Next week I’ll be facilitating a “strategic work session” (popularly known as a retreat) for the boards of directors and executive staff of two closely related organizations: the International and American Associations for Dental Research. We’re tackling a power-packed agenda that deals with strategic questions – such as values, vision and high-stakes opportunities and challenges – and with the governing role, structure and processes of these two associations. That’s a lot to chew on in only a day together, and bringing together so many people in one room to deal with so many complex questions might seem more than a little daunting. Certainly history might make you feel a bit apprehensive at the prospect. If you’ve been through many retreats yourself, you’ll undoubtedly be able to come up with some juicy horror stories about retreats you’ve seen fall apart in the middle or leave participants disappointed at how little they achieved for all the time spent. And I can’t tell you how many times over the years I’ve heard true stories of retreats that got everyone revved up, only to have the warm glow fade quickly and end up making little difference over the long haul because of lack of follow-through.
The Executive Director of IADR/AADR, Chris Fox, and I feel really confident that the IADR/AADR strategic work session will be a real winner that will generate a powerful return on the two associations’ investment of time and money in the event. In fact, although we see the upcoming meeting as a high-stakes affair, we don’t view it as high-risk. Why do we feel so confident despite the dismal history of retreats that have gone awry in other organizations? The answer is simple: OWNERSHIP. This very powerful human feeling, in our experience, is the glue that holds complex meetings together, and the fuel that makes significant follow-through action possible.
Experience has taught that fostering feelings of ownership of an event like a retreat or of a set of follow-through actions comes from early involvement in shaping them. So we involved an “ad hoc strategic work session design committee” representing both boards in developing the detailed design for next week’s event: the objectives, structure, and blow-by-blow agenda. As the consultant to IADR/AADR, I interviewed the members of the ad hoc committee and prepared a recommended agenda for their detailed review that is based on these interviews. Therefore, several board members already own the upcoming work session. And our design for our day together next week includes seven breakout groups led by board members that will generate the content that I’ll use in fashioning the action report following up on the work session. This kind of detailed involvement in the session will without question generate feelings of ownership that will help to fuel follow-through actions.
I’ll let you know how it goes next week, and I’ll welcome hearing from you about how you’ve put ownership to work in getting things done in your organization.