A board retreat isn’t a regular board meeting held in a conference room. Nor is it a team-building event you throw every month for your employees. Instead, it’s a gathering where the board committee decides on the direction the company wants to move. It can be an enjoyable occasion — or another out-of-office snoozefest. The outcome will depend on how well you’ll plan and organize it. Check out a few savvy board retreat ideas and activities to make it work!

What is a board retreat, and why does it matter?

A board retreat is a meeting of all board panel members. They get together outside of headquarters to discuss the company’s strategic activities, vision, and place in the market. While your company may show excellent results matching the previously set business goals, there are still some good reasons to arrange a board retreat. 

Here’s the top five:

  • To re-engage and re-energize the board. It’s crucial to involve each board member in the company’s activity. It paves the way for ground-breaking ideas and keeps a clear focus. 
  • To review the past and plan for the future. You can hardly develop a successful business strategy without looking at your company’s current performance, board’s input, and achievements with a critical eye. That’s exactly what you should do at the board retreat. 
  • To review each member’s roles and responsibilities. It would be an excellent opportunity to assess individual progress, reflect on it, and think about what could be done better. 
  • To get everybody on the same page. People looking in different directions don’t have much chance to get the company to where it needs to go. Yet, it doesn’t mean that everyone has to think the same way. The board retreat activities are a great push to brainstorm all kinds of ideas and plans — and decide on specific strategies that would best serve the company’s purpose. 
  • To build a board culture. If the board members lack team spirit, how can you expect your employees to be full of it? A healthy company atmosphere starts with a healthy board culture. Retreats are ideal for cultivating it, as they give a chance to engage new members, have meaningful conversations, and socialize in an informal setting. 

As you can see, board retreats are crucial for a company’s wellbeing. However, without proper planning, it’s easy to turn this important event into a waste of time. Read on to learn how you can avoid it.

Plan your awesome board retreat in a few easy steps

Now it’s time to plan your retreat. The following board retreat ideas will help you organize every part of this mission-critical event as effectively as you can.  

Step 1: Answer vital questions

Before getting the ball rolling, double-check that you’re able to answer the following questions: 

  • The who: invitees and the personnel who are going to assist at the event
  • The when and where: date, time, and location of the event and all related logistics
  • The what: the goals that you want to achieve by holding this retreat
  • The how: all the board retreat activities aimed at achieving these goals

By the way, these essentials apply to any business meet-up.

Step 2: Assign tasks to helpers

If you need a few assistants to organize a retreat, make sure you assign the tasks well in advance, so everyone knows their responsibilities. For instance, while somebody manages communication between the board and the team, others take care of technical equipment and catering. 

Step 3: Send a question list and collect suggestions

The board members will definitely have something to say, and you must encourage them to speak out and participate actively. Pre-orientation plays a crucial role here, particularly for the newcomers. One of the ideas is to prepare a list of questions for the members. Then, once everyone gathers at the retreat, they will be able to share their perspective on the issue.

You might want to put the following thought-provoking questions on this list:

  • What areas does our business prosper, and where should we focus more in the coming six months/year?
  • In your opinion, what is the least effective process and why? What might be a good way to improve it?
  • How do you see our business developing over the next 3-5 years?
  • What do you like about the current board activities, and what would you like to change?
  • What would help you engage more with the corporate process?
  • What are your suggestions for better board work?

Step 4: Ask board members to do presentations 

One of the best ways to engage board members is to ask them to talk about issues that fall under their responsibility. It has a double benefit. First, they will inform the group about the business performance indicators others might not know. Second, it will boost engagement during the retreat. Consider giving the presenters a few weeks to choose a topic and prepare a talk.

Step 5: Create a board retreat agenda based on the suggestions

Any board retreat should start with a clear agenda planned down to the last minute. Why? Well, it gives the participants a sense of purpose and helps them focus on particular issues. 

Before each session, give your members an info sheet with the following:

  • An intro with a few questions on the topic to help your board retreat participants think in the right direction
  • A space for their notes and ideas
  • A short wrap-up of the presentation
  • A space for their questions and suggestions

Each session should end with a short discussion and reflection on ways to best move forward. 

Step 6: Provide the members with the knowledge base beforehand

Throwing out numbers and facts on unprepared people won’t do any good. The best strategy is to make handouts available in advance. Some figures and facts might well be new for some board members, so it’s always better to arm them with the up-to-date information they can use during the discussion.

Step 7: Organize off-business time

It’s no wonder that some of the board members might feel like skipping the next board retreat if they know they’re going to talk only business for a few days straight. Quoting Sir Richard Branson, there’s no successful business without fun! But it has to be planned, too. 

Off-business time can include 15-minute me-times, social dinners, board evening parties, concerts, yachting, golfing — anything that your audience can engage with and recharge. After all, leisure is the new productivity, they say, so do make sure you incorporate both. 

The follow-up

Organizing a board retreat is not exactly rocket science. The trick is to make it meaningful. The following steps will help you keep your team on track:

  • Sum up each session by writing down further actions, responsible members, and deadlines. 
  • Assign an accountability team to supervise the progress.
  • Group minutes by subject instead of organizing them chronologically. In this way, you’ll have a better view of what to focus on.
  • Make sure you address the discussed issues and update the board on the task statuses and results at the next meeting. It’s important to track what’s been done to see where the board is standing. 
  • Create a final agenda as a takeaway from the board retreat. It should include further actions, responsible parties, deadlines, accountable members, commitments, ideas, and comments.
  • Congratulate the team and briefly sum up the results of the day. They will feel that their work is much appreciated. 

Leaving the board retreat without a proper wrap-up may leave its participants feeling like they didn’t do anything meaningful with their time. On the other hand, a short formal debriefing would give them a sense of fulfillment and pride in their job.

Final thoughts 

Organizing a board retreat isn’t the easiest task, but done right, it can set a proper focus for the year to come. Provide the participants with a detailed agenda and necessary materials, schedule sessions and final discussions — and watch their engagement rise. Follow up on their new tasks, and at the next board retreat, they can show the results that will make them — and your company — proud.

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