When planning a corporate retreat, the first step is to understand the purpose of the retreat. In addition, the importance of an understanding the organizers desired outcomes.
While these are two very important considerations, the pre-retreat work for the facilitator does not stop there. There are several other factors that will assist you in determining the content, structure, and flow of the event. Often these factors will not be defined by the person who actually hired you, but instead by their administrators who set up the event.
Logistics Are Important
This task includes several details, such as transportation, lodging, food, and beverage. This also includes the event location, the space allotted for the working sessions, room set up, and supplies that will be available. These are typically set between the administrative assistant and the venue staff.
The facilitator should be involved in these decisions as well. After all, it is the facilitator who will be responsible for what happens in the meeting room. In a future article, we will discuss some of the possibilities and what you may want to consider when setting up your retreat.
This article, however, will focus its attention on the people who will be attending the retreat. While it is important to satisfy the organizers needs and reach their desired outcomes, the retreat will fall flat if consideration is not made to the attendees needs. These needs reach far beyond comfort and fun activities.
Why are We Holding an Off-Site Retreat?
The idea behind an offsite retreat is to allow the free flow of information, to create new ideas, and often to set a new direction. If we only consider the wants and desires of the organizer, who is often the boss, we really do not need to host an offsite retreat. The event is not meant to be a sales meeting where we direct the new initiatives down to the organization. A properly orchestrated offsite retreat should generate new ideas. This can only happen when the participants trust the process, as well as have trust in the organizer and facilitator.
Build Trust While Gathering Information
There are several ways to get inside the head of the participants. When done properly by a trained facilitator, the techniques described below will:
- Allow for a better understanding if there are underling issues not previously discovered.
- Discover the intentions, wants and needs from the participants.
- Provide useful information that will assist in building an agenda that will satisfy the organizer and the participants.
- Assist in building trust necessary between the facilitator and the group, saving time at the retreat itself.
Introduction to the Participants
Prior to any interview, it is imperative for the organizer or their assistant to introduce you to the group. This can be done during a staff meeting with a simple announcement, but in person is always best. If this is done during a staff meeting where the facilitator is not present, a follow-up email to each of the participants should also be sent. In the email should be some sort of announcement of who will be facilitating, maybe their qualifications, and a note to suggest the facilitator will be following up with the group prior to the retreat. It is very helpful to add in that the group should be cooperative and responsive to the requests being made of them during the entire process.
Once this is done, the facilitator should also send an email of introduction, as well as an outline of the pre-retreat process, which the group will be asked to participate in. From there these simple steps will allow for the benefits of the pre-retreat preparation.
Pre-retreat Survey Questions
A very simple request for information about the experience the group would expect or like to see happen. This survey works best if the questions are open ended and require a few sentences to a paragraph to answer. The answers provided here are the basis of the interviews, where the facilitator can go a bit deeper if he/she notices patterns or areas of concern.
A simple format for these questions would be to ask no more than four or five open ended questions. These questions can be as simple as:
- Briefly describe what it is that you hope to come back with after this retreat?
- What barriers, from the outcome above, do you see possibly forming?
Then ask them to visualize themselves post retreat and answer the next two questions.
- What part of the retreat was the most satisfying for you personally?
- What do you wish we got to, but did not during the retreat?
Oral Interview with the Participants
The oral interviews can be done over the phone, but I prefer in person. They may take 15 to 30 minutes and can usually be done at a local and quiet, coffee shop. I find this better than the company conference room, because it allows for the participant to be a bit more candid. During the oral interview, the facilitator looks for clues given in the written responses, and probes when possible to add depth to the content.
This interview is a great way to gain insight on the expectations or on the participant. An interview also provides an opportunity to understand why those expectations have been set. These expectations along with those of the organizer allows for content to be delivered to meet the expectations of everybody involved. This process is where the trust is being built with the individuals that will make up the group. If the questioning becomes too aggressive or too sensitive too soon this will lose rather than build trust.