A Success Story from Oakland University Recreation and Well-being’s Staff Retreat
As we stare down another new year, it’s natural to find ourselves reflecting on the past and thinking about the future. This contemplation takes on added weight for leaders, who often find themselves thinking about their teams and the second half of the academic year.
This window of time presents a prime opportunity: Why not channel all that thinking into action by planning your next staff retreat?
I had the pleasure of working with the Oakland University RecWell team this past summer to work through strategic planning and two staff retreats. On the surface, one might see that we spent two retreat days together. But behind the scenes, the leadership team spent weeks of planning, discussion and reflection together in order to create an intentional retreat experience and plan to move forward.
If you’re thinking about hosting a retreat for your team, keep in mind these factors that made the Oakland University RecWell team successful in carrying out their own deep work.
Start Planning Early
Now is the perfect time to set and communicate a retreat date to your team, especially if you plan to hold one over the summer when people take vacation time or are busy gearing up for the school year. Associate director of Programs and Administration, Becky Lewis, reached out in early March with one retreat date in April for the leadership team and one retreat date in June for all staff. This also gives time to prepare with an outside facilitator, should you choose to do so.
“Given everyone’s hectic schedules, including Sarah’s, and how fast the summer months fly by, we knew we needed to connect with Sarah early and often to plan our retreat and ensure everyone could be in attendance. Getting dates on the calendar was crucial in making sure our retreat was successful,” said Lewis.
Commit to Discussion Time
Retreat preparation takes time and should not be done in a vacuum. Becky and I spoke weekly to discuss background information in order to prepare for the leadership retreat. The leadership retreat in April set the stage for the work to be accomplished at the all-staff retreat in June.
It’s easy to walk away from deep retreat work thinking you’ll carry out the action items discussed. But we all know reality hits hard and that work can quickly fall to the wayside. To mitigate that, the Oakland RecWell team set weekly meetings in May and June to move their work forward in preparation for the all-staff retreat. The team continued to hold regular meetings into the fall semester to engage leadership and staff. While it may seem time-consuming, these scheduled sessions have been crucial in achieving the retreat’s goals and implementing objectives. This type of commitment can be challenging but will keep you honest to your work.
Leverage the Thinking of the Group
Collaboration is essential to earning buy-in from a team. And a retreat can go off the rails quickly if members of a team don’t see themselves in the work or find the work relevant. We were able to leverage the thinking of the group, and therefore, gain buy-in.
A pre-retreat questionnaire was used to gather anonymous feedback on what would make the retreat worthwhile, messages that should be emphasized and avoided, and where there are areas of pride or improvement for the group. This feedback shaped the retreat’s design. There was also intentional reflection time built in after each retreat activity with opportunities to share insights with the group. This made space for people to find meaning on an individual level and foster connections through sharing ideas. Creating opportunities for voices to be heard and valued is critical for getting a group’s approval and implementing changes or work discussed during the retreat.
Look at Your Data
Anecdotes about our day-to-day work can paint a picture of our current work reality, but what happens when we look at the hard data behind the stories? Oakland’s team did a deep dive into their financial, operational and program numbers to gain an objective understanding of their true pain points, as well as opportunities.
This was a worthwhile experience for Lewis and the team.
“This part was honestly hard. We had the data and the information we needed, but taking time to dig deep into what we really wanted to use and the ‘why’ behind what we pulled out was a slow process and took a lot of thought,” said Lewis. “Setting time aside to work together to determine what we were missing and what we had to use was critical in preparation for our retreat.”
It’s possible to achieve success this year by taking small, impactful steps. Avoid overwhelming yourself with trying to tackle everything at once, and keep in mind these strategies to ensure your team has a successful retreat this year.
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