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Retreat? Advance? Purpose.

When it comes time to slow down and prepare for the upcoming cycle, some organizations do some off-site planning. We haven’t even started the online poll for food preferences and already we’ve got an argument:


Is it a retreat?


Is it an advance?


Do we have to call it anything?


A retreat can be seen as a space where the daily buzz is nearly completely muted and the focus can be applied to different issues. Maybe focus on how we show up to work. Consider whether the organization is living up to the mission. Take time to just slow down and think. Sometimes people put the word “retreat” into a militaristic context. A “retreat” is running away from the problem. We’re giving up on the hard stuff. We don’t “retreat,” we…


Advance. Taking time away from the office to plan how to be more effective and engaging in the office. How do we “advance” our goals toward our mission and vision? Time taken to plan upcoming events and activities to meet specific, usually numeric, goals.


There are a lot of reasons to choose a name and activities. Does a retreat mean a company-paid vacation for the big wigs? Does an advance mean another day of traditional meetings, just in a different location? Whatever the name is, it must have purpose.


What is your goal? How will you know you’ve had a good retreat? What can we say about the advance to show others it's a good use of time?


A few things to consider:


  1. Meetings: do things you wouldn’t normally do in the office environment in an unusual space. A meeting around a boardroom table in your office is not very different than a meeting around a hotel boardroom. In fact, people may find themselves sitting next to and across from the same people that they would back in the office. Force a bit of mixing among the team.

  2. Activities: one word; ableism. Hiking, kayaking, white water rafting, skiing, climbing, and other activities are fun for people who enjoy them. Folks who don’t do that for their own recreation may have their reasons. There may be people on the team with hidden disabilities that have no business or even comfort strapping on a harness and going on a zip line. “Well, folks can opt out.” Great. Let’s make sure we highlight people who aren’t doing the thing others are doing. Consider a series of options for opting in to different types of activities. If the activity is meant to be engaging and meaningful for all, ensure that it’s accessible to everyone.

  3. Boundaries: it will be healthy to go wild. For real. What is an absolutely bonkers idea that would be squashed, ignited, burned to dust, and thrown to the wind during a regular meeting? Put that idea out there. In a different space with a different mindset that is not focused on the next meeting or an overdue report, there may be traction to start in Bonkersville and take the road trip to Innovation City.

  4. Community: it may not be your speed to fire up the acoustic guitar and make s’mores, but getting people to connect differently can be a huge benefit. It’s more difficult to hold people to unrealistic expectations when you see them as an entire human. They become human when you let their humanity show.

  5. Follow-through: whatever happens at retreat does not stay at retreat. It should inform how the organization moves forward once everyone is back in reality. The ideas, the drive, the energy should be brought back. Silly pics and stories can be shared with permission of participants (Special Note: permission is not the boss asking, “You don’t mind if I share this in the newsletter, do you?”)


Whatever you choose to call this time away from the daily grind to engage in a different kind of thinking, make sure it has purpose. If time is spent feverishly debating “retreat” versus “advance” it’s time to critically examine culture. What should be most important is not the title of the event, but the experience and outcome of the event itself.


Cover Image Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

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