Moving Your Board Retreat Online this Year? Dos and Don’ts

By Megan Foley

Congrats, Board President – you still want to hold your annual Board Retreat this year, even if you can’t meet in person. Are you wondering how to set up the meeting so it runs smoothly online? Here are some Dos and Don’ts to help get your creative juices flowing!

Laptop with avatars playing tug-of-war inside and outside screen.

Don’t Keep Everything The Same

You can’t simply move a full day or two of in-person meeting to an online format – it’s too exhausting. Instead, think about breaking the time into chunks – and maybe even spreading the “retreat” out over several days in order to get enough space. 90 -120 minutes at a time is more than enough, and don’t do more than two of those per day. Give a break every 45-60 minutes so people can get away from the screen.

Do Pick Out What Really Matters This Year and Focus on That

Do you need to get to know each other? Do you need some leadership development? (Check out the UUA resources here.) Do you need to set goals for the year? Pick the one or two things that matter most and emphasize work on those. Don’t overload the agenda with too many important needs. (By the way, this is good advice whether you’re meeting online or in person.)

Don’t Leave Anyone Out

It’s easy to make sure everyone’s voice is heard when you talk in a circle format, where everyone responds to a question or prompt in a round. Allow people to ‘pass’ or ‘pass for now’ if they need to – but taking turns in a circle is welcome for people who get nervous about accidentally interrupting or talking over others. Be creative with the order people speak in by using mutual invitation (the person speaking invites the next person to speak) or establishing an order based on some arbitrary rule like birth month or alphabetical last name. Have a facilitator write down the order and then keep people sharing like they are in a circle.

Do Bring the Physical Back In

How can you remind your attendees that they are real people with real bodies in the real world? Some ideas: Have your attendees show the group something from their workspace. Think about ways you can break up the Zoom time with parallel physical assignments off screen, like sending attendees on a walk to gather ideas or journal. Mail a packet of fun objects to each attendee that you can reference or play with.

Do Use the Zoom (and Other) Tools to Get Stuff Done and Have Fun

On Zoom, break things up by sending working groups into breakout rooms for discussion, with all notes going onto the same google doc – this is your new version of the easel and marker! Use google slides interactively for sharing ideas or feelings - dragging and dropping images could be your new version of voting with colored dots. Use the poll function of zoom to get the read of the room or vote. If you’re feeling especially arty or techy, try out a website like to make a presentation. Or play a game with everyone using

Hopefully now you have a lot of ideas for how to translate your Board retreat into an online experience. Be sure to also check in with neighboring congregations to see what they’re doing to make their Board Retreats special this year! We’ll figure out these new challenges together.

About the Author

Megan Foley

Rev. Megan Foley serves as Regional Lead for the Central East Region staff. Before joining regional staff she served for six years as the minister of the Sugarloaf Congregation of Unitarian Universalists in Germantown, Maryland....

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