The Art of Retreat


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A retreat is a meeting designed and organized to facilitate the ability of a group to step back from day-to-day activities. Organizations will reap full benefits if they follow basic rules.

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The Art of Retreat

  1. 1. The views expressed in this presentation are the views of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Asian Development Bank, or its Board of Governors, or the governments they represent. ADB does not guarantee the accuracy of the data included in this presentation and accepts no responsibility for any consequence of their use. The countries listed in this presentation do not imply any view on ADB's part as to sovereignty or independent status or necessarily conform to ADB's terminology. The Art of Retreat Olivier Serrat 2013
  2. 2. On Reflection We learn when we absorb (read, hear, feel), do (activity), and interact (socialize). We also learn when we reflect on experience. • Returning to experience • Attending to feelings • Evaluating experience Reflection is the active process of witnessing experience to examine it more closely, give meaning to it, and learn from it. Individually or collectively, it involves three elements: • Reflection on action • Reflection in action ("thinking on our feet") Reflection can be of two types:
  3. 3. On Reflective Practice Taking time for reflection Enables individuals to think more deeply and holistically about an issue, leading to greater insights and learning. Connects the rational decision-making process to a more effective and experiential learning process. Challenges individuals to be honest about the relationship between what they say and what they do. Creates opportunities to seriously consider the implications of any past or future action. Acts as a safeguard against making impulsive decisions. Reflective practice is the application of the skill of reflection to one's practice to improve performance. It revolves around asking what, so what, and now what.
  4. 4. Forward, March Retreats are for and about reflection. A retreat is a group getaway, typically designed and managed to step back from day-to-day work and reflect on specific issues. Spiritual retreats are integral part of many Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, and Islamic communities, among others. More mundanely, corporate retreats characteristically aim to review a company's core values, explore its mission, and examine challenges and opportunities for the future. A good corporate retreat works in three dimensions—the practical, the ideal, and the political—ignore any one and you are headed for trouble. In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion.— Albert Camus
  5. 5. When to Hold a Retreat There are as many reasons for conducting a corporate retreat as there are challenges facing an organization. The most common are: Helping set or change direction Fostering collective vision Creating a common framework Developing goals, objectives, and budgets Discussing issues Dealing with conflict or confusion Generating creative solutions Building trust and relationships Encouraging conversations Orienting new staff
  6. 6. Tips for Effective Retreats Start at the End Know what you want from the retreat, "your intended outcomes," and how you will follow up the event. Work with a planning group and be clear about these outcomes from the beginning. Be careful not to predetermine results: instead, choose a focus to guide work: "a plan to implement x," "a new strategy for y," "actions to strengthen workflows and business processes," etc. Get Away Allow physical or psychological distance from the office. This is because (i) retreats require lperiods of intense, uninterrupted discussion; (ii) participants are less likely to be interrupted by phone calls and other staff if they are away; (iii) participants can better focus on the topics under discussion; (iv) participants are more like to stay for the entire time; and (v) being "away on retreat" conduces teamwork, creative thinking, and consensus building.
  7. 7. Tips for Effective Retreats Suspend the Rules The workplace carries sets of unspoken rules and implied norms of behavior, especially in a hierarchy. At least during the retreat, remove boundaries and encourage broad ownership of the task as a team. Rein in senior staff and let participants see that all have a voice. Leave formal business attire behind. Work as a Team Retreats are special: do not organize them like a two-day staff meeting or a symposium. Short briefings are useful as background for an activity but time should be spent in deliberation, preferably in smaller groups, with large group discussion of ideas.
  8. 8. Tips for Effective Retreats Discuss the "Undiscussable" All business units have concerns that are not normally put on the table. A retreat can be a time to work on them productively. Small group discussions can help staff vent frustration before they return to a larger group with practical solutions. Do not miss the chance to break through bottlenecks to effectiveness. Keep it Real Avoid simulations, abstract discussions, and lectures from experts. Real tasks energize participants: they should be combined with challenging matters that concern them most in a process that lets them question, deliberate, and propose. "Experts" can serve as resource persons but the combined expertise of staff is normally more than adequate for the job.
  9. 9. Tips for Effective Retreats Do Not Play Games (Just Have Fun) By design, a retreat is less formal than the workplace: this engages people and creates a safe environment. Game-playing may send mixed signals, especially when the organization's culture views it as silly. Creative ways of presenting ongoing work in small groups will allow the humor of participants to break through spontaneously. Mix it Up Variety will hold the interest of participants. Try different size discussion groups, different small group processes, and different ways of sharing group outputs. Avoid organizing things the way you do at the workplace. What is more, people learn (and plan) differently—create opportunities for all participants.
  10. 10. Tips for Effective Retreats Think Big By stepping away from work routines, participants have a chance to rediscover meaning and motivation. Whenever possible, allow them to envision the future of the organization—they can build shared understanding and this is powerful. Staff must then move swiftly from a "bird's eye view" of desired outcomes and goals and translate them into concrete results. Think Small Staff and management want concrete results. Discussing the "nuts and bolts" of implementation means the difference between good intentions and real follow- up. There will not be time to consider all details. But, draft basic timetables and assign responsibility for follow-up before you close the retreat.
  11. 11. Tips for Effective Retreats Just Do It Deliberation is great; deliberative action is better. The climax of a good retreat should be decisions for new action. A poorly planned retreat will not leave enough time for this and the lack of follow-up will be obvious. Get Professional Help A facilitator with expertise in group processes and dynamics and team and consensus building can help plan a retreat. During the event, he or she can facilitate group discussions and capture key points. After the retreat, he or she can provide a report summarizing the discussions, decisions made and actions to be taken. The facilitator should have no stake in the matters at hand: his or her sole interest should be to make the retreat successful.
  12. 12. A Retreat Planning Checklist • What is the purpose of the retreat? • Who supports the idea of holding a retreat? Who opposes the idea? • Will all key participants be able to attend? How much time are they willing to spend at the retreat? • Will specific tools, methods, and approaches of reflective practice be used, e.g., critical incident technique, effective questioning, the five whys technique, peer assists, rich pictures? • What criteria will we use to determine that the retreat was successful? Purpose
  13. 13. A Retreat Planning Checklist • Where will the retreat be held? • Are the rules governing the use of the room acceptable? • Can the room be arranged as we want it? • Are the chairs comfortable? • Is there good control over lighting and air conditioning? • Can we have food, snacks, and refreshments in the room? • Who will provide food, snacks, and refreshments? • Can we hang flip chart paper on the walls? • How will breaks and meals be handled? • Will overnight accommodation be needed? Location
  14. 14. A Retreat Planning Checklist • Do we need an outside facilitator? • Who will facilitate? • How much experience does the facilitator have with groups like ours? Facilitator • What equipment will be needed? • Who will provide it? • Who will operate it? Equipment • Do we want to record the meeting? • What kind of retreat report do we need? Recording and Reporting
  15. 15. When Not to Hold a Retreat Retreats will not help if the organizer has no intention (or ability) to follow through or act on the suggestions of participants or if the intention is to: Fulfill a covert agenda Make an individual's problem the group's problem Talk at participants instead of with them Improve morale Treat the retreat as a reward
  16. 16. Further Reading • ADB. 2008. Appreciative Inquiry. Manila. • ——. 2008. Conducting Successful Retreats. Manila. • ——. 2009. Conducting Effective Presentations. Manila. presentations • ——. 2009. Conducting Effective Meetings. Manila. • ——. 2010. Engaging Staff in the Workplace. Manila.
  17. 17. Further Reading • ADB. 2011. Learning in Conferences. Manila. • ——. 2012. Future Search Conferencing. Manila.
  18. 18. Quick Response Codes @ADB @ADB Sustainable Development Timeline @LinkedIn @ResearchGate @Scholar @SlideShare @Twitter