Four Things I’ve Learned about Board Retreats

 ...and Some Other Notes on the Last Few Weeks

It’s strategic planning crunch time here at Floricane, which means an exciting period of renewal for our clients as their fiscal years turn over and their leadership transitions. (I would insert a gardening metaphor here, but I’m still too waterlogged from two months of rain to discuss it.)

We’re attempting to land four simultaneous plans in the next few weeks and have been crisscrossing the state for some face time with our clients. Last week, the Floricane Strategic Planning Crew (John and I) did the following:

  • Traveled to Warrenton, Virginia, to facilitate our third Board retreat in as many weeks.
  • Tiptoed out of our respective homes while our families slept to spend the day in Newport News with the staff and Board of Smart Beginnings Virginia Peninsula.
  • Sat around a fire pit getting to know the fantastic and dedicated group of volunteers and staff who run the Virginia Society of Association Executives (VSAE).

The Saturday before, we huddled with the Board and staff from Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME) to examine how their work can have an even greater impact on the state of fair and affordable housing in Virginia.

These many hours interacting with people, asking difficult questions, airing hopes and fears, pointing out elephants in rooms, celebrating alignment, and when necessary (twist my arm), enjoying a rare, rain-free evening around an outdoor fire, have taught me a few lessons:

  • No two Board retreats are alike. We always customize our agendas, but more often than not, we end up pivoting in the moment based on the tone, tenor and direction of the conversation.
  • Sometimes things click, and sometimes they don’t. All of these organizations are wrestling with important, complex issues. Often we have to wrap for the day knowing there is far more work to be done, and it’s easy to feel deflated when that happens.
  • Strategic planning can be a vulnerable time for an organization, particularly for staff and outgoing leadership. It’s often our responsibility to navigate the knowledge gap between Board members and the staff who run the day-to-day operations, and to make sure that bold ideas are both exciting and realistic. Staff on the other hand are inspired and supported best by Boards that take ownership of the plan and commit to championing its implementation.
  • If you’re going to spend 4-6 hours in a room with 20+ people, do it in a room with windows.       

I’m excited about the next few weeks. The strategies set forth in these plans will affect many, many people. The ripple effect of 12 people deciding to go in a certain direction, for example, could conceivably change the lives of hundreds of young children and families in Newport News and Hampton for the next few decades. The decisions made by the administrators of the Injury and Violence Prevention Program at VCU Medical Center will cascade out into the community in ways that will bring a new level of health, safety and quality of life to our region.

As soon as we land these plans, a few more are waiting on the tarmac for take-off. Here’s hoping the skies are clear and free of rain.