Virtual Retreat: 8 Step Design Process

If you’ve made the decision to utilize an online, virtual retreat for strategy development or strategic problem solving purposes, the success of the retreat will be heavily tied to the investment you make in designing the retreat and the design process. 

Virtual Retreat Design Considerations

As is the case with most program design, one must take into consideration the needs of the stakeholders, retreat objectives, intended participants, available resources and the array of available methodologies. Of heightened concern for the virtual retreat designer is technology capability/limitation, delivering the same high quality outcome that an in-person retreat would deliver, and keeping all of the participants fully engaged and emotionally connected the entire day. 

Anyone who has participated in online meetings or webinars knows how challenging it can be to keep people fully engaged for even an hour, let alone an entire day – the key to a successful virtual retreat is to invest the time in and be intentional about retreat design. 

Virtual Retreats: Design Process

  1. Define retreat scope:  Define the totality of the work you want to accomplish during the virtual retreat. In doing so, form the retreat’s overall boundaries related to topic(s) or general purpose. For example, is the scope of the retreat limited to solving one particular problem? Is it to develop an organizational strategy / strategic plan? Is it to develop a specific crisis management or issues management strategy? 
  2. Define retreat objectives/deliverables: Precisely define what you want to “walk out the door with” at the end of the virtual retreat. In doing so, think about post-retreat next steps and exactly what you need and in what format you need it to successfully execute the next step. If it is a strategic problem solving retreat, it is imperative that you precisely define the problem.
  3. Identify the participants: As with any strategy or problem solving session, it is critical to have the right people partcipatin. So, take a strategic approach to identifying the participants. In addition to applying the Seven Steps to Optimal Diversity, make sure that all participants have the ability and are willing to fully participate online – meaning connecting via video and audio For those who will be at home or in a hotel and don’t want to invite participants into their homes or hotel rooms, today, virtual backgrounds are available.
  4. ID software platform: Make sure the platform that you choose has the features you need and is easy for participants to use. At a minimum, you will want a platform that has a chat function, allows multiple people to share screens and has breakout room capability. File sharing is another feature that you might want to consider.
  5. Identify methodologies: Identify an array of methodologies and activities that could potentially be used at different times throughout the retreat to achieve the retreat’s objectives. The more creative thinking, analytical thinking and prioritization tools one has to choose from, the better. Changing up methodology more frequently than typically done at in-person retreats helps keep engagement levels high throughout a virtual retreat. 
  6. Design the retreat: Design the day flow. Create a detailed facilitator schedule that effectively sequences all activities and modules, including breaks, and includes instructions and expected outcomes for each module. For retreat design tips, click here.
  7. Determine briefing materials. Based on the retreat design, prepare and distribute any necessary briefing materials, session handouts and worksheets.
  8. Plan the post-retreat follow up: Further strengthen the social connection of the group through post-retreat follow up with the participants. Determine what type of follow-up will work best. Follow up could be as simple as an emailed thank you with a short summary of retreat accomplishments or as elaborate as seeking further input on a retreat item using polling software.

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