How did it get to be November already? Yet here it is – that time of year when one calendar year winds down in a frenzy of holidays and a new year beacons. Despite the busyness, it’s an important time for reflection and planning. I’d like to invite you to take a step back so that you can begin 2023 ready to take strides forward.

Specifically, consider planning a retreat. Retreat has many meanings… It can mean admitting defeat and decamping the scene to recharge and restrategize. It can mean taking a spiritual or intellectual journey by going someplace to be quiet, to think, and to pray. It can simply mean taking substantial reflective time to consider the past and plan for the future. Your retreat could be for yourself, or with your spouse or family, or with your work team, or with like-minded colleagues.

A successful retreat requires a bit of planning beyond setting dates and finding an appropriate setting. In fact, it’s often useful to ease into it with preparatory exercises. I recommend you begin making plans in the coming weeks for a retreat to occur in January. That will give you time to plan, to do pre-work, and to enjoy holiday celebrations before coming back to do some serious strategizing.

Elements of a successful retreat

Determine your goals
The heart of the matter is deciding on the outcomes you want for your retreat. A plan? A decision? A sense of possibility? Stronger relationships? Foundations for a new project? Several well-developed ideas to pursue? Obviously, the design of your event, including who will be invited to attend, all stem from a clear idea of the goals you want to achieve in your retreat.

Make preparations
Beyond the logistics, make careful plans for the activities that you’ll engage in during your retreat. You’ll often find that your activities can be more productive if you complete some prework before the event, and you’ll want to make plans so there’s time to get that done. Communicate with others who will be on the retreat so that you all have the same goals, expectations, and commitments.

Arrange for a facilitator
A skilled facilitator can make all the difference in your retreat; you need someone who will invite open discussion, ask hard questions, handle glitches, manage conflicts, ensure even participation, and keep people on track. You can facilitate your meeting yourself, of course, but you may be more free to engage if someone else is taking that responsibility. In some instances, a separate note-taker can also be a godsend. Even if you are retreating alone, it can be helpful to have a guide before, during, and after – an advisor and conversation partner who can encourage you to think more deeply.

Go away, even if it’s just down the street. Find a comfortable space that you don’t encounter every day. Dedicate substantial time – a full day, preferably two or more days. Turn off your devices, or at least shut off notices and leave closed the apps you don’t need for your retreat.

Start each day with reflection and intention-setting
Your day could start with exercise (yoga, or a walk outdoors, or an early morning swim) to get your physical energies boosted and to open yourselves with deep breathing. And before jumping into the day’s action, take a few moments to focus your minds as well. For example, read an inspiring passage, list gratitudes, enagage in a guided reflection, contemplate artwork, or play inviting music. Open up conversation with others. Write thoughts or draw in a journal. Allow for quiet thought (and perhaps journaling) between intention-setting and your next activity.

Engage in robust activities
Plan for deep, thought-provoking, engaging activities that lead steadily to your intended outcomes. These may include visioning exercises, data interpretation, guided reflections, future thinking, challenging discussions, and extensive planning activities. Break out of old ways of thinking by incorporating unique, never-done-before exercises. Include activities that get creative energies flowing as well – making art, thinking outside-the-box. Allow for intense, prolonged discussion for a purpose. Be sure everyone feels included and has an opportunity to speak and to contribute. Mix up small groups. Get people moving to different spaces and disrupt prolonged sitting.

Eat healthy
Plan lite breakfasts, lunches that won’t leave you sleepy, and dinners that are a treat. And don’t underestimate the importance of fruit, healthy snacks, water, and a little bit of chocolate.

Record insights and plans
Gift yourself and your retreat partners each a spiffy journal and colored writing instruments for recording thoughts throughout the entire retreat: for prework, morning intentions, note-taking, exercise responses, and journaling. Use whiteboards, poster paper, post-it notes, and other tools to externalize your thinking. Leave them up and take photos to serve as ongoing inspiration during the retreat and afterwards.

Note: Some people much prefer electronic record-keeping, so don’t forbid that possibility. Just have agreements about walling off distractions that can be tempting.

Turn toward action and celebrate
End with activities that solidify your outcomes and next steps. Schedule follow-up actions and report-outs so that decisions and plans are not lost in the return-to-daily-life. Cap off with a celebration of sorts – something that underscores the progress you’ve made on the retreat and rewards the hard work that went into your outcomes.

The power of retreat

Over the years, I’ve been involved in a number of successful retreats, so I can attest to their power in setting direction and inspiring action, My experiences have included meetings that resulted in stirring visions, deeper self-knowledge, strengthened relationships, exciting business plans, and concrete action steps. While the outcomes, groups, and personalities have all been different, what made these efforts successful was agreed-upon goals, solid planning, skilled facilitation, and a willingness on the part of everyone to dig in.

If the pandemic has taught us nothing else, it is to check ourselves on our desires for our life, our work, our families, our communities, and how we spend our time and energy. It makes sense to annually take stock of where we are and where we want to go, and the transition to a new year is a good prompt to invest in an extensive analysis and long-term planning event. It won’t happen unless we deliberately make it so.


If you’d like help…

I can partner with you to plan and facilitate an impactful retreat for your department, your team, your professional network, or yourself. Your retreat can be designed to make a strategic plan, analyze options and make a decision, create learning and development plans, discern future conditions or achieve other ends. It can be face-to-face or virtual, synchronous or asynchronous, anywhere from a few hours to a few days. The possibiities for design – and for achieving critical-to-you outcomes – are endless.

I will: work with you to clarify goals, recommend activities, pull together resources, advise on logistics, ensure documentation, and bring chocolate. Please get in touch to explore what we might achieve together.