It’s a frequent debate within credit unions (and between leaders and planning facilitators): Do we really need to spend the money to hold the strategic planning session off-site?

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My response is an unqualified “Yes.”

Here’s why.

When you hold your planning session at your credit union you miss the opportunity to change the perspective of the team. For the members of the leadership team the planning session becomes just another day at work. For the board members it’s just another meeting at the credit union.

While that’s convenient (and saves money in the short-term) it does not establish the proper context for effective strategic planning—preparing people to think differently and look at the credit union from a different perspective; and that ends up costing you more in the long-term.

There are (at least) three realities that compromise the effectiveness of on-site planning sessions:

  1. Facility Limitations: Chances are that your boardroom and your training room were not designed with flexibility in mind. The former probably has the usual big table setup, and your training room is most likely set-up to orient new employees and prepare them for success. Neither of these is conducive to the type of engagement that leads to strategic planning success. Additionally because these rooms are function specific in their day-to-day use, they often lack things that are important for planning sessions—such as multiple flip chart stands, room on the walls for posting discussion results, and space for breaks that get people outside of the room (and even sufficient restroom space to accommodate larger groups of people efficiently).
  1. Staff Distractions: When you hold your planning session at your facility, staff members are forced to play multiple roles. They need to worry about things like how people get in and out of the building, securing food and beverages for breaks and meals, and managing all the little details of room set-up that make meetings work. Since this is not their primary job they tend to miss things and that often leads to last minute hustling to set the stage for success. The result is that they are distracted with the operational details of the meeting and cannot fully engage in thinking about the strategy. Worse yet, it seems like Murphy’s Law always comes into play and they end up leaving the meeting to handle some logistical issue just when their input is needed or a breakthrough is about to occur.
  1. Shared Experiences: Many intangibles impact the success of planning sessions, and none may be more important than the shared experience of the team. Traveling to a new place, sharing refreshment breaks and meals, exploring a new place during non-working time, and being away from normal routines (and the distractions they provide) combine to create a shared experience that brings the team together and builds a level of engagement that lead to richer discussions and better outcomes. It also creates important shared memories that reinforce the team’s ownership of the decisions they made when the plan is being implemented.

 Action Advice: Budget the necessary funds to take your next planning session off-site and you’ll experience increased engagement from the entire team, more expansive discussion and debate, and define a stronger and more strategic vision for your credit union.