PoA #015: Avoiding Snoozefest: Conducting An Effective and Engaging Staff Retreat

PoA #015: Avoiding Snoozefest: Conducting An Effective and Engaging Staff Retreat

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Many athletics departments start of the new academic year with a staff retreat, but how many people actually enjoy these meetings or find them useful? Usually, not many.

There are simple ways to make sure your next staff retreat accomplishes something useful, engaging and energizes your staff and provides you with a framework for follow up during the year ahead.

The three keys for planning and facilitating effective staff retreats are:

  1. Define your objectives.
    • What do you want to accomplish at this retreat?
    • What will participants gain from being a part of this meeting?
  2. Create engagement.
    • Do some staff members spend most of the meeting looking like they’d rather be anywhere else but here?
    • How do you encourage the ‘quiet ones’ and reign in the soap box pontificators?
  3. Keep it alive.
    • Will staff members take away useful information and skills that they will need to use or benefit from?
    • Two months into the schools year, will they remember what the retreat topic(s) was all about?

I’ve made plenty of efforts to develop department staffs over the years. Some retreats were better and more productive than others, but I always took time to create an agenda that was meaningful for everyone. There are many reasons for and benefits to bringing your entire staff together. However, people value their time and you should, too. Retreats should not simply be a social gathering, nor should they be eight hours of intense training. Finding the right formula requires careful thought and often trial and error. The following brief overview provides a framework for planning a productive staff retreat . 

Planning With Purpose

Begin with the end in mind and define what you want people to learn, do or provide as a results of being in the staff retreat.

  • BYO-ROI. Decide why you want to consume a full day (or more!) of people’s time. Is their return on the investment of time going to yield something positive? It better. Nobody wants to sit in meaningless meetings. You need to be clear not only on what you believe is the return on investment, but clarify it in terms of participant investment.
  • Don’t go it alone. Involve others in the planning and development of the retreat agenda, including coaches, support staff and student-athletes. If you are involving outside people, make sure they understand the overall objectives of the retreat so they can tailor their presentation/information to fit your agenda.
  • Tight and flexible. The retreat agenda must be clear, structured and focused to accomplish your objectives. You must plan carefully to allow enough time to get through the entire agenda. However, it must be flexible enough to allow for natural creative flow. Don’t cut off productive and stimulating discussion for the sake of reaching your intended time limit for an agenda topic.
Creating Quality Engagement

Even with an expectation that people participate, you must create multiple opportunities to actively engage every person in the room.

  • Establish individual investment. Ask each person to state what they hope to accomplish and learn from the retreat. This 1) gets people speaking to the group and 2) commits them an outcome that will require their attention and engagement. Also make it clear what the retreat’s objectives are.
  • Ease into it. Not everyone is comfortable talking to a group, even if they know everyone in the room. In order for people to actively engage in discussion they need to feel safe, comfortable and empowered to share their ideas. Early in the agenda include an ‘ice-breaker’ activity that allows everyone to share something with the group that is easy and safe. Publicly acknowledge everyone after they share to reaffirm their value and contribution to the group.
  • Variety is the spice of life. Break up the retreat agenda into manageable parts (45-60 minutes) and vary the type of activity or format. Involve multiple people to present or lead agenda topics. Get people to physically move during the retreat by setting the room perimeter with break out discussion tables. Pre-arrange discussion groups to make sure people who don’t usually spend time together have that opportunity. However, take care to serve as an effective facilitator to keep people focused and the agenda moving toward objectives.
Keeping It Alive

Even after a productive staff retreat momentum, focus and energy can fade quickly.

  • End with a beginning. Wrap up the retreat with reflection and clarification about how the day’s objectives have been met. Acknowledge specific contributions from the group. Tie the retreat’s outcomes to the year ahead and provide context for how they relate to everyone and their jobs and expectations. Ideally the outcomes provide a logical and meaningful ‘theme’ that will be easily recalled.
  • Drop anchor. Your retreat ‘theme’ provides an ideal anchor for the year to help keep people focused and connected to the good work they did during the retreat. Reference and / or reflect on the retreat theme at monthly staff meetings. This doesn’t have to be an agenda item, it can simply be the theme or its ‘tagline’ written on the agenda or whiteboard in the meeting room.
  • Evaluate and assess. There likely will be outcomes from the retreat that directly relate to staff job performance and expectations. Individual performance objectives should reflect retreat outcomes. End of the year performance reviews will incorporate these things in addition to core job duties.

Happy planning!


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