need new skills, such as how to have challenging conversations. They may need information about how other teams in your functional area achieve similar outcomes. Consider some benchmarking research in preparation for the retreat. Interview team members privately about what they think needs to be in place to move from where the team is now to where you want them to be, and what’s in the way. Share the themes you learned from the interviews and benchmarking in the retreat. With these new ideas, spend time action planning with your team to achieve what hasn’t been possible before.

What changes do you personally need to make in your communication, habits and practices to achieve the transformational goal?
How are you speaking about the retreat and inviting your team? You want people to hear that something important is happening.

How must your team prepare for the retreat to achieve the desired outcome?
What do they need to think about? What information do they need?

What do you need people to take on during the retreat, to create the change you want to create?

You’ll need to think ahead about support structures, such as new responsibilities, outcomes, reporting, task forces and deadlines. Seek new commitments and be rigorous in your follow up.

Keep in mind that a powerful retreat includes some laughter and fun!

Jackie Sloane and associate Anil Saxena work with leaders to create transformational interventions and retreats for Fortune 500, privately held, public sector and not-for-profit entities. They are writing a book on the topic.

Views expressed in blogs, posts and user comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and corporate partners.

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