Board-savvy CEOs like Carm Basile, Steve Bland, and Susan Meyer have brought off really productive and energizing board-CEO-executive team retreats that have strengthened their boards’ governing capacity and the board-CEO working relationship. By the way, a real retreat (as opposed to just a long meeting) lasts at least a full day and often 1 ½ days. The key to a productive and energizing retreat is a well-structured and facilitated retreat design process that involves selected board members (perhaps your planning and development committee, the governance [or board operations] committee, or an ad hoc design committee) and the CEO in thinking through all of the key elements of the retreat, often with the assistance of a professional facilitator:
- The objectives to be tackled: for example, to update values and vision; to identify and discuss governance issues, and to brainstorm possible governance improvement initiatives
- The structure of the session: for example, that breakout groups will be used to do much of the work, that dress will be casual, that participants will stay overnight
- And the blow-by-blow agenda to guide participants through the process
In addition to the three basic components of your transportation authority’s retreat design, the following factors have helped to ensure the success of hundreds of retreats that I have facilitated or participated in over the years:
- The key retreat design elements are described in detail in a memorandum from the retreat design committee that is transmitted to all invited participants at least a month before the retreat.
- Breakout groups led by board members are employed to generate substantial content and foster active participation.
- The breakout group process is defined in enough detail that everyone knows what they are expected to do.
- The board members who have agreed to serve as breakout group leaders are provided with sufficient orientation and training to ensure success at doing their very visible job.
- No formal decision-making is attempted during the retreat, in order to prevent premature, “seat of the pants” judgments that will be regretted later, as new knowledge and more in-depth deliberations lead to different conclusions than those reached in only a day or two together.
- The follow-through process is thought through before the retreat takes place – for example, that a detailed action report will be generated after the retreat.
- Professional facilitation is employed to keep deliberations on track and to make sure that the objectives are fully achieved.