Away from it all
Previous Article Next Article Related posts:No related photos. Away from it allOn 12 Jun 2001 in Personnel Today Whatvalue does a visit to a retreat actually add to the life of a busy senior HRexecutive? Does it allow them to reprioritise goals to make them more efficientat work or just provide a welcome break from the stresses that are part of lifetoday in HR? We send our featureswriter Phil Boucher to a stately home and a monastery to find outNever mind the idea that there is no such thing as a free lunch any more, injournalism these days there is barely time for lunch at all. And while we hacksskip off to a press conference every so often, such events are alwaysovershadowed by the inevitable deadline waiting for us back at the office. So Ijumped at the chance to take part in an HR executive retreat programme held atWaverley Abbey House in Farnham, Surrey. With a brief to “stop, think and step out of your lives”, five HRexecutives and I were given two days to “take control in a busyworld”. Leading us on this voyage of discovery were Chris Blakeley andGeoff Shattock, programme directors from Waverley Learning, organiser of theretreat programme. The first morning begins with an ice-breaking session where the task is tofind something in common with everybody else in the room – harder than youwould imagine as we all have remarkably different tastes, particularly inmusic. But it serves its purpose as a conversation starter and leads on to alesson in relaxation from Shattock that has the entire room drifting off intodreamland. With the preliminaries over, the Waverley team starts the programme forreal. Over the next two days it set a number of conundrums designed to draw outhidden strengths and encourage self-understanding. For each group member thisleads down different paths, but each one is treated as valid and acceptedwithout question. “You bring with you the important issues and questions in your workinglife, whether they include a sense of potential and change or a difficultdecision or problem,” says Blakeley. “For many people this often involves bigger questions about life in general– the ones that can lead to real progress, but which you never seem to get thetime or space to tackle properly.” Waverley’s programme is designed to tackle some of these “biggerquestions”. We were also asked what we want from work, where we powerfullycontribute and what assumptions could be constraining us. To find the answers we were asked to assess a number of ambiguous conceptssuch as “How did I get here today?” and, “Where am I?” Thiswas primarily done in moments of quiet contemplation either in the house orthroughout the grounds and was followed by a group discussion on our answers. Blakeley then led the discussion into how to strengthen leadership, be-comemore principled and identify resources that are available for generatingchange. As a former HR manager, Blakeley has based the retreat on his ownexperiences and uses the theme of “conviction as well as competence”to help the group analyse their position within a company structure. He alsodiscussed how HR can get “beneath the corporate culture while remainingauthentic” – contributing to the company ethos while still remaining trueto your own principles. This prompting often led to frank, open and, at times, emotional discussionas we all identified areas of life we would like to change and spoke of thestruggles we have had in coping with certain aspects. By the end of the firstday we had reached the stage where we had identified the areas we would like toimprove and possible reasons why they have held us back in the first place. The second day began with a head and neck massage, coupled with another setof relaxation exercises from Shattock. This removed any overnight tension andhad the group refocused within minutes. The agenda was to find some solutions by the day’s end. As Blakeleyexplains, “During the retreat we help you, and you help each other toaddress some questions. In doing so you become clearer about your stance andmore confident in your way forward. We give you development techniques thatenable you to clarify.” Further discussion and internal reflection followed and we also employed theuse of “timelines”, which saw us walking through an imaginary path ofthe future – the idea being that you walk forward visualising what’s holdingyou back and then gain an understanding of how life might change for thebetter. “Sooner or later your questions will take you from thought toaction,” explains Blakeley. “These action steps can often be simplerthan you think and working them out helps to clarify where you would like togo.” This all helps to find what the Waverley team describes as your “coreprocess” – unique talents that form the basis of your effectiveness inwork and life. And for the rest of the day the group were charged with thequest of uncovering these. For me, personally, this proved to be elusive, despite two members of theteam counselling me individually. I eventually narrowed it down to a choice of”Trusting my gut feeling” and “Being a good communicator”,but others in the group had more success. Once the rest of the group had foundtheir core processes, Blakeley and the team were able to suggest methods ofbringing these talents to the fore by identifying how it already workseffectively in their lives. To bring all the different aspects of the day together, we were then askedwhat we wanted to achieved by tomorrow, in two months, by the end of the yearand before we die. The rest of the day was devoted to finding some answers. For me this involved climbing a hill and sitting in the sun, although otherschose to stroll around the lake or sit in the gardens . On returning, Shattockturned the answers into simple diagrams detailing what is important to us asindividuals, where we would like to go and how the core process fits in to itall. Worries and fears were also included to provide a visual interpretation ofeach of our lives at that moment. Drawing the group into a huddle, Blakeley and then had one simple exerciseleft. As a finale we were encouraged to give each other advice based upon whatwe had witnessed in the group. Although it was one of the more unusualexercises we carried out, it did provide an intimate ending to the retreat. In any other circumstances, this would have been a self-conscious experiencebut given the level of confession that had existed over the two days itprovided a fitting conclusion. Indeed, as we left Shattock was to remind us ofSocrates’ words “an unexamined life is not worth living”. Waverley Learning Waverley Learning, which operates out of Waverley Abbey House, offers arange of executive retreat programmes. The HR programme is aimed atstrengthening leadership and how to “exercise leadership for an HRrole” and get you to think deeply about the powerful position you occupywithin an organisation. It is one of several run by Waverley Learning and costs£790 for two days which includes one-to-one coaching, relaxating massage andmeal. Its maximum ratio is six participants to every course director. Remaining retreats this year are 14-15 June, 23-24 July and 5-6 November. Contact 07041 [email protected] With CEOs and senior-level executives being ousted in record times, thepressure on those at the top to deliver has never been greater. All the signsare that executive stress is likely to increase in the next five years andwhile shipping your senior managers off to a health spa can be effective in theshort term, it does not always provide sufficient mental distance from thestress-inducing environment that caused the problems in the first place. Seniormanagers can literally seek sanctuary at the Monastery of Christ the King inCockfosters, which is setting itself up as the ultimate retreat for redressingthe work-life balance. “We believe you need to find stillness,” says Father AnthonySmithwicks. “It is only after you have found complete stillness that youare able to look inside yourself and say ‘there is a me in all of this’.” And Father Anthony should know. A Benedictine monk for more than 15 years,he has spread the good word from South America to New York and Paris. He nowcombines his parish and theological duties with running the adjoiningBenedictine Spiritual Centre, a specially created area of lay retreat. Although the monastery runs specific programmes for executives, there werenone scheduled during my visit so it was largely up to me what I did during mystay, but Father Anthony did discuss the philosophy behind the spiritualcentre. “Our aim is to help people find a better balance between life andwork,” he says. “The idea is to find a level where you are able to removethe persona you project on a daily basis and reveal your hidden gifts. We don’texpect people to take part in anything unless they really want to as we find itusually takes about two to three days for people to get used to beingcomfortable with this. “People have forgotten how to relax,” he says. “Take eating.It is either grabbing a bite on the way out the door, a sandwich on the move orfast food on the way home. Most will also have their dinner in front of the TV.We think eating is very important and that it is important to have a reason toeat and be able to reflect on what you are eating and why.” On the retreat this can mean breaking bread with the brothers or just takingthe time to settle down at a table and reflect. As with the rest of the retreatit is entirely up to the individual, although lunching with the brothers doesmore than introduce you to the intricacies of a Monk’s diet. It is an integral part of maintaining what Father Anthony describes as the”held space” within the retreat centre and monastery, and taking partin some of the daily rituals enables you to feel this sense of support moreacutely. “It’s important, so that you can become still and truly honest withyourself,” he explained. “We are willing to share the burden of yourstress and fears so that you can remove the false persona and display theperson driving it all.” And while this can entail little more than sitting around listening to themonks chant prayers, there are several options available. The retreat is opento both individuals or groups and you can take part in an organised retreatsuch as “Being Human”, “Meditation for Beginners” or”Creative Solitude”. You can also use the monks as a sounding boardto find out more about yourself. While I was there I spoke to David Bowman, a senior environmental adviserwith Shell Oil, who uses the retreat to achieve a better balance between workand family life through talking to the monks and learning about St Benedict’s1,000-year-old philosophy. “A balance has to be found,” he explains.”Your employer’s paying you so you have to give them some respect But whenI first started working for Shell I was moving from Holland to Australia andthe US. I started to think it wasn’t right so I made a conscious decision tomake my family an equal priority. Other people didn’t and many of them sawtheir families disappear in a matter of years.” Father Anthony says, “People come here and they are locked inside thepersona they project around them. By the third or fourth day they have shedeverything. A retreat helps people to establish time for work, time forleisure, times for silence and moments when to speak.” “We try to help people understand their own humanity and show thatspirituality is a part of life, not apart from life. The Benedictine Spiritual Centre The Benedictine Spiritual Centre is attached to the Monastery of Christ theKing, Cockfosters, north-east London.Prices vary according to the type of retreat. Quiet days, including lunchwith the monastic community, cost £12. Overnight accommodation starts at £17for bed and breakfast. Couples are also catered for in a number of double rooms.Organised retreats range from £35 to £280 and are aimed at all sections ofsociety. A Christian theme is in evidence throughout them all, although you donot have to be a believer to take part. The monks share the responsibility forthe retreat with members of the local community who are encouraged to take alead as much as possible.The entire centre can also be hired for £150 a day and a conference roomwith a capacity of 75 is also available for £90. For information call 020-84492499. Alternatively, e-mail [email protected] Comments are closed.