“What’s the point of having a retreat to do strategic planning? Isn’t that really just a waste of time?”
As shocking as it can seem, I’ve heard more than a few board members ask these questions when presented with the need to set aside time in order to think and plan about the future.
To some, it seems that the present problems are so consuming that thinking about the future is a luxury that they can’t afford. They are too busy bailing water out of the boat to think about having to steer it. However, regardless of how bad the current problems are, there are a lot of good reasons to take time at least once a year to strategize for the future.
- Team members do not really know what other team members think about issues unless there is time given to discuss the issues.
I don’t know how many times I’ve been in a retreat and a leader will give his/her opinion about something, only to have other colleagues say, “I never knew that’s what you thought about that!” That’s a little bit like saying, “I didn’t know that was in there” about a book that you’ve never read! (Of course you didn’t! How would you?) Strategic planning retreats provide a chance to share opinions and perspectives.
- Strategic Planning lifts the leaders out of the operational level, which is where they tend to gravitate unless they are driven by a shared vision.
Inevitably, if leaders do not focus on the horizon, they are sucked into focusing on the potholes, the crises, and the jobs that they are paying other people to do. One of the major differences between strategic leadership and every other level is that every other level of leadership is focused on the present—strategic leadership is focused on the future. Only the leaders at the top of the organization are in the appropriate position to focus on the direction that they need to go. In other words, if those leaders don’t do it, no one else legitimately can.
- Team unity that comes out of these retreats is a byproduct and a catalytic element.
In almost every Strategic planning retreat I have led, the participants say that they feel more team unity afterwards. We don’t try to force a team to feel close. In fact, the more you try to force it, the more elusive it becomes. It’s a byproduct of having a shared vision. On the other hand, it’s also really important to have a sense of team unity. When you have it, it’s like a catalyst for so many good things that you don’t experience when you don’t have unity.
I’ve been accused of being too optimistic, but the truth is I know that just because you develop a strategic plan doesn’t mean it’s always going to work out like you plan. On the other hand, if you are a leader of an organization, it is irresponsible not to plan, and a bit too optimistic to think that everything will just work out any way.