Family Action Centre staff retreat

Last week Dee and I helped facilitate the two day Family Action Centre (FAC) staff retreat. Each year we get together to reflect on our work, develop the team and recharge our batteries. Dee and I have helped run a few of them and I always learn through the process.

In planning them we try to involve a range of staff in running checkins, energisers and other sessions. By doing so, we see some new exercises or ways of doing things,  encourage participation and we give people who mightn’t be all that confident a chance to practice facilitation in a supportive environment.

At the FAC we start most meetings with a quick checkin during which we say how we are at that time. It is a good way to “checkin” with people and to see how everybody is. We can then make allowances if somebody is feeling a bit sick, join in celebrating if something is going really well and generally be sensitive to each others moods and energy levels. (This year I liked a checkin Evelyn lead where we each gave a weather report based on how we were feeling.)

We see the retreat as a chance to demonstrate a few processes other people might find useful. This year we did a world cafe and an open space. Next time, we hope that somebody else will facilitate these types of sessions and we can act as a mentor if needed. It seems another great opportunity for FAC staff to hone their skills and get feedback about what worked and what didn’t.

Because the FAC includes people doing research, community work, teaching, graphic design, event management and marketing , administration, and various other things, we need to create an agenda that is relevant to everyone. At times this can be challenging. For me one of the highlights were sessions led by Brian Hayes giving us a brief, active introduction to Rock and Water and DRUM BEAT. They are two great programs which are fun and physically engaging, while also providing useful learning and experiences.

We spent a while reflecting on the relationship between our work and health. The FAC is part of the Faculty of Health at the Uni and so it was good to reflect on how we contribute to healthy families and communities. To do this we run a world cafe exploring three questions:

  1. How does the FAC contribute to family and community health?
  2. How could we strengthen our contribution?
  3. How can I contribute to making the FAC a more healthy and positive centre?

I think one of the key messages was that we do make a significant contribution to health and wellbeing, but we can get better at articulating how we are relevant to health.

As a bit of an aside, in world cafe, we encourage people to doodle and draw on the flip chart rather than just to take traditional notes. This does make typing up the sheets much harder!

One area I think we need to think about for next time is how to do team reports. An important part of the retreat is learning about other projects and teams within the FAC. This year we asked people to do posters, but I don’t think they worked all that well. We did it last year and I think it worked better then. This year, I don’t think we structured it as well and also I think we needed something more interactive. We don’t want to spend hours on project reports, but it might work better if we have brief presentations spread  over the two days, encourage people to be creative in their presentations, and keep them fairly short.

The other think I think Dee and I need to watch a bit is that we don’t allow ourselves to be too relaxed. We are not as “professional” as if we were doing it for another organisation. While we still put in a lot of preparation to it, I think there were times when we could have been a bit tighter in our facilitation. At the same time, I do like the laid back feel of our retreats.

As always I come away feeling that the FAC is a good place to work and I love the variety of things that staff are involved in.

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, environmentalist, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace, sustainability.
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