Drive Change Through Retreats


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Strong teams don’t just happen. They are made. Program managers have responsibility for teams on multiple levels and have to make sure that project managers are capable of building strong teams.

Our 6 part guide to Team Building at the Program Level will help you put together the team you need to fill skills gaps, meet goals and exceed stakeholder expectations.

Part 1 of 6: Identify Teams
Part 2 of 6: Know Your Strengths, Weaknesses, and Preferences
Part 3 of 6: Drive Change through Retreats
Part 4 of 6: Use Performance Appraisals in Program Management
Part 5 of 6: Use Recognition Activities for Individuals and Teams
Part 6 of 6: Deal with Breaches of Program Integrity and Ethics

Part 3 of 6: Drive Change through Retreats

Retreats can be a very effective team-building tool for program managers. Like any meeting, a retreat needs to have the purpose and the outcomes clearly defined up front. Usually the more planning and forethought that is accomplished before the retreat, the better will be the outcomes. Retreats can range from major events with huge budgets to dinner with the program manager.

One good purpose for a retreat is for the team members to get to know one another better, but don’t assume this will happen without some kind of plan or structure. Details can be important, down to seating assignments for activities throughout the retreat. The effectiveness of some retreats is hindered because personnel show up in their natural groups or cliques and stay in those groups for the entire retreat.

Summit Process
You can use a retreat strategically to strengthen teams and address organizational challenges, taking advantage of the expertise and experience of the participants. The retreat process can provide a unique window of opportunity for the different parts of the organization to see what everyone else is doing.

The process starts with the leader clearly defining the goals of the Summit. Those goals can include establishing what new products should be developed, how to address specific organizational challenges, or whatever else the program manager sees as the most important challenges or opportunities. The process involves a long-term investment of time and energy.

This process requires organizational commitment of the resources necessary. The process is beneficial, though, because it is a powerful communication tool that ensures that the challenges and opportunities of the organization will become known and understood by the entire organization, which is not always true of large-scale programs. Additionally, the use of cross functional teams to address the challenges encourages out of the box thinking that results in breakthroughs or leaps in progress and achievements. Another benefit is that the Summit process makes justification of changes in program direction easy to sell to stakeholders and the organization. It bolsters the justification of the proposed program budget.

It is common in large-scale programs for sub-level program managers or project managers not to fully understand the issues their peers are facing that have significant ramifications for their own goals and objectives. The program manager always has to be concerned with effective integration, and the Summit process is essentially an integration tool. The Summit process as described here is for large programs, but by using your judgment you can easily adapt or streamline it for smaller programs.

Key Elements of the Summit Process

Key elements of the Summit process that should be considered include the following steps:

  • Pick the team leaders carefully. They must have enough status in the organization to be able to draw on all of its resources but not be so consumed with day-to-day work that they can’t break away for substantive working meetings outside the three meetings previously discussed.
  • Hold the Summit meetings in venues where people can golf or enjoy other recreational activities and the hotel has amenities suitable for structured fun evening gatherings.
  • Have extended breaks during the meetings.
  • Have tangible objectives with cross-functional teams. The objectives are typically outside the scope of normal activities and responsibilities.
  • Have someone assigned to manage the process, track actions, and create an overall schedule.

Once your team has decided on their plan and process, PPM software can help you execute that process. WorkOtter helps you successfully execute your program process strategy for project success. Get a demo of WorkOtter and see how we can make your program management effective.

“The Handbook of Program Management: How to Facilitate Project Success with Optimal Program Management, Second Edition” by James T. Brown is a copyrighted work of McGraw-Hill and McGraw-Hill reserves all rights in and to the Content. ©2014 by McGraw-Hill Education. Purchase the book on Amazon.