Getting away from the “office” and spending time with long-range planning and team building can be an important activity for any nonprofit organization. No matter how large or how small the organization or agency is, a retreat can be time well spent. The best retreats, however, are those that are well-planned and structured to fit the needs of both the participants and the organization. One of the main considerations is whether or not to use an outside facilitator or to conduct the retreat using existing staff.
The facilitator can be an important consideration. If the staff is in conflict or there tends to be some dysfunction in how things operate, bringing in the right outside person can help to break ingrained patterns and get down to a new way of doing business. One of the challenges, however, can be finding a facilitator who is a good fit for the culture of the organization or agency.
It is important to take the time to research facilitators, asking what their approach will be and how they conduct retreats and planning meetings. If possible, whoever is making the decision should attend a meeting the facilitator conducts and ask for referrals.
If a staff functions well and has already built a solid foundation for communication, a facilitator may not be needed. It is still imperative to develop a plan, agenda and guidelines for how the retreat will be conducted, but if everyone adheres to the structure and can be open and respectful, a productive retreat can be held without having an outside facilitator. The group may actually decide to choose a facilitator(s) from within the organization to conduct the meeting, or consider taking turns to allow everyone the opportunity to conduct the retreat.
While there should be some room for “surprises” at a retreat and participants should feel like they can break outside of their usual job “box,” structure is important. An outside facilitator can help to push the participants in new directions but it is necessary that he or she understand the challenges and intentions of the organization or agency.