A group of explorers was working its way through a jungle, hacking through thick underbrush. Exhausted after several hours, they stopped to rest. Looking around, the brush was so thick they could only see tree trunks, leaves, and vines as the tunnel they had cleared curved out of sight; it was so thick they hadn’t even realized they weren’t traveling in a straight line.
One young explorer said, “I have an idea. Why don’t we climb a tree so we can see where we’ve been and where we are going?”
When they got high enough to see, they became furious. All their hard work had been wasted effort, for they had made an almost complete circle.
Running a business sometimes feels like being caught in a jungle. And even if you’re trying to be careful, it can be easy to get so occupied with hacking away at the day-to-day obstacles that you lose track of your direction.
I teach my clients to keep control of the jungle using what we call The Meeting Pulse™. I’ve already written about the first two parts of the “Pulse” – the weekly Level 10 Meeting™ and the Quarterly Planning Session. Today, I’m going to talk about the most important of them all – the Annual Planning Session (“the Annual”).
The Annual is the most important meeting of your year because it’s when you climb the tree to see where you’ve been and where you are going.
It is a time when you and your senior leaders celebrate your accomplishments, strengthen your team relationships, and work together to set the course for your company’s future.
It is a 2 ½-day retreat that is, without a doubt, the best way to get your team aligned around a solid strategy for the year. The retreat format helps you and your team strengthen your connections with one another and maintain cohesive, healthy relationships. Holding it in a relaxing atmosphere away from home helps you clear your mind of usual distractions so you can focus more clearly on one another and what you need to do for your business.
Planning your Annual retreat
Annuals are generally held within a two-hour drive from home. They may be at a rural lodge, a golf resort, or a hotel in the downtown area of a major city – any place where there is a good meeting room and activities for your team to enjoy nearby.
Annuals are best held between September and early February (assuming your fiscal year is January-December). Some clients like to hold them in January, but many are choosing to do them either in the fall or between Thanksgiving and Christmas so that they can relax during the holidays and enter the New Year ready to execute a great plan.
Regardless of when you hold it, a retreat should be planned a few months in advance to guarantee getting the space you need at a good venue. You should be planning your annual by mid-summer, especially if you want to hold it in the fall.
The schedule for your retreat should look something like this:
Day 1 – Arrival Day
The first day is a travel day. After arriving in the afternoon, you and your team enjoy some kind of team-building activity together. This is often the best part of the retreat! Some of the fun things I’ve participated in with my clients include horseback riding, trap shooting, puzzle room escape games, Topgolf, handgun training, hiking, visiting museums and entertainment districts, or just cooking and dining together, relaxing before spectacular views or a crackling fire.
Follow your team-building activity with a group dinner, and get to bed in time to get plenty of sleep because you have a big day ahead of you.
Day 2 – Full Work Day
After breakfast on day 2, spend the morning doing trust-building exercises with your team. There are hundreds of exercises you can do. If you need suggestions, a quick Google search will return over 17 million results!
Have a light lunch and then spend the afternoon on strategic planning. Take some time to do SWOT Analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats). Then review page one of your Vision-Traction Organizer™ to be sure everyone is still on the same page about where you are going to take the company and how you are going to get it there.
End the day with dinner together and maybe even another team-building event in the evening.
Day 3 – Closing ¾ Day
After breakfast, get down to tactical planning by reviewing page 2 of your Vision/Traction Organizer™ and agree on your 1-Year Plan; the things you must accomplish in the coming year to achieve your medium-and long-term goals. Then have a healthy lunch and spend the afternoon much as you would in a Quarterly Planning Session; IDS the issues on your issues list and set your Quarterly Rocks.
Now you can wrap up your retreat at 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon and go home with your team stronger than before and with a strategic plan for the year clearly mapped out.
If you are inclined to skip a full-blown Annual retreat and just do your planning at the office, don’t give in to the temptation. The quality of the meetings will not be the same and you won’t get nearly the bang for your buck by skipping the team-building activities. I’ve had clients who were skeptical about the benefits of a retreat, but I’ve never had anyone regret doing it after holding one. Bite the bullet and do what it takes. If you do, there will be a lot less hacking through underbrush in your future, and you’ll move in straighter lines toward your ultimate goals.