(text accompanying PowerPoint“ presentation)
CDR John R. Holman, MC, USN
(edited for web page by DL Hufford, CDR, MC, USN, 03 JUL 99)
Faculty Development Fellowship
Madigan Army Medical Center
Using small group discussion and didactics,
††††††††††† What is a retreat? What does a retreat entail? Websterís defines a retreat as a "period of group withdrawal for prayer, meditation, study and instruction under a director" . A well-planned retreat can offer a time of seclusion for contemplation, time that an organization can use to accomplish one or several important goals .
††††††††††† There are five types of retreats, listed in order of popularity :
What are some tips for a successful retreat?
A five-step process for planning can help result in a successful retreat.
The Five-Step Planning Process
††††††††††† The five-step planning process is used to identify and address the key elements for a successful retreat :
A specific person or team should be assigned the planning function as their main duty, not as an "add-on" assignment 3. Daily work schedules will need adjustment to allow enough real work time to get the job done.
††††††††††† A two-part process, an understanding of the target group is obtained followed by evaluation of the human, physical and financial resources required. Define the target group by asking questions. Who is expected to be in attendance? What are their skill and maturity levels? Determine the competency levels of the staff. Select a good, neutral facilitator. Important characteristics may include specific expertise in a certain area along with the ability to assess a situation, be able to listen carefully, remember what they have heard, keep control of the discussion, and preventing the retreat from turning into a "gripe" session . Conduct interviews with potential facilitators and invite them to the organization to share information about the group dynamics and goals of the retreat. A facilitator from outside the organization who does not have a vested interest may be in a better position to keep participants on track and play devilís advocate for clarification.
††††††††††† The ideal setting for a retreat is a live-in, self-contained facility away from the workplace. If the retreat is longer than one day, the participants should stay overnight to allow maximum participation in group activities 3. Meals, either self-prepared or catered, must be available on-site. This helps maintain group cohesion and focus. While a retreat can be the most effective program for the organization, it is also the most expensive to the sponsoring institution and the participant. Low-cost options for organizations on a budget include state parks, Boy and Girl Scout camps, 4-H camps, church camps or local college or university facilities. Hotels may or may not be the ideal locale, but they often are the most expensive. Simple and comfortable are the most important factors. Opportunities for non-meeting activities such as group sports or fitness workouts are important as well.
Advocacy and Ownership
††††††††††† The planning process MUST include participation and input from representatives of ALL participants in the retreat. People are more apt to participate in what they have had a hand in creating. Committees can be established to handle transportation, food and refreshments, recreation, site logistics, agenda and clean up. If spouses and children are invited, including both of these groups in the planning process will encourage commitment and a well-rounded retreat with something for all attendees. A substantial amount of lead-time is necessary for the planning process to be effective .
††††††††††† Allen cautions planners about the tendency to design retreats and workshops around a desired subject matter rather than around students . When asking participants what their needs are, they will most likely respond with what they are most concerned with at the moment. However, making decisions about the learning outcomes that will be addressed at the retreat must balance the immediate desires of students and their real needs-needs they many not be aware of at the present. Retreat designers should transcend the short-run gratification of "want fulfillment" and include content that addresses the larger, long-range question of teaching participants what is necessary for their own development .
Designing the Retreat
††††††††††† A move to an off-site retreat center increases energy and enthusiasm levels. Sleeping arrangements that offer large, bunk-style bedrooms increase interaction among participants but may be impractical if children are attending. Other important site considerations include meal planning, access to telephones, photocopiers, computers and audio-visual equipment. The availability of a confidence or ropes course is a strong addition to any retreat. Such courses promote team building, increase feelings of competence, and are tried and tested methods for teaching group problem-solving and decision-making.
††††††††††† Retreat planners need to consider liability and protection issues in the planning process. Consultation with the organizational counsel and the risk management office will provide answers to key questions. Who is potentially liable for injuries at the site? What kind of insurance, if any, should be expected from the retreat site? Is it better to transport participants to and from the site in a bus or allow the use of private vehicles 4?
††††††††††† The primary costs for any retreat are the basic individual room and meal costs charged by the facility. Other expenditures may include busing to and from the facility, use of the confidence course, refreshments, promotional costs, handout materials, and perks such as T-shirts or awards. If outside facilitators are used, transportation and/or honorarium fees may be included.
††††††††††† The well-designed retreat comes to life through the capacity of the facilitators to engage the students in learning. Experiential learning approaches have the most impact on retreat participants. As active participants, learners are responsible for their own learning. Exercises that cause students to think, select courses of action, and suffer the consequences of their choices have the highest level of involvement.
††††††††††† The retreat model is a format whereby the introductory sessions serve as a foundation for each subsequent learning experience. As the retreat progresses, each new topical area builds on material previously covered. In the beginning, the events are very structured with the facilitator being very directive in the groupís formation stage. As the retreat progresses with the group maturing, the facilitator moves through the different stages with the group, modifying activities to fit their development. The facilitators often begin by telling the topic, then selling the topic, followed by a participative stage and then a nearly pure delegation style by the close 4.
††††††††††† The initial session is critical for creating a behavioral contract between facilitators and the group and within the group itself, establishing the parameters for the entire retreat. The group must conform to the rules of the retreat site. Facilitator expectations must be clarified. Participantsí expectations for items such as support of risk-taking behaviors and respecting the individual who is speaking will be determined. Through these norms, the goal of establishing a warm, nonthreatening supportive environment will be realized. By beginning with low-risk activities and then moving towards higher-risk, participation and learning are enhanced.
††††††††††† Scheduling of free time and fun allows participants the opportunity to disengage, process and begin to integrate what has been learned. Meals may offer significant personal time but allowing 3 to 4 hours of unscheduled time late in the afternoon (including dinner) is important. Planning creative free time options in the evening can improve group togetherness. Active fun such as square dancing or rotating board games is much better than a passive movie or video.
††††††††††† Closure is a critical time in the retreat process. Written and verbal feedback on every portion of the retreat is vital for future planning. This is a good time to distribute perks such as T-shirts, certificates or awards. In choosing the final activity, the key is to help the group leave with a sense of warmth, energy and renewed commitment to the organization and its goals.
Implementing the Program
††††††††††† Advance sign-ups should be required to gauge attendance. An orientation several days before the retreat should be held to set the stage for the program. This is a good time to build energy through discussion of the agenda and desired learning outcomes. Participants may be asked to complete goal statements to be shared with facilitators who will work with them later in focus groups. Basic norms such as site-imposed restrictions may also be reviewed.
††††††††††† Use time wisely! Participants expect to stay on time, so do it! Have energizers in reserve and use them when necessary. Define each learning outcome as it is undertaken and relate the content to each participantís role in the organization. This personalizes the core skill to be learned. Finally, be flexible. Donít hesitate to change and adapt if the retreat needs to go in a different direction.
††††††††††† Follow-up activities are necessary to keep the energy flowing from the retreat back to the workplace. The opportunity to network can be key to maintain the relationships formed during a retreat. It is important for learners to create avenues for discussion to talk about the long-term impact of the experience. Having the students meet as a focus group throughout the year provides a link between the intense retreat experience and the reality of the workplace.
††††††††††† The retreat may not be a panacea for all the challenges of the workplace, but it can be a beginning of a new understanding. Planning using the five step process of
can help create a successful retreat for all participants. Follow-up activities after the retreat help foster continuing application of the skills learned during this intense learning environment.
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