While an exotic location is always exciting, they are not always the best choice for an offsite retreat. For instance, if you are working on strategic planning, and anticipate long hours or intense sessions, I would not recommend a location where the participants had the distraction of what they may be missing. You want your people focused on the work at hand. I do believe this work should be done offsite. It should include some team building or at least trust building exercises. I also believe it should include some fun to relieve stress. The work, not the location should be the focus of the retreat. An exotic location could create an unnecessary distraction.
Determining the Right location for a Strategic Planning Session
In my opinion, a strategic planning meeting should be a multi-day, offsite that is within a couple hours’ drive of your main offices. It should include comfortable accommodations. Having options for dining, either in-house or out is a very important aspect as well. The focus of the event will be long, often intense hours in a conference room setting. This requires a space that is set up for such an event. The room should be climate controlled, it should have A/V set up to display your laptop. It should have a large whiteboard and or flip chart and paper. If using a flip chart, either buy the post-it note with self adhesive or make sure you bring masking tape. The room should have walls or windows where you can tack up the flip chart pages. Posting these on the wall acts as a reminder for the participants, as well as reference points for the discussion.
Setting up the Room for your Strategic Planning Meeting
The room can be set up in a variety of ways. Certainly, one way is the typical board room with conference table and the large screen TV or projector screen at one end. This set up has the advantage of the conference table that allows the participants to spread out their papers and gives them a place to write. It is a great set up for financial planning.
An Alternative to the Typical Board Room Set-Up
If the meeting demands more creative solutions, I recommend setting up the room with comfortable chairs in a circle and NO TABLE. Taking out the conference table is a symbolic gesture which eliminates barriers. There is nothing between the participants to use to deflect or “hide”. While this may seem a bit uncomfortable, that is exactly the intention. Getting your people out of their comfort zone. Getting ideas out and in the discussion, that are outside of the norm. Customizing the space for creativity to flow.
While this set up still requires the white board or flip chart, there are other tools to enhance the creativity. 3M has large post it notes, 6”x 8” and even 11”x 11” are available in bright colors and are a great way to get new ideas, then place them on the walls and categorize them. This process has proven to create synergy between the participants. Once these large format notes get placed on the wall for everyone to see, new ideas begin to flow. This concept has created some of the best brainstorming (link to our blog on alternative to brainstorming article) sessions I have seen.
Planning is Essential to Your Outcome
Your desired outcomes will determine your space needs. The agenda will determine which exercises will work best to realize those outcomes. The location you choose will aid in those outcomes, as will the room set up. Each of these factors require careful consideration as you develop your offsite strategic planning retreat.