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Retreat Planning

Retreat Planning
Holding a retreat is an excellent tool to provide information, create excitement, and get your members involved in your group’s goals and strategies for the semester or year.

Your retreat will be more successful when adequate time and effort have gone into the planning process.  In fact, a major portion of the work involved must be done before the retreat is actually held. A correctly planned and executed retreat should not be viewed as a universal remedy, but as a practical leadership development tool that can have a huge impact on the success of your organization.

Step 1:
Assess Needs of Your Organization:
The student leader and campus advisor should meet to review the current and future needs of the organization.

  • What do you want to accomplish at the retreat?
  • What are the unique needs, problems, or concerns that the retreat can help address (communication, common vision, delegation, etc.)?

Step 2:
Set Objectives & Goals:
The structure, discussion format, and duration of the retreat will be determined by what your organization wants to achieve.

  • What information will members/officers have as a result of participating in the retreat?
  • Are there particular skills or attitudes it is important they leave with?

Write the goals down and be specific. Planning the logistics of the retreat will depend upon what you want to get out of the experience.  Typical retreat goals include areas such as:

  • Communicating important information
  • Teambuilding/Unity/Awareness
  • Training/Skill building
  • Problem solving
  • Program development
  • Goal-setting for the upcoming year(s) O
  • Orienting new members and/or Socializing

Potential drawbacks to a retreat also must be considered. The amount of time involved in planning and attending the retreat can impact busy schedules. The cost of the retreat may be more expensive than the group originally anticipated.  If the retreat involves open discussions, some of the leaders may object to the extended time it takes to make decisions. There is also the possibility that discussions on certain topics may lead to heated debate. Despite these and other potential mishaps, with proper planning, guidance, a strong retreat facilitator, and the establishment of ground rules, the benefits from the retreat should outweigh the risks. Because the process is an effective method for the student organization to identify objectives, consider results, and address various critical issues, considerable time and effort should be devoted to planning the retreat.

Step 3:
Select the Planners:
The student leader and campus advisor should select the retreat planners after considering the objectives of the retreat. The retreat planning committee should consist of student leaders from the group’s main committees - those who have key roles in the leadership and operation of the student organization. By involving a diverse representation of student leaders in the planning process, the group can get a more complete range of topics to be covered by the student organization leaders during the retreat.

Based on the nature of the retreat, the planning committee might also need to consider bringing in guest speakers. The guest speakers are especially beneficial when the content requires a knowledgeable professional on complex topics or someone who has experienced the topic of the retreat.

Step 4:
Determine Your Resources, Budget, & Activities

Calculate anticipated costs such as transportation, food/drink, lodging/facility rental, recreation, and supplies (copying, paper, games, equipment, etc.).  

These questions will help you determine if you will be planning a 2-hour retreat on campus, half day on or off-campus, or an overnight at a camp or retreat center.  Remember to make sure your plan is consistent with your set objectives and goals.

  • How much time is available and necessary to accomplish goals?  What time of the year is best for the retreat?
  •  What are the participants’ expectations and skill level?
  • What resources do you have (materials, member skills, etc.)?
  • What type of activities will meet the retreat goals?
  •  Will you facilitate activities yourselves, rely on advisors, or use outside facilitators?
  • What qualifications are necessary for outside speakers, facilitators, and/or trainers?
  •  Is there a budget?
  • Is your organization paying for all of the expenses or are members expected to contribute?
  • If individual members must pay a portion of the expenses, will some members not be able to attend?

Step 5:
Select Basics of the Retreat:
The right time and place for the retreat can really make a difference in the positive outcome of the retreat. Consider logistics for set-up, clean up, and purchasing of materials needed for the retreat. Develop a checklist and make sure everyone is clear on who is doing what by when.  

Date & Time: Allow participants enough advance notice to work the retreat into their schedules.  Provide participants with a suggested “to bring” list (including bedding necessities for overnight retreats).

Facility: Make reservations in advance.  Ask questions about the space to make sure it is conducive to the activities you have planned.  You should be comfortable without a lot of distractions.  Secure a contract and deposit for your site. Reconfirm facility arrangements prior to retreat.

The retreat should be held at a facility away from the university, if your budget permits. Such a facility usually offers participants the opportunity to socialize to a greater extent than they otherwise would in at the university, to personalize relationships, and gain greater appreciation of each other.

Transportation: If the retreat location is off-campus, you should consider providing organized transportation to participants.  Are you renting a bus/van or setting up a car pool? Provide directions to drivers.

Food & Beverages: Are you catering, ordering food from a restaurant, or doing the cooking?  Determine kitchen equipment needs and ensure the facility is equipped to meet your needs.

Step 6:
Plan the Agenda:
The student organizations objectives and the members attending the retreat should determine the format of the retreat. Participants should be aware of the purpose of the retreat and what the group hopes to accomplish.

Plan the agenda ahead of time and provide participants with a copy of the agenda in advance.

From a planning perspective, the agenda should include:

  • Dates, timelines, and location(s)
  • Description of the retreat format(s)
  • Retreat topic leaders
  • Which members should attend particular sessions
  • Fun learning, inspiring, and motivating activities
  • Scheduled breaks, especially if you have an overnight retreat, to make sure people have time for reflection, sleep, informal activities, etc.
  • Back-up activities planned for any last minute changes to the agenda

A retreat worksheet should be distributed to all participants (either during or prior to the retreat). The worksheet serves a dual purpose. It helps prepare all participants, both leaders and members, for their roles at the retreat and the information included on the worksheet is beneficial in establishing a basis for future planning.

Step 7:
Select Retreat Leaders:
Retreat leaders should be selected on the basis of their leadership and communications skills, knowledge and insights about the student organization, objectivity, and ability to generate and control discussions on specific topics. Generally, student leaders representing various leadership positions and committee experiences may be selected to serve as discussion leaders.

The retreat leaders should understand the objectives of the retreat and be responsible for stimulating and controlling the discussions. The leaders must make every effort to insure that all members participate and be comfortable with prompting responses from any hesitant participants.

Many student organizations intentionally assign responsibility for discussion to emerging student leaders to expose them to their colleagues and encourage greater participation in student organization. Make sure to that leaders meet to review all activities together so they can catch any overlap and understand how the different activities fit together.

Step 8:
Conduct the Retreat:
During the retreat, the key leader should ensure that the retreat is following the agenda.  By keeping to the listed time frame, participants will be more likely to remain interested and engaged during the retreat.

Continue to assess the general mood of the room during the retreat, if the leaders don’t have participants’ attention, make changes as needed: topic adjustments, additional leaders, more participation from members.

If the retreat topics include sensitive issues, the planners may wish to articulate specific ground rules for dealing with those subjects in a manner that encourages building community. Your group is encouraged to have open and reasonably candid yet respectful discussions about each retreat topic, agreeing that discussions regarding issues should be balanced by suggestions for improvement.

Step 9:
Post Retreat Assessments & Action Plan:
The final phase of the retreat should emphasize the follow-up of action plans agreed upon during the retreat and to gather feedback about the retreat from all participants.

To effectively gather feedback, the retreat planning committee may distribute a retreat feedback survey during the retreat to assess opinions and suggestions from participants.  Groups may also decide to use an online survey tracking tool to collect participant feedback.

The retreat planning committee should assume the role of overseer to make certain that a written summary of the retreat is prepared which identifies action plans agreed upon, the student leader responsible for implementation or status reporting to the Organizations Executive Council and the date for implementation of status reporting. The committee should also arrange for the distribution of the notes to the members and establish follow-up procedures for reporting on the status of those action plans reached during the retreat.