When, over a decade ago, the Capital District Transportation Authority Ad Hoc Retreat Design Committee decided to invite the representatives of several stakeholder organizations, including the Capital District Regional Planning Commission and Office of the Governor, to attend their 1 ½-day strategic planning retreat, some committee members felt pretty apprehensive. Would the presence of external representatives inhibit discussion? Would these outsiders dilute the impact of CDTA Board members and exert undue influence in the several breakout groups they’d planned to use as engagement and content generation vehicles? They needn’t have worried. The benefits of stakeholder involvement far outweighed the modest risk, as it turned out. And stakeholders have ever since become a staple of CDTA board-executive team retreats.
You can think of a stakeholder, by the way, as any organization outside of your transportation authority with which it makes sense to build and maintain a working relationship because significant stakes are involved, such as political support, knowledge, and sometimes even funding. As CDTA and a growing number of other transportation authorities have learned in recent years, stakeholder involvement in board-executive team retreats can add pizzazz to your retreat while making it a high-impact event, by:
- Familiarizing key stakeholders with your authority. The old saw is wrong. Familiarity, far from breeding contempt, fosters understanding and lays a foundation for future support.
- Contributing valuable information to your deliberations, especially in breakout groups – new perspectives, experience, and technical knowledge.
- Building your leadership team’s understanding of stakeholders, making it easier to build mutually-beneficial partnerships with them.
- And generating positive feelings about your authority among stakeholders, who, in my experience, always appreciate being invited to participate in a retreat even if they’re unable to send a representative for one reason or another. The invitation is a way of saying, “We value you as a partner and want your input.” It’s also a way of communicating that your authority is so secure and self-confident that it isn’t the least bit worried about inviting outsiders to a critical planning event.
Of course, you’ll want to make sure that your retreat is so well-planned (clear objectives, well-defined breakout groups, capable facilitation, etc.) that a positive stakeholder experience is all but guaranteed. My last post, “Tips On Running a Successful Retreat,” shares some very practical ways you can make every retreat a productive and positive event.