Thursday, May 27, 2010

Oxygen for the Organizational Brain

THIS WEEK, NONPROFIT CONSULTANT MARION CONWAY is running a series of articles on her blog about the importance of board retreats.  She's giving you all the best insight on why to do them and how to do them; she's even sharing sample agendas!  So you've got to check that out.
I consider the board retreat oxygen for the organizational brain.  It provides space and time to breathe and think deeply about the organization's health and well-being.  As I've written elsewhere, the coming together of boards, staff and volunteers can be a bonding experience that can move an organization to new levels of achievement.  And taking time to breathe and think deeply can clear away the cobwebs and refocus everyone on the mission and the impact.
Most regular board meetings just can't do that very well.  With their agendas and often rigorous timeframes, getting the chance to even take a breath, much less a deep one, is almost impossible.  You've got to create separate space for deep breathing.
Lots of boards go on hiatus during the summer months.  I think this could be a great time to hold a retreat -- even if it's just for a few hours around the backyard grill.  It's the chance to take the long view, review options, ask the "what if's" and keep the oxygen flowing.
Photo: Oneness Family Board Retreat,...from cliffkayser


Debra said...

Two factors often play a role, I think.

One, there's sometimes a 'getting our money's worth' element to bringing in a facilitator, renting space, taking time away from work and/or family. Let's stuff as much work as we can to make the most of the experience.

Two, we cram our board agendas with so much 'stuff' that we don't have the natural opportunities to reflect, think and, well, breathe.

Retreats should provide opportunities for naturally deeper group reflection and work; but we too often treat them as our one, annual shot of oxygen. Can we really live on one breath a year?

(Love your framing of this, by the way. So vivid, so to-the-point.)

Marion Conway said...

Hi Anne,

Thank you so much for your comments and referral to my blog. This series of articles is getting a lot of attention. It is likely to appear as a composite article in a Charity Channel publication next year.

I love your "oxygen for the organizational brain" comment. Is it okay if i quote it?


Marion Conway

Anne W. Ackerson said...

Debra, that's a great point you raise about all the intellectual and emotional pressure that gets put on an annual retreat -- expectations run high and you only get one chance each year to do it right!!

So, here's where I'm thinking that in-between and ongoing breathing spaces are important to create. I was with a board last night and after the meeting three board members, the director and I went out for a beer. It's regularly done by this organization and it's an opportunity to debrief, consider wild ideas and bond. It's too bad that the rest of the board doesn't join in -- more do from time to time -- but everyone should take the opportunity at least once or twice a year to have that beer. I'm going to suggest to the director that she announce the opportunity in advance of the board meeting so that more trustees can plan ahead to join in.

Anne W. Ackerson said...

Marion -- by all means use "oxygen for the organization brain"!!

I'm noodling around now with thinking about what other activities provide oxygen. Would love you hear your and Debra's thoughts about it!