The Board of Directors, a number of senior volunteers, and the
executive team of the American Association of Diabetes Educators (AADE)
participated in an intensive, daylong retreat in early November 2007.
Participants fashioned preliminary values and vision statements, explored
strategic issues, and identified opportunities to strengthen the Board's
governing capacity. Building on this highly productive session, AADE has
implemented a number of significant governance improvements, including a new
structure of Board governing committees. As you know, retreats don't
automatically go well, and stories of the "retreat from hell"
abound. Who hasn't witnessed events that unraveled halfway through to the
sound of rancorous debate, that wasted everyone's time in laboriously
word-smithing a three-sentence vision statement, or were written in sand,
resulting in no concrete actions?
How did AADE beat the odds and bring off a really powerful
retreat? This is what I recently discussed with AADE's CEO, Lana
single factor, in your opinion, was most critical to the success of the AADE
Without question, involving a "strategic work session design
committee" headed by the AADE president and consisting of four other Board
members and myself in coming up with a detailed gameplan for the work session -
its objectives, the blow-by-blow agenda, and the structure (for example,
whether to use breakout group work) - was THE factor that, above all else,
determined our success. With our really strong-willed, opinionated cast
of characters, if we'd gone into the retreat without a clear definition of what
we wanted to accomplish and how we would go about it, the meeting could easily
have turned into a disaster. And we made sure that everyone involved in
the retreat received the description (5 pages long, by the way) from the
committee well in advance so they weren't caught off guard.
What else contributed to the retreat's success?
Especially important was the use of nine breakout groups over the course of our
day together, with three groups meetings concurrently in each of three
rounds. The groups, which were provided with clear charges and a
well-defined methodology to follow, not only guaranteed active participation,
they also turned the Board members who led the groups into real owners of the
retreat, rather than just participants. And, by the way, we made sure
that breakout group leaders were thoroughly oriented on their roles well in
advance of the retreat so that they succeeded in leading their groups.
The last thing we wanted was for one or more of our Board colleagues to have a
bad experience - in public no less.
How did you make sure AADE realized a powerful return on the retreat?
took two other steps to make sure the day we spent together was worth the
investment. First, we retained a consultant to work with the design
committee in designing the retreat and to facilitate the deliberations, making
sure that we stayed on track and accomplished the goals we'd set for
ourselves. We made sure that our facilitator was really a governance
expert as well as having a solid track record of running complex meetings like
ours. We weren't about to take any chances on an amateur! Second,
we asked the members of the design committee to serve as the
"implementation steering committee," working with our facilitator in
developing a detailed action plan for following through on the retreat and
getting the Board's agreement on particular action steps, such as adopting an
updated committee structure. The stakes were too high to risk the
"written in sand" syndrome.