Recently, I was approached by a manager and asked a question I hear a lot, “Why would we need a strategy retreat for anyone below the senior management level?”
My answer was very simple: “A strategy-focused retreat provides a designated time for team members to take a step back from normal activities, call ‘time out’ from putting out fires and responding to crisis, and take a focused look at the team’s direction.
This effort includes a check on progress for existing strategic projects and a review of accountability, commitments, and future plans. A retreat also creates an opportunity to reassess the team’s fundamental direction, vision, and competitiveness.
In other words, it gives them the opportunity to define and evaluate the value the team is contributing to the business.”
Experienced long distance runners, swimmers, hikers, and sailors know that if you don’t have a good tool for navigation, you can end up going in circles without even realizing it. It doesn’t take much to drift off course.
Imagine a runner with the muscles in one leg stronger than the other. The strong leg will pull that runner, unintentionally, in that direction. Recently, and after three previous, failed attempts, 64-year-old Diana Nyad completed her historic 110-mile swim from Cuba to Florida.
This feat would not have been possible without a focused strategy and her team alongside dragging a line in the water to keep her on course. Without adjusting the team’s strategy and following that guide she would have been destined to tread water endlessly, making little or no progress, and missing key milestones.
I know from my own experience as a leader how easy it is to get wrapped up in the day-to-day and feel like you are doing the right things for the business and the key stakeholders. But when you go through your days doing what you have always done, not looking toward the future and checking your bearings; you are not following a prescription for sustained, strategic success.
Here at CMOE we believe that a leader’s most important job is to ensure tomorrows success. We like to say that when a person is strategically tuned, they are “managing a level up.” Unfortunately too many people are “managing a level down.” They over-control the present and micromanage daily tasks.
A strategic retreat is the tool that gets us out of the cross currents and rip tides of daily demands and routine requests that we all have to deal with. Some of our clients literally call these strategy retreats “sanity sessions.”
There are a lot of things in life that we cannot control. The future is full of uncertainties and unknowns. It can be a place of fear and loathing if you don’t exercise some foresight, develop strategic skills, and become a force that shapes the future.
We like to say, “drive or be driven.” If you passively approach the future you will be part of someone else’s strategy. However, if you are actively navigating through the threats, risks, and vulnerabilities; strategically identifying or creating opportunities and working your way toward your vision, you stand a chance of achieving your aspirations and dreams.
It takes discipline to resist the natural urge to bear down, work harder, and squeeze more tactical effort out of people. A periodic strategic review is an essential component of working smarter, not harder.
A leader has to have the courage to call time-out, to stand down, and provide the opportunity to have an honest conversation with their team about the progress, objectives and results that are being produced. A strategy retreat allows the team to recalculate, reformulate, and make adjustments in direction – and then go after it.
A reviewed and refreshed strategy gives people renewed hope in the future and a fresh sense of purpose and excitement. Without an occasional strategy retreat, it all just looks like an endless horizon of blue ocean with no beacon, no guide, and no land in sight.