FaceBook IconTwitter LogoYouTube LogoLinkedin IconInstagram IconFlickr Icon

Virtual Candidate / Chapter Retreats

This resource can be used as a primer for chapter officers seeking more information on retreats, their purpose, and how to successfully implement them. Considerations for converting traditional in-person activities to a virtual environment have been included. For standard guidance on designing and executing in-person retreats, check out the resource on Building a Successful Retreat.

The guidance below can also be used for facilitating conversation within and buy-in from the chapter on conducting virtual retreats. To use this resource as a facilitation guide, please pay attention to the questions and statements that have been italicized. These items will allow you to solicit information from chapter members or structure your meeting as you move through the planning process for an upcoming retreat. The bullet points that follow the italicized talking points provide additional information and confirm best practices.

The Benefits of Retreats

What do you think are the benefits of a chapter retreat?

  • Brotherhood – time together without non-members present.
  • Time away from the everyday rigors of student life.
  • An opportunity to focus on challenges and issues facing the chapter.
  • A time and space for goal setting and team building.

Why are these things important?

  • A fraternity is a brotherhood AND a business. Sometimes it can be difficult to separate the two, or it can be too easy to focus on one and not the other.
  • Retreats provide an opportunity to get the chapter back on track, whether that is by having fun and furthering the bonds of brotherhood, or through addressing the challenges that face the chapter as a small business.

How to Organize an Effective Retreat

What kind of retreat is NEEDED?

  • Fun, relaxed and focused on brotherhood?
  • Business-like and focused on addressing tough issues?

Determine when the retreat will take place.

  • Determine who the retreat is for – the chapter; the Executive Committee; a specific committee; Candidate Class; another group?
  • Establish a date that works for most of those members expected to attend if a date cannot be determined that works for everybody.
  • Announce the date(s) and the expectation that all relevant members be in attendance.

Determine the objectives of the retreat

  • What needs to occur during the retreat? What do you want your participants to walk away with?
    • Are you just creating a space for folks to connect and spend time with one another?
    • Do you need to conduct some goal setting, officer elections/transitions?
    • Is the idea to deliver some education or training to the attendees (e.g. LEAD sessions, workshops, overview of chapter plans/protocols)?
  • Do not try to do too much at once – it is better to break up your agenda across multiple meetings (days, weeks) than to cram in a bunch of unrelated or unnecessary agenda items. If it can be an email or officer report at chapter meeting, then it is probably not right for the retreat.
  • Remember the acronym – K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simply Structured) – if you can accomplish your objectives in an afternoon or with three specific activities, do not schedule for an entire weekend or try to fit in six activities.
  • Even if the focus of the retreat is to address tough issues, make sure that you also incorporate some “fun time” in the objectives and the agenda.

Determine where the retreat will take place

  • What virtual meeting platform is right for your retreat?
    • Consider your audience – is this for a candidate class or committee of <10, or for the entire chapter?
        • If you are doing a retreat with a small group, you can likely use a free platform and do not have to worry about creating breakout options for small group discussions.
    • Do you plan to conduct all activities and conversations in a large group setting or do you need the option of smaller breakout groups?
    • Zoom, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, Facebook Messenger Rooms, Skype, are just a few of the major options to host group video conferences. These platforms also include additional functionality like chat, whiteboards, and screen sharing.
      • Note that Zoom’s breakout room functionality requires a paid account. If you don’t have access to a premium account through your college/university or chapter, you can request a license for your chapter from the Fraternity at www.sigmanu.org/zoom.
  • Once you’ve identified the best platform, make sure you have an account and that you’re familiar with how to schedule your event, instruct your attendees on how to join the meeting and navigate the user experience, and that you’ve thought through how to run the live event.
    • Online meetings with several attendees benefit from having a team (at least two people) tasked with leading the content, moderating chat, and managing technical and user issues. Identify your retreat leader(s) and moderators and do a walkthrough before the event so everyone is confident with their responsibilities and how to use the technology.

Set the agenda

  • At this point, you should have established the who, when, where, and why for the retreat, now it is time to establish the specifics of what will be covered.
  • Just like with establishing the objectives, do not try to do too much in the agenda.
  • For “brotherhood” (i.e. fun):
    • What do the members enjoy doing?
      • This is not a happy hour, so be clear with your expectations of attendees and plan a series of activities and conversations that will allow members to connect on a deeper level.
      • Similarly, hosting a watch party or game night is a great idea, but that should be separate from the retreat. Organize some recurring weekly events that allow interested members to attend but focus the retreat on an experience designed to address the entire groups collective wants and needs.
    • Hype up the event – be excited and others will get excited
    • Encourage each other – all retreat participants should be expected to be supportive and encouraging of one another.
    • Be clear about the schedule and attendance expectations. If your schedule spans over typical mealtimes or is projected to go more than 90 minutes, be sure to build in breaks for folks to step away for a snack/meal or to use the bathroom.
    • Check out the Virtual Brotherhood Building Activities resource for some activity and discussion ideas.
  • For “business” (i.e. addressing tough issues, planning):
    • Be specific! – What is the real issue that needs to be resolved?
    • Establish an environment of respect – all retreat participants must be made to feel safe in that their opinions will be heard and that they will not be “attacked” just because someone disagrees with their idea; nor, should they “attack” anyone else, if they do not agree with their idea(s).
    • Have a plan – take time to plan out “HOW” you want to address the issues on the agenda.
    • Use Your Resources – such as ideas/information from the Fraternity and Sorority Life Office or Alumni.
    • Incorporate some fun into the agenda – schedule some “fun time” AND incorporate activities (teambuilding activities) into the various agenda items.
    • Be flexible in the timing – make sure you give yourself plenty of time to address each issue on the agenda but be flexible. If you need to spend some more time on an issue than originally planned, then do it, but do not spend so much time that the members “shut down” on the issue.
    • GET RESOULTION – For each item on the agenda, you MUST get to some form of resolution.
      • Resolution equals energy and a clear path moving forward. Avoid the fog.

Figuring Out How to Address the Tough Issues

What are the tough issues?

  • You must be able to identify these before you can effectively address them
  • When determining what the tough issues are, keep in mind that the first thing that comes to mind might not be the “real” issue.
    • Sometimes the issues that we feel are challenging us are just the byproduct of a simpler, but more root problem.
    • For example, member apathy…is it that members do not care or is it that there is no clarity of purpose or plan to execute on the chapter’s goals? Maybe a lack of motivation from general members is due to not having a way to directly contribute (lacking meaningful committee roles or transparency from officers)? Perhaps the chapter is recruiting the wrong men? The answer could be any or all of these, but before you can solve the problem you have to identify the actual cause, not just the symptoms.

Figure out “HOW” you are going to address the issues.

  • Be prepared for everyone to be uncomfortable with addressing some, if not all, of these issues.
  • Be prepared for conflict amongst the members – not everyone is going to see eye-to-eye on how to resolve the tough issues.
  • Prepare yourself and the members to be constructive in their critiques and to be civil in their behavior towards one another.

***Potential Addressing Tough Issues Activity

  • Brainstorm – solicit every idea you can as a possible solution, no matter how “left field” it may seem from the members.
    • Use a shared document to list each idea so members can view and collaborate in real-time in the brainstorm.
  • Clarification – whomever offered an idea on a solution, have them clarify their idea to ensure that everyone understands (this is not the time for argument or discussion, just clarification).
  • Discussion – now that everyone understands, have each member take a moment to write down what they like and dislike about each of the suggested ideas.
    • Use a shared document to list each idea and then have members add any commentary to indicate why they like/dislike each idea. Members should affix their name or initials next to their comments for later conversation.
    • Give the group a set amount of time to add their ideas and then take a personal break. During the break, the facilitation team should review the ideas, separating out which seem to have consensus approval or disapproval, as well as which fall in the middle.
    • Upon returning from the break, go through each idea and have the membership discuss the ideas – start with the consensus approval; move to the middle ground ideas; and then, if the facilitation team believes it would be productive, finish up with the disapproval list to see if there are any ideas that could ultimately win chapter support with further tweaks or better understanding.
      • If certain ideas are deemed “not feasible” then cross them off the list and move on (strikethrough or highlight in red on your shared document)
  • Vote – once the list of ideas is narrowed down to just the “feasible” ideas, have the members vote on the idea/plan they like the best.
    • Use a shared document to list each idea and a polling function to allow members to record their support of each idea.
    • Have Executive Committee members hold off on the initial round of voting so they can serve as tie-breakers in the event of a tie (voting only on the top ideas to determine a cut-off for what the chapter will pursue).
    • EVERY member MUST have the understanding that whatever idea/plan is determined to be used through the voting WILL be supported by ALL members – the membership should agree to this prior to voting.
    • Once the idea is determined, the membership needs to determine the detailed steps of the plan/idea to be implemented.
    • This could be done through small groups each developing a plan and reporting back to the larger group, OR the defining of the details of the plan could be given to the relevant officer/committee to establish the specifics and then reported to the chapter at a later date.

Ensuring that Members Come Away Reenergized

  • No matter what type of retreat you are conducting, the members MUST have fun. Build in some activities, relevant videos (Nike commercials and inspirational sports stories are usually a hit), and time to just catch up with one another.
  • Come to a resolution.
    • There must be a result for each agenda item.
    • Resolution equals a sense of accomplishment; A sense of accomplishment equals positive thinking; Positive thinking equals positive energy and desire; Positive energy and desire equals action; Action equals progress; Progress equals success; THEREFORE, resolution equals success.
  • Be organized but be flexible.
    • Have a plan but be prepared to deviate from the plan when it is necessary.
    • Advanced planning is necessary to pull off a successful retreat, especially in a virtual environment. Assign this responsibility to members who are organized, respected by the general membership, and can work together as a team to pull off each element of the retreat (it’s suggested to break up activities, discussions, and roles among multiple retreat leaders).

Make a Plan

Whether you used this resource as an informational primer or as a facilitated guide, you should now be able to draft your plan for your retreat.

What kind of retreat is needed?

  • Brotherhood, officer transition, candidate class, goal setting, other?

When should the retreat be held?

  • Before the semester/quarter begins, over a weekend, just for an afternoon or evening?

What needs to be accomplished at the retreat?

  • Objectives to achieve.

Where could the retreat be held?

  • Which meeting platform is right for your group and the activities you want to include (think about how you will create, assign, and monitor any breakout rooms)?

Set the agenda

  • Map out a schedule for the event and what could be covered.
    • What needs to happen between now and then?
    • Who would be good to lead each portion of the retreat (advisor, other facilitator, officer, member)?
    • What is each retreat leader responsible for before/during/after the retreat?

Do the prep work

  • Write an outline for leading the retreat
    • Create the detailed sequence of events and schedule – every presentation, discussion, activity, video, and break should be accounted for.
    • Write out your talking points for any presentations, transitions, activity instructions, and discussion questions.
    • Determine your breakout groups – what needs small group discussion or activity? How do you want to assign those? Randomly during the meeting or based on some specific assignment or characteristic in advance (e.g. for the first brainstorming activity we’ll breakout based on year in school, for the goal setting we’ll divide by committee assignments, for the personal check-ins we’ll pair off by big/little brother).
  • Put together your presentation material
    • Prep any slides and gather links for any videos or images you plan to use during the retreat.
  • Test your technology
    • Make sure the meeting platform and collaboration tools (e.g. polling feature, shared document) will work for your audience and know how you will give them access and troubleshoot issues.
  • Review the final plan
    • With the facilitator team and individually prior to the retreat.
Additional Resources
  • Your Leadership Consultant
  • Chapter Advisor/Alumni Advisory Board
  • Office of Student Life/Fraternity and Sorority Life Office
  • Student Recreation Center or a Local Ropes/Challenge Course
  • Books/Articles
    • Solving Tough Problems: An Open Way of Talking, Listening, and Creating New Realities
    • How Great Decisions Get Made: 10 Easy Steps for Reaching Agreement on Even the Toughest Issues
    • Joe Torre’s Ground Rules for Winners: 12 Keys to Managing Team Players, Tough Bosses, Setbacks
    • Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High

© 2015-2021 Sigma Nu Fraternity, Inc.
9 North Lewis Street, P.O. Box 1869, Lexington, Virginia 24450
Phone: (540) 463-1869 | Fax: (540) 463-1669 | Email: headquarters@sigmanu.org

FaceBook IconTwitter LogoYouTube LogoLinkedin IconInstagram IconFlickr Icon