Leadership and Facilitation at your Retreat

Your retreat is planned. You identified clear goals, selected a facilitator, developed an agenda and invitation list and secured a site. Now that it's time for the retreat, read on to be sure your retreat leader and facilitator understand their roles in carrying out an effective meeting.

The Leader’s Role

The leader needs to be a role model and to be consistent with their normal leadership style. The leader’s role is to listen and maintain a balance of sharing views while encouraging participation from others. To achieve this, leaders should:

  • Avoid indirectly steering the group. If there is only one acceptable answer on a particular topic, state it from the outset rather than creating the illusion of participation. People respect a leader’s agenda when they do not feel manipulated to agree.
  • Think carefully about what is truly open for discussion and what kind of input is needed for which issues.
  • Ensure appropriate follow-up. Retreats are hard work and represent an important investment. There are expectations for positive organizational change.
  • Finalize responsibility and deadlines for each priority item. The more specific and trackable these assignments are, the more likely they will be accomplished, especially as people return to everyday business.
  • Continue reinforcing the need to accomplish the action items and celebrate as they are completed.  

At the beginning of the retreat, leaders should open by:

  • Articulating the clear rationale for the importance of the retreat and how it contributes to the team’s agenda for the next year.
  • Setting expectations of retreat behavior (e.g., “full participation,” “open exploration,” “advice to make strategic decisions”) and stressing that interruptions be kept to a minimum.
  • Sharing the goals and agenda. Include time for questions and input. If there was data-gathering work done prior to the retreat, share the results and explain how they helped inform the final retreat goals and agenda.

The Facilitator’s Role

The facilitator may be a leader or an outside professional. During the retreat, the facilitator:

  • Guides interactive activities, discussions, and report outs.
  • Avoids over-discussion of a topic and moves the group along.
  • Ensures no one is dominating the discussion and helps all to participate. (In groups larger than12, usually only the most verbal participants participate and the discussion tends to hop around. Time limits and small groups allow full participation.)
  • Clarifies how the input will be used, and who and how decisions will be made.
  • Records key agreements. Publicly records these items to remind participants of progress.
  • Reviews agreements and prioritizes the most important actions. Asks questions like, “Thinking of our regular workload, can we do all these things?," "Are there things here that should take priority over some of the regular work?," and "Upon further reflection, should we eliminate or temporarily shelve any of these items?"
  • Helps assign responsibility with time deadlines to priority actions.

Authored by: James A. McCaffery

Still planning your next retreat? We have a guide for that!