We went to a duck hunting lodge for the first faculty retreat I ever attended. I don’t remember much about it, except that one faculty member had to have milk and cookies before bedtime. The rest of us drank far too much scotch. I was one of the junior faculty at the time. The only other woman in attendance was a lab manager. The four junior faculty jogged around the flat Texas marshes together, the guys mostly keeping to my slower pace. By the end of the year two of the four junior faculty had left the university. Our biology department was in its last legs, soon to be divided according to a popular scheme at the time.
The retreat we had yesterday lasted only four hours and was much more collegial and effective. Our main goal was to come up with a plan for hiring. But one of the things I’ve learned over the years is that sometimes it is best not to hit a problem head on. Another thought is that if you ever want someone to give up something, work them around to a place where they do it voluntarily, gaining in some way for it, even thinking it was their own idea.
Here is a list of tips from that retreat, based on wise things our chair, Kathy Miller, did and on some other observations.
1. Have a schedule where no one element takes more than 45 minutes.
2. Use paper pads and sticky notes to capture ideas from everyone.
3. Have break-out sessions tasked with specific topics. Assign people to some sub-groups in ways that cross disciplinary lines for the hard topics.
4. Have some of the sub-sessions on topics that are not so controversial, but are important and let people self-assign to them.
5. Have delicious food, some of it hot if it is winter, perhaps a crock pot of soup, and alcoholic beverages.
6. Make sure every voice is heard.
7. If the retreat is not during regular day care hours, subsidize child care costs for those with young children at the going rate for baby sitters.
8. Remind people to separate idea generation from idea criticism, so they get all the ideas out there before beginning to shoot them down.
9. Encourage creativity by asking for things like discovery of overlap among disciplines, or new ways of structuring things that solve more than one problem at a time.
10. Have some kind of creative follow-up to keep the positive energy going. Keep issues forefront, but search for creative collaborative solutions.