Is now a good time to retreat?

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This statue of Sun Tzu, stands proudly in Yurihama, Japan. In his 500 B.C. book The Art of War, he proclaims the benefit of “retreat” as a strategy.

Typically I avoid military analogies, but this one really works:  Did you know the concept of “retreat” comes from military strategy?  It’s largely attributed to the ancient Chinese teachings of Sun Tzu, in the book The Art of War, written around 500 B.C.

Retreat” as a military strategy is effective both under heavy attack and after winning.  It literally means: pull back, assess, refine the plan, rest and replenish, reaffirm mission, and rally together to return battle. All concepts relevant and vital to leadership and business today.

When was the last time you had a good retreat — personally or professionally?  Is now a good time to plan your next retreat?

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Last summer my team and I had our own retreat. Even 24 hours away with time planned for work, rest and play will re-energize most teams.

Recently, I helped a strong group of leaders with an executive team retreat. After three years of cutting back, they were feeling isolated and drained. Spending money on a retreat became obvious after the employee engagement survey identified declining morale and a series of well-intentioned mistakes due to burnout.

It’s easy to understand, right?  We’re all living in the same movie: working longer and harder than we expected. New customers and profits are hard to come by.  It’s easy for leaders to become battle weary in business these days.

The client used the retreat as a strategy after he asked: I think most of us are exhausted. How do we breathe new life and energy into our team? My answer: is now a good time to retreat?

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The Jonathan Beach Club in Santa Monica, California was the site of a recent client retreat. Open sky, sand and sea presents endless possiblities.

The Jonathan Beach Club in Santa Monica, California was the site of a recent client retreat. Open sky, sand and sea presents endless possiblities.

Let’s examine their retreat through the military lens:  Pull back. With seven business units, this group of more than 20 senior leaders work mostly independently. Retreats are the only time they actually pull away from the day to day business and spend time together: in the same room, breathing the same air, having the same conversation.

Assess. After a healthy discussion about what’s working and what’s not, they decided to share resources. Unprecedented!  And through the help of a facilitator, the heated discussion never turned personal — it was about ensuring the success of the business.

Refine the plan. Fresh from a vigorous fair assessment,  new energy was channeled into mid-course corrections to catch-up where results were lagging.

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Britts Pub in MPLS, is an great urban retreat...Beer, lawn bowling and sunshine in the city.

Britts Pub in MPLS, is an great urban retreat…Beer, lawn bowling and sunshine in the city.

Rest and replenish. As with most type-A leaders, this group under appreciates the importance of R&R in the leadership equation. After a late night session, we chose to cancel the morning workshop to allow extra time for sleep or working out. The result was a final day of playful work with frequent laughter. “I forgot what it felt like to actually have this much fun at work,” announced the CFO as we said our final goodbyes.

Reaffirm mission. Even the best leaders need to be reminded of the ‘why’ in our pursuits. Especially when times are tough. This team rediscovered their trump card: a compelling mission that motivates people to action. “Forgetting to talk about our mission is a leadership crime of omission,” remarked the Founder and CEO.  “That’s on us.”

Rally together: A good retreat increases trust because people are reminded to care about each other – personal commitment helps people stay committed in heavy battle.

Good leaders make a habit of scheduling retreats throughout the year to pull back, assess and reaffirm mission.  They plan in the reflection, rest and relaxation time to ensure the whole team is energized, leading together and prepared to win.

Now, I need your help!  My firm is continually researching success habits of the most invigorating leadership retreats: will you please share your ideas about what really works for you?

Then ask yourself: when was the last time I had a really good retreat?[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

6 Comments

  1. Kurt on February 19, 2013 at 3:32 pm

    Paul,

    I concur.  Having led a number of ‘retreats” and hundreds of “team building” sessions, I agree that leaders (and workers) do not take enough time pulling back, assessing, and reaffirming their strategy and mission.  One note – the fact that you cancelled the morning workshop after a late night is brilliant!  Too often leaders feel the need to push through the agenda when instead they need to focus on how the people are showing up and what they need.  Bravo!



  2. Kurt on February 19, 2013 at 9:32 am

    Paul,

    I concur.  Having led a number of ‘retreats” and hundreds of “team building” sessions, I agree that leaders (and workers) do not take enough time pulling back, assessing, and reaffirming their strategy and mission.  One note – the fact that you cancelled the morning workshop after a late night is brilliant!  Too often leaders feel the need to push through the agenda when instead they need to focus on how the people are showing up and what they need.  Bravo!



  3. Steven Netsch on February 19, 2013 at 4:25 pm

    Our programming group actually gets together some Saturday nights at a founder’s house for a party/product development hackathon. It’s part social get together with food and drinks, part product planning, part brain storming and lots of fun.  Companies are too stuck in the conference room.  That makes for stuck thinking and stuck company performance.  Companies need to stop thinking like companies and more like people with real lives.  It’s counter intuitive but it lights a fire in people.



  4. Steven Netsch on February 19, 2013 at 10:25 am

    Our programming group actually gets together some Saturday nights at a founder’s house for a party/product development hackathon. It’s part social get together with food and drinks, part product planning, part brain storming and lots of fun.  Companies are too stuck in the conference room.  That makes for stuck thinking and stuck company performance.  Companies need to stop thinking like companies and more like people with real lives.  It’s counter intuitive but it lights a fire in people.



  5. Paul Batz on February 19, 2013 at 6:45 pm

    It seems as if people are ready to ‘retreat!”  Lots of calls, emails and comments through social media.  Thanks for the feedback. 



  6. Paul Batz on February 19, 2013 at 12:45 pm

    It seems as if people are ready to ‘retreat!”  Lots of calls, emails and comments through social media.  Thanks for the feedback. 



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