How to Improve Your Next Strategic Planning Retreat

Lately I've been working on retreats for law firms, foundations and other clients.  One tool I recommend before any important retreat or strategic planning session is a pre-retreat survey. Why?

Research shows if you wait until the meeting to get input, you won't get the full story. That's beause people who speak the loudest and who speak up first often sway the opinions of others.

By collecting input ahead of the event, you can get a good idea coming in of what's really on the minds of your participants.

My recommendations for a good survey:

  1. Make sure it is trusted as confidential and anonymous.  You can do that by asking a third party to collect the data for you.  
  2. Include both open-ended and multiple choice or ranking questions.
  3. Leave room for comments.
  4. Ask for helpful demographic data (years with organization, office, job) but not in such detail that anonymity is jeopardized.
  5. Use an online survey tool such as Survey Monkey to make data gathering easier. 
  6. Ask what issues are most important for the group to discuss at the retreat and for recommendations for making the retreat more successful.
  7. Keep the survey short enough that it can be completed in about 10 minutes.
  8. Provide a summary of the survey responses to the participants (but only if you have made absolutely clear in advance of administering the survey exactly what will be distributed).