Last year's DIY team retreat was a disaster - what do I do this year?

Dear DIY Disaster,

Year-end retreats can be powerful sessions celebrating your successes and providing clarity for the year ahead. And sometimes they can also be exercises in frustration - pulling all your key people into a meeting room together and not reaching the goals you need.

Photo Courtesy of Heather Morse on Unsplash

Photo Courtesy of Heather Morse on Unsplash

We hear from many committed leaders who set out to rally their people in the right direction and call us after their self-facilitated retreat with: “There has got to be a better way to do this year-end retreat thing!”

Here are a few fails we’ve seen people experience when running their own DIY retreats along with a few remedies to make your retreat work well for everyone.

Fail One:
Your team is wondering why they flew across the country for three days in the same room.

Many DIY retreat leaders start their planning with a list of items and updates needing to be shared and end up getting questions about when lunch will be served.

If your agenda items could be handled by email, you’re missing opportunities to utilize strengths and inputs from every person on your team. There’s a real difference between gathering people for death-by-update and working together to create a strategy for the year ahead.

Remedy - Get clear about what you want to achieve - before you meet

Ask yourself "What do we want as outcomes from this meeting for the business, for the team, and for ourselves?" Write your answers down and share them with the team in advance. Re-share them at the start of the meeting and then check-in with your team at the end of your time together to see how far you got.

Fail Two:
A few people do all the talking.

Perhaps you've got a few strong personalities running all the important parts of the business. At least, that’s their understanding…

Most of the time, extroverts walk into meetings ready to share their successes or challenges while introverts come in wondering how they’ll get a word in edgewise.

In our experience, almost no-one feels good about attending a meeting to hear a few bold personalities brag about their contribution or complain about the situation at hand.

Remedy - Introduce and apply the Buffet Rule.

Let people know you'd like everyone to have firsts before people go for seconds. And thirds. And double dessert. Meaning - make sure everyone has a chance to share their thoughts before others weigh in.

In a team of passionate and trustworthy people, a couple are bound to argue about issues. When that happens, simply press pause and ask the group to weigh in with their thoughts. Going around the room can both enrich the conversation and defuse brewing battles.

Fail Three:
People bring up pet peeve issues that can't be solved and/or distract from the meeting.

It’s after lunch and you’ve made some great progress and all of the sudden you hear, "Yeah, we could get our work done on that if that stupid IT system from 2004 actually helped us!" 

Off-topic and victim-minded - can you say rabbit hole? 

How do you help someone let go of a problem so you can move the company forward together on the topic at hand?

Remedy - Use a Parking Lot for good ideas or distracting concerns.

A flip-chart or corner of a whiteboard - titled "Parking Lot" - can work wonders. When an issue or idea comes up that's not core to your meeting, simply say or ask if the concern could go in the parking lot. Write the concern down clearly using their words to handle at the right time. 

Hint - if the time you want to get back to the issue  is “never,” you probably need to have a one-on-one conversation with someone. Don’t be afraid to say, “We can take this off-line together afterwards” and then make sure to do so.

Fail Four:
You’ve jammed way too much content into the time available. 

You don't have much time, need to accomplish a lot, and are optimistic about how long (challenging) conversations may take. If you find yourself cutting off the group before you understand or resolve issues for the sake of the clock, you're planning too much.

Remedy - Build in buffers when setting the agenda. 

Ensure you have enough time and multiply your estimate by 1.5. Or add an extra time buffer onto the last activity before the meeting ends. If you find yourself ahead of schedule, you can decide to take a break or move on to the next item. 

Professional tip - ending early is a real morale booster!

Fail Five:
Leaders can’t participate in conversations because they are focused on others’ participation.

One of the most common things we hear from leaders when sharing their DIY challenges is they couldn’t participate in important conversations and facilitate at the same time. Splitting their focus reduced the leaders’ input to the issues at hand and left them feeling frustrated they couldn’t advocate like they wanted to.

Remedy - [Shameless plug!] Hire a professional facilitator. 

A great meeting happens when you get a lot done, no time is wasted, and people are clear about what’s next. Everyone leaves feeling heard and understood, with energy to get into action - including you! Having a well-designed and well-facilitated meeting can alleviate hours of personal struggle, and help to leverage all the salaries of all the people in the room. 

Whether your year-end planning meeting is three hours or three days, involving a small group or hundreds, let’s talk about how we can help make your end-of year planning a success. And if you choose to go the DIY route this year, we hope the tips we shared make your retreat a greater success.