Executive Retreat Pitfalls

Executive retreats play a huge role in the success of any organization. Yet many people resist them and don’t want to participate fully.

This has been very much on my mind because I’ve led a number of strategic planning retreats in the last year and been president of two organizations myself where we used them to great effect. Here are a few reasons, in my experience, how the resistance happens:

1. Some corporate environments foster disingenuous opinions, politics, and pandering during strategic planning. The dangerous “group think,” where everybody voices the exact same opinion, is one common result when this happens. Of course, there are a lot more negative implications for this one.

2. Some company cultures refuse to hold anyone responsible for commitments made during the retreat. Procrastination is tolerated. There is little discipline for follow through; therefore, the perception is that nothing ever changes.

3. One or two strong personalities are allowed to dominate. The perception among the others participating is that the effort to participate honestly is an exercise in futility.

For all these reasons and more, executive retreats almost always need an experienced player who is outside the organization to work through these issues and to hold the team accountable. It’s hard for an “inside” person to diffuse the behavior of a difficult personality.

I’d like to discuss this much more over the next few weeks and am curious to know what other’s thoughts are about strategic planning retreats. What experiences have you had? What have you noticed working well and not working? When have you felt engaged and disengaged?