The Board Retreat – Committing to the Best in Governance and Leadership

For heads of schools, board chairs, and the entire board; the retreat is an essential best practice that engages the board in a critical aspect of its work that potentially improves every facet of a board’s experience. Yet many independent and faith-based school governing boards have eliminated this valuable practice.

Some who might be unfamiliar with this practice might mistakenly view the retreat as a mini-vacation or some type of reward for serving on the board. But experienced leaders and board members know them to be an indispensable board method to minimize distractions, encourage open dialog, create and deepen levels of trust, review the strategic plan, and begin the process to engage in strategic planning.

To be certain, a board retreat often involves some enjoyable activities and a location that is peaceful and removed from daily distractions. But that is needed to ensure a successful retreat. It’s an opportunity to bring in outside expertise to facilitate the process, keep the board on task, lead and encourage discussions and possibly reveal flaws in thinking and planning that otherwise may not be discovered until the damage is done.

Outside of the typical roster of attendees, boards may also choose to invite others that can help them accomplish their objectives. This can include individuals that can speak to marketing, finance, construction, diversity, and most anything that enhances the board and improves their work. It might also include key staff in leadership positions at the school.

The culture of the board is critical to its effectiveness and a retreat can be the spring board to eliminate bad habits and embrace best practices. Trust, support, encouragement, bonding, renewed energy, shared vision, self-awareness, and much more are all possible results from a well thought-out and executed retreat. One of the important benefits of the retreat is the renewal or the beginning of collaboration and communication so essential for the chair, head of school, and all board members.

Many schools go years without scheduling a retreat. Reasons range from cost, time, leadership, culture, etc. But schools that do not carve out time that brings to the table the maximum amount of organizational knowledge, talent, and leadership skills possible are more vulnerable to shifts in culture, economic downturns, and poorly executed leadership successions.