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Developing a Clear Strategy: Board Retreats in Person are Worth Considering

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to go through strategy sessions with a consultant at the nonprofit organization I worked at in Roxbury, MA. I loved the conversation that she led with the staff and the directors. We reviewed program policies and procedures, and in between meetings, had assignments to advance the work. It was the first time I had experienced that level of profound clarity in strategy at work. Some of the concepts I learned then are still concepts I use now, almost fifteen years later!

I've clocked thousands of hours working in the field helping to develop organizations, this time I am doing so in a consulting role. Helping organizations create strategies to roll out initiatives is what I do best, and at MAPA Collaborative, I get to do this work with my business partner, Maritza Raimundi-Petroski, whose similar and yet unique background compliments my strengths. When MAPA Collaborative received an invitation to plan and facilitate a board retreat from an existing client, we were elated. It was a testament to the work we had done and an opportunity to create a custom strategy to help them achieve their goals. The first order of business was to get clear on the outcome. With only four weeks to plan, we worked closely to shape the agenda to meet that outcome and design an interactive experience for the participants.

Since many of us spent over a year working remotely and in front of a computer, it was an intentional decision to facilitate the conversation without the aid of the computer. We printed a few posters and focused on small group discussions about important topics. We also made good use of handouts. The board retreat helped get the group to re-connect, re-focus, and clarify strategies.

The outcomes of the retreat were to:

  1. Strengthen the board relationship and foster connection, cooperation, and collaboration.

  2. Provide greater clarity on identified strategies.

  3. Increase capacity to create results by clarifying a decision-making process.

  4. Prioritize strategies to meet the three overarching goals.

  5. Increase board’s understanding of funding needs.

After breakfast and a small group activity where participants were able to talk about their needs to thrive as a leader in the organization, the group moved to affirm its strengths. The strategy session followed. The retreat culminated with a talk about current trends and their impact on the organization’s work.

Part of the package for the Board retreat included a written agenda, an annotated agenda for the Executive Director and Board Chair, several handouts, and written instructions on all the activities. We met before and after the event, and the wrap-up included written notes.

Our vision at MAPA Collaborative is to generate momentum and creativity so leaders can confidently navigate their professional and personal lives. Elevating the work of the Executive Director and the Board Chair by partnering with them for a successful board experience, makes that vision a reality.

To create a safe experience, consider hosting a retreat in a large space that still allows for connection while keeping a safe distance. Masks can be optional depending on the level of comfort and the policies of the organization, and state guidelines.

Paula Figueroa-Vega, Co-Founder, MAPA Collaborative, LLC

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