Tuesday, 3 February 2009


“To speak and to speak well are two things. A fool may talk, but a wise man speaks.” - Ben Jonson

The last couple of days I have been taking part in an Academic Retreat. This is a type of mini-conference where academic staff of our institution come together from our campuses all over Australia and discuss important topics. We have presenters who lead the discussion, various hands-on activities, group workshops and also some social activities that facilitate team-building and help the staff to get to know one another. These sorts of activities can be a great waste of time or alternatively one of the best ways to identify current issues, develop strategic plans, achieve results and effect changes in an organisation.

I am glad to say that our retreat was an example of the latter. It was on the general theme of “Assessment in Higher Education” with special emphasis on some specific topics. I was very pleased with the way that things panned out, the great majority of our presenters were very effective and their talks were inspiring, generated a lot of discussion, and were very much outcomes focused.

One of the most satisfying things that I saw happening during the two days of the retreat was the degree of open communication that was occurring between colleagues who are normally separated by great geographical distances. As always of course, meeting someone face to face is much more conducive to that special communication which just isn’t there when one is emailing, talking on the phone or even when video-conferencing. Even people who had some axes to grind or were not getting along on the best of terms were on their best behaviour and made an effort to collaborate and exchange a friendly word.

Last night we all had dinner together and a drink, with much convivial conversation, which surprisingly elaborated on the discussions of the day session, rather than on pleasantries and witty repartee. These dinner exchanges inspired my session this morning where I was able to address some of the issues raised by the attendees at the dinner, much to their satisfaction. One always can be at an advantageous position if one takes the time to stop talking and actively listen to what others are saying.

We were able to conclude this day’s session by considering various issues raised, discussing them and constituting three working parties which would look at the three most important topics and over the next few weeks meet in order to resolve the problems that we identified as being fundamental with our processes. It was quite a satisfying two days and all staff that took part found their time well spent. I ended up rather hoarse and a bit of a sore throat as I had done much talking and it has been quite a bit of time since I was lecturing for a few hours on end…

What are your experiences of work conferences and retreats? Good bad or indifferent?

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