Three Simple Steps To Transform Your Team Retreats

October 24, 2018 • 7 minute read • by Saeed


If you could get all the people in an organization rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time.”

~Patrick Lencioni

There are many good reasons to conduct a team retreat: to create trust, clarify roles and responsibilities; establish goals and vision, orient new members; reconnect and re-energize team members; and/or address critical issues or opportunities, to name a few. However, bringing the entire team together in person can be a challenge. Greater still is the challenge of engaging them effectively — and to do so, you need to create a focused, meaningful, and enjoyable experience for everyone. Here are some ideas for team retreats that really hit the mark.

Step 1: Pay Attention to Design and Planning

First, identify the purpose and specific outcomes you want from the retreat.

  •  Is it time for strategic or tactical planning?
  • Are you trying to solve an important team or organizational issue?
  • Do you need to re-energize the team?

Second, schedule a planning meeting with your team leaders – you know who they are – to determine the retreat purpose and outcomes; learn what’s most pressing for your team; better understand team dynamics; and assess team engagement, strengths, weaknesses, etc. In addition, discuss timing, duration, location, number of attendees, etc. You don’t need to finalize all the details yet, just enough to develop a draft agenda.

After meeting with your leaders, it’s a good idea to have brief “input” conversations with some or all team members to understand their views, gather topic ideas and get participants excited about the retreat. Input conversations can last anywhere from 20-40 minutes. Some sample input questions include:

  • What do you think is working well with the team?
  • What would you like to see the team do more of, do better or do differently?
  • What do you think the team should stop doing?
  • What are three things the team should focus on over the next 12 months?
  • What is your vision for this team over the next three years?
  • What would help you feel more engaged and useful as a team member?
  • What would help the team work even more effectively together?

Using the information from your team leaders and input conversations, craft an action-focused agenda that incorporates the retreat’s purpose and desired outcomes.

Some things to consider:

  • Avoid status or progress reporting. Instead, have participants review status reports ahead of time and focus sessions on generating ideas, solving problems, making decisions, etc.
  • Structure adequate time for building relationships. Schedule time to eat together, walk together and learn about one another. It’s ideal if you can hold a retreat over two days that includes a social dinner.
  • Build some flexibility into your agenda to accommodate hot topics or deeper dives into important issues.
  • Create discrete sessions with time blocks of one to three hours to help participants digest information, offer natural break points and provide variety. Have each session build upon one another in a logical order based on your goals.
  • As you create the agenda, decide what output you want from each session and plan for how to capture key issues, ideas, resources, outcomes and action steps from each session. This will make documenting the retreat much easier.
  • Schedule ample time (at least 45 minutes) at the end to discuss action items, accountability, takeaways, appreciations and other closing activities.
  • Decide on any supporting materials, resources and preparatory work. Make sure participants have the agenda, materials and instructions at least one week before the retreat. Communicate with team members throughout the planning process to answer questions, remind them about pre-work, help them with logistics, etc.

Step 2: Get Expert Facilitation

While it’s not uncommon for a team member to facilitate a retreat, having outside facilitation helps every participant fully engage in the retreat. Also, an outside facilitator also helps reduce bias or undue influence and may notice and address team issues or dynamics not obvious to participants. Some other good practices for facilitation:

  • Start with a warm-up that gets everyone talking. An easy exercise is to pose a couple of questions that participants discuss with one or two people next to them. It’s good to include one personal and one organizational question.
  • Announce the retreat objectives and outcomes, preview the agenda, cover any logistics and discuss how participants can get the most from their time together.
  • Set expectations up front for how you will facilitate the retreat, such as balancing participation, managing interruptions, encouraging constructive comments, etc.
  • Capture highlights from each session using flipcharts, a note taker, recording device, etc. Some facilitators find it useful to use separate flipcharts for ideas, resources, action steps, “parking lot” or other categories as needed.
  • Check in periodically about participants’ comfort level, questions, concerns, etc. The more transparent you are as a facilitator, the more the participants can relax and trust the process.
  • After a long or complex session, briefly summarize highlights and outcomes. If there is time, ask participants to share their own takeaways from the session.
  • If the discussion veers off the agenda, refer back to the retreat objectives and outcomes. Ask if this conversation supports their overall retreat goals, if the topic supersedes other agenda items or if it can be covered elsewhere.
  • Have plenty of food, beverages, time for breaks and table toys to help quell the “fidgets.” Periodically check people’s energy and take a short break if needed.

 Step Three: Don’t Neglect Outcomes and Next Steps

For a retreat to be worthwhile, participants must know their ideas and decisions will actually go somewhere after the event. It’s equally important for team members to understand their own responsibilities to take actions after the retreat. Here are some ideas for documenting the retreat and creating accountable action steps:

  • After each session, capture key points and outline next steps, responsible parties and time frames. Use action verbs to clarify what needs to be done (write, call, review, schedule, plan, etc.).
  • The final session should be used to summarize all next steps. Discuss how participants will hold themselves and others accountable for taking action. In addition, invite participants to share takeaways, appreciations, personal commitments and other comments.
  • Consider pairing people to accomplish tasks. This helps boost accountability and build team member relationships between meetings.
  • Move away from a “minutes” mindset. Try to organize retreat notes logically rather than strictly chronologically. Participants won’t necessarily remember who said what when so it’s useful to group related ideas and actions together.
  • Suggest ways to incorporate progress checks from the retreat into subsequent staff meetings. For example, if you do a strategic plan, organize future team meeting agendas to parallel strategic goal areas from the plan.

Final Word

Team retreats can be powerful events that help clarify organizational vision, address complex issues and energize a team. With collaborative planning, a steady focus on the desired outcomes, skillful facilitation, and the willingness to hold people accountable, you can transform your team retreat from a necessary evil to the event of the year!

Good luck.

Wait! Before you go…

I really appreciate your readership. If you found this article valuable, please like, comment, and share it with your network so that it can benefit others.  I also invite you to FOLLOW ME on LinkedIn or subscribe to my BLOG to receive exclusive content not found here.

Why would you follow me?

The most compelling reason I can think of is this: I believe what I write and I write what I believe. I see myself as an alchemist of ideas writing at the intersection of personal, professional, and organizational development to help readers be the most effective human being they can be in order to create lasting impact in the world. If we dig together, we’ll find the gold.

©2018 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.

The 10 Personality Types You will Encounter in a Meeting and How to Handle Them

November 30, 2017 • 5 minute read • by Saeed


“In each of us there is another whom we do not know.” ~ Carl Jung

A meeting is not a meeting without its attendees and the obligatory challenges that sometimes go along with their personality types. Below is a list of 10 archetypes I’ve come across during my 30 years of facilitating meetings and how to handle each of them. I’ve listed the traits from most positive to most negative based on my experience.

This list is not intended to be comprehensive but rather to capture the most common types.

Here is my challenge to the reader: Once you’ve read the list, name a ‘personality type’ you’ve encountered that doesn’t fit into one of the ten in the comments below. Bonus points go to those who also mention how to handle the type.

And here we go…

1.      The Leader: Proactive, confident, creative. First to jump in. Solution oriented. Use them to jumpstart discussions and be sure to actively recognize and praise their contribution.

2.      The Supporter: Creates a positive atmosphere and supports others’ ideas and suggestions. They may find it hard to give honest feedback they see as being critical. Their reservations and doubts will have to be solicited.

3.      The Diplomat: Will defuse conflict before it goes too far and can bring everyone back to a central focus or mutual goals. They can become frustrated if the meeting becomes too conflict ridden. Maximize their involvement as they are a key ally in a successful result.

4.      The Quiet One: It’s not a lack of interest or engagement but probably a lack of confidence or empowerment that keeps this personality type mostly quiet. Directly and positively engage or talk to them prior to the meeting to get their thoughts and encourage them to share the valuable ones during the meeting.

5.      The Distracted One: They are cell phone junkies obsessed with checking their inbox. It may be that asking them to turn off their cell phone is akin to asking them to turn off their oxygen tank but nonetheless you can politely create a ground rule that says cell phones used for emergencies only.

6.      The All Knowing One: They must flex their knowledge on every topic at every turn and often waste time and go into unnecessary tangents. You may have to directly return them to the point at hand and use other tactics that are effective with The Talker.

7.      The Interrupter: Get ready for frequent and repeated interruptions that could easily ‘go viral.’ Direct intervention is usually needed to remind this person that others need to finish their point prior to response. They do need recognition and reassurance that they will be heard.

8.      The Talker: It takes a long time for the talker to get to their central point because of their tangents and over-sharing of unnecessary details. You may have to proactively ask them to keep their comments targeted or summarize their point for them respectfully. They may also veer into side discussions so ground rules that specifically address side conversations may also be needed to avoid frequent interruptions.

9.      The Monopolizer: With their large ego, they will dominate, monopolize, and hijack the discussion. They think highly of themselves and by extension, less so of others. They are impatient and prompt intervention is needed so they don’t derail the meeting. Expect counter-reactions when the attempt is made to give them boundaries. The best approach is to be stoic and make consistent reference to time constraints and the need for everyone to equally contribute their ideas.

10.  The Critic: They are quick to criticize but unfortunately don’t have solutions of their own to offer. They can also veer off into the personal if overly empowered. As above, this needs to be ‘nipped in the bud’ before it escalates and derails the agenda. But a direct confrontation is not recommended. Instead, gently ask them explain the specific reasons why they disagree and propose their alternative forcing them to justify their negative comments.

One Final Word…

Once again, it should be noted that the above list of archetypes and countermeasures is by no means an exhaustive list. It is not meant to be. It is, however, meant to capture the ones you may come across more often.

Have I missed a type you’ve encountered? Add to the list by naming one in the comments below. Bonus points for those who offer a tip on how to handle the type.

Good luck.

Wait, before you go…

I really appreciate that you are reading my post. If you found it helpful, I invite you to follow me on LinkedIn or subscribe to read exclusive content on my BLOG.

Why would you follow me?

I write personal and professional development articles to help readers be the most effective human being they can be; in short, to help you find your inner awesomeness. By liking, commenting, sharing, and following, you are encouraging me to keep going. It is my direct feedback loop that tells me that I am providing value to you.

I also love connecting with new people and seeing what others are up to in the world.

Last thing, if you liked this post, consider checking out my other recent posts for inspiration and concrete actions steps to become more effective at work and life.

Best,

Saeed

©2017 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.

Why Your Meetings Suck and How to Improve Them

May 23, 2017 •  8 minute read • by Saeed


“A meeting is an event at which the minutes are kept but the hours are lost.” – Unknown

The spectrum is wide: Meetings can be laboratories for innovation or they can also be borefests that waste time and productivity.

Like you, I’ve sat through thousands of unproductive meetings. It took me a while to figure out what was happening: People really don’t know the basics of how to manage meetings.  Meeting management is part art and part science. With this article, I want to share some of the best practices I’ve learned over 25 years of facilitating meetings to help you improve yours so you can generate greater creative dialogue, increase productivity and maybe even change the world.

Let’s start here. There are at least 10 reasons that I can think of to hold a meeting. We hold meetings to:

  1. Share information
  2. Update status
  3. Obtain input
  4. Improve process
  5. Improve communication
  6. Transfer knowledge
  7. Reach agreement (or consensus)
  8. Advance thinking
  9. Make decisions
  10. Innovate

Regardless of meeting purpose, this list of best practices, will help your meetings be successful every time.

The Basics

1.     Do you even need a meeting?

Before you start planning your meeting, you need to ask yourself if you really even need a meeting. To figure out if your meeting is necessary or not, ask: What do I want to achieve with my meeting? Every meeting should have a goal and a purpose and by defining what that goal is, you can eliminate all meetings with obscure goals. Buh-bye!

2.     Who should you invite to the meeting?

Do you invite everyone you know to every party you have? Think about who you should invite and why. As a general rule only those who have a clear role at your meeting should be invited. The decision about who is to attend depends on what you want to accomplish in the meeting.

3.     What’s on your Agenda?

Whatever is on the agenda, it should be relevant and engaging. Agendas have to be timed and there has to be a flow. How information is prioritized and structured is very important to the success of the meeting. The hierarchy of how agenda items are presented usually starts out broadly with general information and background and evolves into more detailed actionable items as the meeting progresses.

4.     How long should your meeting be?

While there is a temptation to schedule longer meetings, it’s far better to keep it as short as possible. That way, you ensure that meeting participants are focused on the agenda. There’s no ideal length. It just depends on your agenda, participants, and what you are trying to get done.

5.     What kind of ground rules should you have?

You don’t always need ground rules but there are times when they may be necessary. There are four powerful ground rules I like to use: 1) stay engaged, 2) stay focused, 3) maintain momentum and 4) reach closure (or move towards consensus). Depending on the meeting, you may want a ground rule about confidentiality as well. List your primary ground rules on chart paper. Keep the ground rules posted at all times. Explain them if you have to.

One Level Up

6.     What kind of planning should you do?

I have an 80/20 rule about meetings which says that if you put 80% of your time into the planning, you’ll do 20% of the work in the meeting. On the other hand, if you put 20% time in planning, you’ll be sweating the other 80% out in meeting. Planning means preparing yourself (you know the content and objectives), preparing your audience (they know why they are there and have received the agenda and other necessary materials in advance to be well prepared for the conversation), and preparing the space (which includes not only the right seating arrangement and meeting participants’ comfort but also attention paid to technology and back-ups you may need).

7.     What kind of atmosphere should you create?

One that’s conducive to innovation and learning of course. I had this conversation with my son when he was about 10 years old. He said to me that everything is about atmosphere and went about making a case with examples of why that was true. He impressed me and he convinced me. The location should be comfortable, well lit and large. Ideally, other rooms nearby would be available for small group break-out sessions.

8.     Should you leverage visual communication?

Hell yes! Most of us are visual learners (65%) and we live in an ocularcentric world. Yet, so many of our meetings appeal only to auditory learners (30%). Use video, still images, graphs, Power Point and Prezi presentations to engage participants.

9.     How should you open the meeting?

The cardinal rule of meeting facilitation is to start and end on time. This lets your participants know that your respect those who showed up on time and reminds late-comers that the scheduling is serious. Use a meeting opener that’s fun and informative. All the better if your opener is tied to the overall theme of your meeting and is not just arbitrarily plopped in for fun. Relevant meeting openers that are positive and inspiring are better that generic icebreakers.

10. How should you close the meeting?

Always, and I mean always, end your meeting on a positive note and with concrete action steps and take-aways. Summarize what happened in the meeting and briefly list the action steps that need to take place to move the project or team forward. Remind everyone of the big-picture. End with enthusiasm for the future. Try a reflective question like: “What’s one thing you’ve learned today that you can apply tomorrow?” Trained facilitators also evaluate the meeting by using the Plus/Delta method. Put up a piece of chart paper up and draw two columns labeling one Plus and the other Delta. Ask participants what worked (The Plus) and what could be improved next time (The Delta).

Advanced

11. How can you prewire the meeting for success?

In other words, how can you set it up for success by doing some work up front. Maybe you need to meet with a meeting participant outside the main meeting to catch them up because they’ve been on vacation. Maybe you need to send some research that needs to be reviewed in advance. The more prepared your participants are, the higher your chances of success.

12. How should you lead the meeting?

If you are leading the meeting, your main responsibility is threefold: 1) Did you meet your meeting objectives? 2) Did you do it on time? and 3) Did you do it with the participation of the whole group? If you can answer these questions with a ‘Yes’ then you’ve been successful. As the leader, you create value when you make sure that the meeting runs smoothly by monitoring and guiding the discussion, connecting the dots and helping the group reach new insights and understandings.

13. How should you manage the conversation?

Prevention is the best policy here. Be as specific as possible in your agenda and meeting expectations. That way, meeting participants are on the same page when they enter the meeting room. To make sure they are, review the agenda and ask participants if they have the same understanding of the meeting objectives. There are certain meeting personality types you will encounter in every meeting.  If you feel that someone has spoken too much, thank him or her for their insights and comments, but point out respectfully that it’s important to hear from others. On the other hand, if someone is silent, address that person by name and ask him or her a specific  and direct question. That way, you’re bound to get a reply. Thank them and return to their point again to encourage their participation. Create a ‘Parking Lot’ to manage off-topic discussions by placing a piece of chart paper on the wall with that label. Then put anything that is not on the agenda and could potentially derail the meeting, into the Parking Lot. As a last resort suggest a separate meeting where the unrelated issue can be discussed.

14. How can you divide and conquer?

Working in small groups gives participants a chance to practice the higher-order thinking skills that are needed for breakthrough conversations. Participants in small groups generally learn more of the material, contribute more, and retain their knowledge, enthusiasm and motivation longer.  Small group work can range from short, informal discussions to more formalized exercises that involve deeper level problem solving.  that make up the majority of class. Contrary to popular belief, you can incorporate small group work into any of your larger meetings. You can also use paired discussion or triads if you don’t have enough people to form a small group. Pose a question or a problem and give participants a set amount of time to tackle it. Have them share out their findings at the end and compare notes with the other groups you formed.

15. How can you generate new creative ideas?

The Holy Grail of meeting time is generating useful, creative and actionable new ideas that advance the project, team or product to the next level. That means having the right process and the right questions to guide the process. The go-to method is brainstorming. Traditional brainstorming, invented by Alex Osborn back in the 1940s is based on the principles of withholding judgment and quantity over quality when it came to idea generation. That’s fine. There will always be a time and a place for brainstorming but you can take your traditional brainstorming to a new level by adding some more structure to it using techniques such as Mind Mapping (identifying a central topic and linking this to a new idea and repeating the process until you have a web of ideas) or using the 5 Whys technique (an iterative interrogative technique where the answer to each Why question forms the basis of the next question until a the cause and effect relationship underlying a particular problem has been discovered).

In future posts, I’ll discuss other techniques for idea generation. In the meantime, don’t forget to follow up to your meeting. Meeting management is part art and part science. Timely follow up is just a vital professional habit  that you should have in all that you do and it is particularly important in establishing continuity after the meeting. Notes, next steps and highlights should be distributed to make sure that the train of ideas and actions keep moving down the track.

Good luck.

©2017 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.

I really appreciate that you are reading my post. If you found it helpful, I invite you to follow me on LinkedIn or subscribe to read exclusive content on my BLOG.

Why would you follow me?

I write personal and professional development articles to help readers be the most effective human being they can be; in short, to help you find your inner awesomeness. By liking, commenting, sharing, and following, you are encouraging me to keep going. It is my direct feedback loop that tells me that I am providing value to you.

I also love connecting with new people and seeing what others are up to in the world.

Last thing, if you liked this post, consider checking out my other recent posts for inspiration and concrete actions steps to become more effective at work and life.

Best,

Saeed

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