Create a Successful Staff Retreat

Denise van Zanten of Manchester City Library, Dianne Hathaway of Goffstown Public Library, Amy Lapointe of Amherst Town Library and Marilyn Borgendale of GMILCS, Inc. led this presentation about a successful staff retreat that GMILCS libraries had in February. GMILCS is a consortium of 12 public and academic libraries in New Hampshire.

Shared documents on the retreat –
Shared readings on our retreat –

GMILCS schedules an annual retreat to talk about their daily lives, their consortium and where they want it to go. For this most recent retreat, they wanted to regroup and refocus. There were a lot of new people on the board because a lot of directors had retired. There were lots of questions at the monthly meetings, and they didn’t want the meetings to turn into Q&A.

Although there were plenty of people within the consortium with facilitation skills, the group decided to bring in an outside facilitator for this retreat so that all the consortia members could fully participate.

Fun is an important element in their retreats. They had sparkling cider and champagne glasses and provided stimulating snacks. They always schedule a fun activity after lunch. One year they did a shoulder massage. “We like keeping our attendees happy.”

For the continuing education piece of the retreat, they decided not to go outside the group because there is a lot of untapped talent from within the consortium. However, they had a hard time deciding who would do the instruction, partially because they didn’t feel comfortable with the passive student/teacher relationship. Instead, they explored topics that they needed to keep up on and had a person from each library present on a topic.

“Everyone learned something, everyone taught something. Because we asked that every library present, we heard from a lot of new voices.”

The CE session set the tone for the concrete discussion about GMILCS goals that was to follow. For this goals discussion, the GMILCS Board had identified six topics that should be discussed during the retreat. However, they knew they couldn’t address all six topics in one day, so that decided to use multi-voting at the retreat to decide which issues would receive attention that day.

With multi-voting, each library was able to vote on the topic that was most important to them with a pink post-it note, the second most important with an orange post-it note, and so on. The issue that was the most important for libraries would get 60 minutes of discussion, the second most important issue got 45 minutes, the third most important issue got 30 minutes, and the fourth most important issue got 15 minutes.

“It allowed great discussion on what the group chose. We achieved priorities with little conflict.

The retreat ended with a sacred cow/dead horse exercise where they were to identify the following things:


Sacred cow: what we hold dear, whether or not a good thing anymore. “Those things that really have been the heart and soul of the organization and you really want to hold on to them, and sometimes the time has come to question them.”

Dead horse: those things we should get off so we can start moving again. Those things you just need to get off of them.

Shining light: The principals that are at the heart and soul of the organization. That is what you need to come back to with your planning.

GMILCS had participation from 100% of their libraries for this retreat.

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