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Elected Board Retreats

Deciding on Participants, Location, and Time

PARTICIPANTS

There is no doubt that board members will disagree on some issues. The intent of a retreat is to develop agreement about direction or decisions, behavior or expectations. Uncovering individual assumptions, beliefs, and values related to specific issues can lead to a deeper level of understanding and should help members to understand each other's perspective even when they don't agree.

If the ultimate goal of your retreat is to establish unity in purpose and in process, then all members of the elected board should participate in the retreat. When even one member of the group is not present, committed, or privy to the board's shared understanding, his/her dissent can undermine all the work accomplished. Encouraging 100% participation by choosing a time and location that allows maximum participation is one key to a successful outcome.

The number and type of participants varies. Generally speaking, most managers will attend all or part of their elected bodies' retreat since they have the closest and most direct working relationship. Other participants may include the clerk, attorney, or department heads. If the group becomes too large, however, the ability to have honest and open discussion may be hindered.

Retreats by local school boards, city council, county commissioners and other government groups must be open to the public. Regular meeting notification procedures apply to retreats, and oftentimes the press or the public will attend. Being clear about their role1 in the retreat and stating that expectation upfront acknowledges the way these citizens can and cannot contribute to the work of the group. Important work happens in these settings, and the board should convey that message. Use these community eyes and ears to help spread the word about the real work that takes place during your retreat and how it can benefit the group and their effectiveness in governing your community.

LOCATION AND TIME

Where you hold your retreat is a locally-driven decision. Other than choosing a location away from the groups' regular meeting place, there is no conventional wisdom about where to go. Retreats are held in resort-like settings, community centers, library meeting rooms, church camps, vacation homes, hotel conference rooms, or corporate offices. Whatever location you chose should allow for maximum participation, minimal distractions, and comfortable surroundings. Facilitators appreciate flexible seating that can be arranged in various manners and rooms with wall space for posting flipchart pages.

Most boards opt for a 1 or 2-day format for their retreat, which may include gathering the night before to establish ground rules and expectations for the retreat. It also provides important social time. The work conducted at a retreat is intense and exhausting. Going beyond two days or holding marathon late-night sessions is generally unproductive. Adhering to the expected schedule by starting and ending on time is critical, but pushing people beyond their capacity to think clearly and strategically only leads to diminished results. Allow adequate rest and reflection time in your schedule. Good ideas and productive interactions often happen during the unscheduled time spent together.


  1. Participation options vary, and could include listening only with no ability to comment; commenting only during certain points in the agenda; or participating informally throughout the retreat.
Public Officials - Local and State Government Roles