The state of higher education requires governing boards to address a myriad of topics, including institutional missions, values, effective leadership, educational quality, strategic planning, and the management of institutional resources. These topics are addressed through regularly scheduled meetings and the ongoing work of committees. However, the time constraints associated with these meetings oftentimes does not allow for extended dialogue about enhancing the effectiveness of the board, the potential impact of national and statewide policies on the institution, or other long-term thinking. A board retreat can be a powerful forum for these discussions.
An effective retreat requires an agenda that is meaningful to the participants, a commitment to work in a collegial and authentic manner, and a transfer of learning to the boardroom. The investment of time in this activity has the potential to benefit the board and the entire institutional community for many years.
Remember that board members come from diverse personal and professional backgrounds, and a retreat may create an environment where board members have the opportunity to learn more about others’ perspectives. This environment may facilitate discussion on the most appropriate ways for individuals to leverage their experiences and talents in service to the institution and may increase levels of trust and communication. Discussions regarding strategies for improving board operations may also be beneficial during a retreat. This is an ideal time to examine board culture, by-laws and guiding documents, and meeting structure to determine if changes are warranted in order to increase the board’s effectiveness. The pace of change in higher education requires governing boards to be agile and flexible, while maintaining a commitment to the mission of the institution. A retreat offers members a place in which content experts can lead and or facilitate in-depth conversations and debate. As a result, members may be motivated to engage in creative and innovative long term visioning and planning.