Ten tips to make awaydays effective and memorable

Use a facilitator and remember that no matter how the day is run it won't be right for everyone, says Valerie Morton

Valerie Morton
Valerie Morton

Q: How can I get the best out of our planning awayday for trustees and directors?

A: The term 'awayday' conjures up dread or delight in equal measure. Is it another wasted day going round in circles and arguing over your charity's values (which no one could remember until they were reminded in the meeting papers)? Or is it a fantastic opportunity to spend time with colleagues working out how your charity can make a difference to the lives of beneficiaries?

Having been on more awaydays than I care to remember, either as a trustee or senior manager on one side or a facilitator on the other, here are my top 10 tips for making the most of your awaydays.

1. Go ahead only if most people can attend. This might seem obvious, but people with strong views find it more difficult to accept decisions made in their absence. Discussions will be reopened, momentum lost.

2. Remember, we are all human. An inspiring venue will encourage both attendance and a positive attitude at the meeting. Many companies will donate rooms and it is amazing what a difference fresh shortbread makes.

3. Use a facilitator, preferably external. It is healthy to have a wide range of contributions and views, but they need to be harnessed effectively. The external perspective will also produce the questions, obvious and not, that bring richness to the debate.

4. Accept the fact that no matter how the day is run, it won't be right for everyone. Some hate group work; some love it. Some like discussions; some want decisions.

5. It might be heresy to suggest it, but don't have an agenda. Of course, you will need an outline programme for the day, but I have never yet known awaydays to keep to an agenda. The issue that seemed straightforward takes hours of discussion. The one that looked tricky is agreed in a flash. New subjects come in from left field.

6. Don't 'wordsmith' your mission and vision on the day. Agree the essence of each: the words can wait.

7. If you are going to articulate or review your charity values, make sure you don't just end up with a list of the obvious words. Staff need to buy in to them and it should be clear how each value will truly be embedded into day-to-day life.

8. Have a flipchart of parked items on which you make a note of issues that cannot be dealt with on the day - it's a good way of avoiding diversion from the day's objective.

9. Remind people why they are there - using, for example, beneficiary stories, pictures of endangered species or hard statistics.

10. Have a strategy for how to handle individual hobby horses in order to avoid undue influence.

And if I was allowed an 11th tip, it would be to make sure that the real decisions are not made afterwards in the bar.

Send your questions to Valerie.Morton@haymarket.com

Valerie Morton is a trainer, fundraiser and consultant

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