Originally published in the Boulder Daily Camera and the Longmont Daily Times-Call.

Have you ever walked in to a room and wondered what you are doing there?

Recently I cruised through my house picking up a few things here and there. I rearranged a few items, did a bit of laundry and noticed it was time to go to the grocery store. However, that wasn’t my purpose. My purpose was specific, important, and now forever forgotten. Because I didn’t have a plan, I was easily distracted. I had no road map to work from, and so any activity could, and did, fill the time.

While people frequently experience this feeling, well run organizations know that they won’t survive if they don’t know where they are going.

People tend to spend a great deal of time talking and writing about future plans. Often little thought is given to the outcome of what they are communicating. Organizational goals, values and strategies are often left behind. My question – why bother with the activity if what you are doing isn’t effective?

One of the ways that people work to get organized and to plan strategically is to get groups of people together to discuss and make plans. By working outside the parameters of typical day-to-day meetings, staff retreats, board retreats and other workshop type events provide the means to think long-term and to make plans that will drive future activities.

While well intentioned, these gatherings often fail to accomplish anything. The reason? Lack of preparation, facilitation, strategy development and road map development for moving plans and goals forward.

During the past twenty years I’ve attended dozens and dozens of these type of events. Many times I’ve attended as a participant. I’ve been enriched by positive, well-planned agendas led by professionals who were able to keep everyone moving while honoring the goals of the event. I’ve also wasted more hours than I can count by attending poorly planned events, with no identifiable goals, led by people who didn’t know how to lead such proceedings.

For many years I’ve been a professional facilitator for both non-profit and for profit organizations. The main point of facilitation is to leverage the resources of group members.

Many non-profits and for profit businesses schedule annual Retreats. The idea is to review the previous year, look ahead and develop strategies for meeting key goals for the organization. Some Retreats focus on specific topics, such as marketing, fundraising, etc. Others are more global in nature. They are more about planning for successful tomorrows today.

When participants leave a Retreat they should be highly energized and motivated. The course ahead should be clear to all involved. Loose string are tied up, or a process for addressing them has been identified.

Successful facilitation depends upon a great deal of planning. Understanding the goals to be achieved, learning more about the participants, and always keeping the bigger goal in mind is one way that facilitators are successful. It is also important to be able to read body language. Rolling eyes, yawns, restlessness and fiddling with gadgets all indicate that the participant is not engaged. Professional facilitators know how to keep everyone engaged.

Numerous techniques exist for keeping Retreats running smoothly. Different models are used depending upon the type of Retreat being held. Often pre-surveys are done to better understand where an organization is before the actual work begins.

Taking the time to plan your next Retreat with a facilitator will provide you with the road map you need to move your organization forward.

Now, if only I could only remember what I originally came in to the room for.

Stacy Cornay is the owner of Communication Concepts Public Relations & Advertising. 
She may be reached at 303-651-6612; scornay@comm-concepts.com; www.comm-concepts.com; Facebook.com/Communication Concepts; Twitter @CommConceptsPR; or Linked In.

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