This November, I will be facilitating a Strategic Planning Retreat with a dynamic team of colleagues. We are working with an educational organization to which we each have a strong connection and personal investment. The process has been exhilarating, inspiring, and transformative. I described to a friend who also works in education what the faculty and board participants will be doing with us during the retreat. She exclaimed, “That doesn’t sound like a retreat! That sounds like WORK!”

I considered her perspective. There are times when we retreat for the purposes of relaxation and enjoyment. Often, though, we retreat when we are ready to delve deeper into an area of work for which we need the freedom of complete focus.

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine decided to enter into a two-year study program to become a nurse practitioner. The year before she began the program, she started preparing her clients and her team of family and friends for her retreat. She shared the level of dedication and focus she would need to invest to complete the program successfully. She let people know in advance that she would need to pull back from almost everything and everyone else she was currently engaging with in her life. Her enthusiasm was contagious and her vision was powerful. Folks became invested in her reaching her goals. Instead of feeling frustrated or offended because she was not accessible for regular interaction and communication, people felt honored to be a part of the team that was supporting her as she worked through the program.

My friend’s process illustrated the three important steps we can all use when we are working on goals. Before we begin, we need take stock of where we are, where we are going, and what–realistically–we will need to do in the timeframe we have set. There can be many goals which will require a form of retreat. Writing a book, selling a house, caring for a newborn, and bringing teams together to shift the direction of an organization are just some examples.

Once we have named our need for a retreat, we have an opportunity to design the structure for it. For my own writing goals, I find that going away for a weekend of writing aligns better with the needs of my family and clients than if I were to disconnect for an entire week or month at a time. Knowing this, I am willing to set a timeframe for completion that works with that structure.

After we design our retreat, it is vital that we include the members of our team in our intentions. When our team recognizes why we are choosing to retreat and the value inherent in reaching our goal, they are more able to generate positive, supportive energy to share with us.

Working retreats can serve a powerful purpose. When we create them well, they can be an essential part of how we reach our goals. By recognizing our need to ‘go deep’ to accomplish a goal, designing a retreat allows us to step away from other activities and give it our entire focus. By including our team in the process and preparation, we free ourselves to enjoy all the gifts and benefits available from a working retreat.