The Value of Board Retreats

Why hold a board retreat?

board retreat

Serving on a community college governing board can be a rewarding experience but at times quite challenging as well. The roles and responsibilities of governing boards are complex. In addition, students and the community at-large expect board members to be knowledgeable in their role, committed to student success, and aware of changing priorities and trends in higher education. Board development is considered a standard of good practice, demonstrates the board’s commitment to professionalism, and serves as a model for the rest of the institution. 

How do governing boards take time to reflect, study, and plan?

A board retreat is one way for board members to explore emerging issues, address concerns, review and clarify roles and responsibilities, set goals and priorities, and develop a cohesive board. Retreats allow for focused discussion and strategic thinking about how to best serve the college and the community. Additionally, when boards take the time to “retreat” it allows board members to get to know one another and learn about the skills, experiences, and contributions each person brings to the table.

Why invest the time and effort to participate in a board retreat?

Board members are busy professionals who juggle numerous responsibilities. Setting aside a time to engage in a board retreat may seem like a burden, but investing the time in a retreat can help the board adopt a more collaborative approach to governance. This is valuable for building board cohesiveness and establishing respect and appreciation for one another. Board development and on-going training can contribute to improving the effectiveness of the board. 

When should a board hold a retreat?

There are two ways to approach a retreat. Some colleges schedule an annual retreat and it is included in the annual meetings calendar. Knowing well in advance when the retreat will be held gives board members an opportunity to plan ahead to participate. Sometimes an issue arises that may need immediate intervention. For example, if board dysfunction has escalated to a point that is preventing the board and college from serving the students, then a board retreat may need to be scheduled to bring everyone to the table. All board members should be committed to participating in board development and on-going training.

What types of topics might be covered in a retreat?

Board retreats can cover a range of topics. For example, a transition retreat is recommended when a new CEO is hired. This provides an opportunity for the board-CEO relationship to start off on the right path by establishing communication protocols and identifying goals and priorities for the college, the board, and the CEO. Setting goals early in a new CEO’s tenure can serve as a basis for annual evaluation. On the flip side, a succession planning retreat is also a good way to be prepared for a planned or unplanned transition in leadership. It can help the college prepare for a smooth transition process. Other topics might focus on specifics like board ethics and standards of good practice, conflict resolution, advocacy, fundraising, accreditation, and strategic planning, among others.

How do you plan a retreat?

The first step is to identify a facilitator that is a good fit for the board. The facilitator should work with the board chair (or designee) and college CEO to develop a customized agenda for the retreat. The facilitator may want to interview each board member to get their input on what they hope to gain from the retreat and should consider that information when developing the agenda. A date is set and board members should plan to participate.

Moving Forward

Changes in board composition can impact how the board functions. Having an on-going board training and on-boarding program can help make those transitions smoother. Investing in board development supports both the CEO and the board by strengthening the board-CEO relationship and trustee-to-trustee cooperation and makes for a more effective board.

ACCT offers retreat and board development services. Contact Colleen Allen at 202-775-6490 or for more info.