Recently, I helped organize and manage a two-day retreat for a large healthcare nonprofit to help top and senior management explore how the organization can operate most efficiently. For about six months, I worked on planning the event and also served as the facilitator.

That organization, like many that you are likely familiar with, is facing tremendous challenges, which made the time right for some serious re-thinking.

The issue of “re-thinking how we do things” is making a comeback among many of our clients.


Because changes in priorities resulting from the increasing availability and use of data mean that we need to re-learn what factors motivate our customers to buy (Mapping), analyze what strategies and tactics work best when interacting with them (SWOT – Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) and achieve team alignment on strategic initiatives (SMART Goals – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Repeatable and Time-Bound).

The recap of our strategic planning meeting can be useful to you and your colleagues when planning similar activities because you will get a sense of what activities resonated with participants. and what could work for your organization.

The objectives for the retreat were straightforward:

  1. Deliver an experience that made everyone feel included, heard, and challenged
  2. Learn about key developments in our markets (e.g., regulations, technology, science) to get a 360° view of the environment now and 3 years out
  3. Work on strategic topics that inspire the audience and drive engagement throughout the organization
  4. Develop breakthrough goals and initiatives to drive execution within the organization

Although the organization is doing well, the exercise called for a radical re-thinking of how the organization does business. The event “script” ended up being vastly different from the format of previous retreats the client hosted. I suggested a Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA) based approach that usually works great for turnarounds: What can happen? It is real? Is it big? How can we mitigate/embrace it?

Once we agreed to a structure, management and I went to work:

  • Identifying as many Risks & Opportunities (R&Os) as we could by surveying board members and advisors, ending up with about 30 responses
  • Grouping & prioritizing R&Os to a top-10 list which the board approved
  • Assigning two members of the management team and a champion from the board to conduct research and obtain as much data as possible on each R&O (e.g., demographics, trends, implications, possible solutions, competitive intel)
  • Creating a 20-page booklet with all data and sharing it with the retreat participants as pre-read for the event

The event was held at a nice resort, away from our day-to-day distractions. We had two full days of learning, thinking and planning balanced with trivia contests, fun & games, and lots of networking moments.

Here’s a summary of the agenda:

Day 1

  1. Learn from the Experts – 3-4 keynote speakers talked about the future from their perspectives
  2. Understand Where We Are & What We are Already Working On – Executive review of the SWOT analysis and project pipeline to avoid re-inventing the wheel
  3. Review the Top-10 R&Os — Assess probability of occurrence and severity of impact in our initial workshop. We collected individual scoresheets and tabulated them
  4. Mitigate/Embrace C&Os – Prepared open questions to get the teams to collaborate and collected individual scoring/input sheets that answered these questions:
    • Do we already have initiatives?
    • Do we need new ones?
    • How do we mitigate negative impact?
    • How do embrace positive opportunities?
    • What else do we need to succeed?
  5. Use a FMEA spreadsheet to score and rank R&Os with the Risk Priority Number (RPN) approach. Since we had 5 committees, we assigned one R&O to each committee for the next day’s work.

Day 2

  1. Form a “Voice of the Customer” panel to connect the organization’s mission/purpose with its activities
  2. “Fast Forward” to Visualize Success in 3 Years — “Your team is on the front page of TIME Magazine! Congratulations! Now walk back from the future. What happened?” We collected the input sheets that told us:
    • Who was the Champion?
    • Who was on the team?
    • Which area(s) of strength or weakness(es) was/were leveraged/mitigated?
  3. Identify Milestones, Goals & Strategic Initiatives. What were the two main deliverables we had to produce to earn success over the next the years? We collected the input sheet.

The result? An A+ score from all participants surveyed and a solid set of goals/initiatives with “legs” and “support” from executive leadership and the board. Nothing replaces those 2- to 3-day sessions where much is accomplished in formal meetings and even more gets done during breaks and at dinner!

So, get started. It’s time to host a retreat to deliver positive change within your organization, your company, or your department.

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