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How Your Annual Retreat Can Contribute to Your Leadership Development Plan

Are you looking for some innovative ways to identify the next generation of leaders within your organization? The solution may lie in one of the traditional annual rites of passage for many organizations, whether for-profit companies large or small, nonprofit organizations or government agencies.

Leadership development and your annual retreat
The annual retreat gets a bad reputation, mostly because many leaders are not creating the right agendas and incorporating activities that maximize the time spent. The annual retreat is an ideal time to provide opportunities to employees that demonstrate potential and may be in line for additional responsibilities.

While work at an annual retreat should not be the only criterion used for talent assessment, it can complement other activities that lead to transformational change for employees and organizations alike.

Below are three tips for improving your annual retreat and involving that next generation of leaders.

1. Stop talking, start doing
As explained at, one of the worst kinds of retreats is one where employees sit listening to endless presentations. There are only so many PowerPoint presentations anyone should have to sit through in one day.

By mixing up the activities, you can engage employees in new ways. Consider giving the entire team a crucial question related to the business. In small breakout groups, have more junior employees facilitate, lead and report back on the outcomes.

Even better, have those same facilitators form an ad hoc committee that continues the discussions beyond the retreat. In too many cases, employees may hear of ideas or possibilities at a retreat … then, never again.

2. Let those who ‘do’ present
All too often division heads, senior managers, and vice presidents are the ones presenting on outcomes, progress, and successes. But the retreat is an ideal time to hear from other voices.

Make your retreat a C-suite free zone when it comes to presentations. Instead, let those who actually do the work, lead the project teams or those who are (or were) critical to the results present. You could even do the presentation in a shorter TED Talk style, which requires presenters to tell their stories in a short amount of time.

You’ll see new leaders identify not just their successes but also see how they present in front of a large group, communicate information, answer questions and connect with an audience.

3. Encourage risk taking
Again, small groups are necessary for this exercise, but doing so can identify out-of-the-box thinkers. Imagine asking the groups to identify the biggest threats, a business function that needs to be overhauled, or values that are missing from the corporate mission statement.

Provocative questions often elicit some of the most effective responses, but all too often employees are reluctant to speak their minds. See who steps up, takes a risk and is appropriately bold in providing ideas that may not be widely held. When promoting, you don’t want employees that will yes you to death. You want independent thinkers who are not afraid to raise issues that will make the organization better.