Zero Connectivity Strategic Planning

Can you survive without e-mail?

August 12, 2013

How do you retreat? 

By "retreat," I mean carve out time with your colleagues, groups, or organizations that you are part of to accomplish long-term strategic planning.

Do you get off campus? How do you get everyone to focus on long-term thinking, and away from the day-to-day concerns that usually dominate our work?

One model I'd like to suggest is to find someplace to meet that is completely cutoff from any web connectivity. No wi-fi, no LTE, no 4G, or no 3G.  Perhaps a landline for family emergencies (with the number shared with family before the meeting), but otherwise no connectivity.

Beyond a rule against checking e-mail during the discussion time. A blanket ban on bandwidth, or if that is not possible the collecting of all devices with a screen for the full-time of the retreat.

This is not merely a prohibition on e-mail and surfing during the discussion. This is a ban on connectivity during the "in-between" times of the retreat.  During breaks and meals it is not possible to "check-in".   

Could you do it?

Could your team do it?

How would you handle emergent issues, such as student or faculty support requests or the server room deciding to meltdown?

No e-mail and no web means that everyone at the retreat becomes centered and present on the moment.  Open to new ideas, and available to give their full attention to each other.   

No e-mail and no web is an admission that we are distractible. That our attention is a precious commodity.  That we can't do two things at once.  That keeping up with normal electronic communication and getting ourselves to a place where we can think deeply about the future are mutually exclusive tasks.   

My experience with a zero connectivity retreat is that the discipline not to go online results in a much more productive and cohesive session. Granted, my sample size is small (having just come from the retreat for our Center for Advancement of Learning), but I feel energized and excited about the work of the Center in the year ahead.   

Our retreat took place in a small cabin by the Connecticut river. The cabin happens to sit in an area that gets no cell signal and no WiFi.  I'm sort of doubting that there are many places on your campus that boast zero bandwidth.   Maybe we should think about building some?

What is your advice for running a successful strategic retreat?

When is the last time that you spent your day at work without once checking your e-mail?


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