Team retreats or offsites provide a unique opportunity to build connectedness, motivation and communicate with your whole team. However, they can be a daunting event to prepare for and often do not live up to their potential. In this post, we share some tips on how to prepare content for a team retreat.
Recently, Fortify Health held a full team retreat in Bhopal, India. Fortify Health is a non-profit organisation with the mission of enabling access to micronutrient-rich wheat flour to reduce and prevent iron-deficiency anaemia. Altogether 36 teammates from across India and the world gathered for a three-day retreat, which was then followed by a smaller, 2.5 day leadership retreat. In a feedback survey, participants gave a score of 4.8 out of 5 (likert scale) on the statement, ‘I feel much more energised and motivated for my work after the retreat.’
We've learned many valuable lessons as we prepared for our recent retreat, and we'd like to share them with you in this blog post. Here, we provide a high-level process for preparing for your next team retreat and some of the lessons we learned along the way. It must be noted that we are far from experts when it comes to event planning. However, event planning can often be very expensive, and we hope our experiences may be able to support you in the future.
We break the process of preparing content for a retreat into the following four key steps:
2. Agenda Development
3. Content Preparation
4. Retreat Time
Step 1: Ideation
Goal Setting: As with almost any task, a clear understanding of the goals or purpose of the retreat is critical. Fortify Health leadership brainstormed a list of goals and then synthesised these into a prioritised list of five goals: connectedness, strategic alignment and clarity, understanding, collaboration and motivation. Lessons learned:
Brainstorm Sessions: Work with your team to brainstorm a long list of sessions that you may wish to run. In some cases, the specific content of the session may be uncertain, but you may have ideas on the format of sessions (workshops, town halls, speeches etc.) These sessions should align with the goals you have set out and may be both formal and social in nature. Lessons learned:
Step 2: Agenda Development
Develop high-level agenda: Now you can think about the flow of sessions and how to choose the sessions you wish to run. Prepare a spreadsheet to visualise the time you have available during the retreat. For our retreat, we broke down the time into 30-minute blocks and colour-coded sessions based on: personal-time, mandatory content sessions, optional sessions, social time and breaks / buffers. Lessons learned:
Iterate and finalise the agenda: Take feedback and iterate on your agenda. At this point, worry less about the content of the individual sessions and more on the overall flow of the retreat. Lessons learned:
Step 3: Content Preparation
Individual session preparation: Time to prepare the sessions themselves. We took guidance from teachers who are experts in preparing content for groups. We started by delegating session preparation to different team members who were then asked to prepare a lesson plan. This lesson plan broke each session into 5-minute sections and was colour-coded for different types of engagement within the session: presenter-led, moderated discussion, individual work and facilitated group work. The aim was that each session would have a combination of different types of activities to ensure that engagement was maintained.
After lesson plans were signed off, session leads prepared slides and other materials. Some speakers created scripts, while others simply used their slides as talking notes. Finally, each session lead provided details to the operations team on logistic needs for their sessions.
Leading up to the retreat: The team held a call to review the preparation for each session in detail. We recommend holding this call at least a week before the retreat commences. This call took over 2-hours, but built confidence that everything was in place and contingencies were taken into account. Lessons learned:
Step 4: Retreat Time
By the time you reach the retreat venue, all speakers and organisers should feel confident about the content flow. However, we all know that there will be last minute curveballs and unexpected occurrences. We found it helpful to get to the venue early to scope out the space and think about whether our logistic plans still made sense. We recommend holding a quick briefing before the retreat starts to ensure everyone is on the same page.
At the end or start of each day, we found it helpful to regroup as a leadership and operations team to debrief. During the debrief we would share learnings and feedback and iterate on our plans.
We hope that this guide will help you as you prepare for your next team retreat! If you have any questions, feel free to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org
2020 has been a strange year for everyone and every organisation. Fortify Health’s own milestones may not be as concrete as in previous years, and instead our lessons from 2020 became our milestones - it was not the year we expected, yet we made the most of it. All things considered, we've learned and grown a lot as an organisation and as a team, and a major highlight has been the strength of our team and what this means for Fortify Health going forward. As travel restrictions ease, we’re hopeful that 2021 will bring further opportunity and growth.
We asked our team to share what some of their most helpful lessons and milestones have been from 2020, both on an organisational level and at a programmatic level. Below is a summary of our 2020 growth based off of all of the team’s inputs.
Organisational lessons and milestones
1) We've all learned to work collaboratively and empathetically with a completely remote team
3) We've put a strong focus on mentorship and implementation of consistent documentation across the team
1) We've built in-house technical capacity thanks to a stellar program team
3) We've overcome M&E barriers by procuring the iCheck
4) We've started to receive recognition as a legitimate player in the fortification sector thanks to more emphasis on communications
So to summarise, 2020 was a year of building more robust organisational systems, strengthening our team capacity to set us up for a faster-paced 2021, and learning. Our team, despite almost doubling in size over the course of 2020, has even reported being especially busy compared to the previous year, because setting up these systems, incorporating new strategies and coordinating hiring takes significant time, planning, discussion and effort.
In 2021, we have a lot to look forward to! We're excited to grow our team capacity (hiring for several new positions!), increase our number of mill partnerships, expand M&E activities, scale up our government and marketing work, build our brand further through improved communications, and potentially conduct another round of fundraising with GiveWell. 2021 will be busy, collaborative, and productive, in the best of ways - and all with the intention of improving lives at-scale!
“Putting brakes on anaemia: how to safeguard the health and rights of women and girls through fortification”
We are delighted to share that Fortify Health has received a GiveWell Incubation Grant of ~$1,000,000. This grant will provide the organisation with two years of funding for operations in Maharashtra and West Bengal, from implementation to expanding the team. In Fortify Health’s third year of existence (from mid-2019), the focus is on scaling up implementation.
June 2019 to May 2020: First year of GiveWell Incubation Grant
Over the first year of GiveWell’s 2-year grant, the funding will be directed primarily towards expanding open market wheat flour fortification and building strong partnerships in our two focus states: Maharashtra and West Bengal. Our goals for May 2020 are:
June 2020 to May 2021: Second year of GiveWell Incubation Grant
The second year of funds will be used to continue the mill partnerships and involvement in government programmes achieved in the first year, and to maintain our team. In order to keep expanding in Year 2, we will need to apply for further funding from GiveWell or other sources. Possibility of further expansion and strategy direction are also dependent on new research that may alter effectiveness or cost-effectiveness estimates of fortification. In early 2020, we will refine our strategy for the trajectory of Fortify Health’s operations.
The receipt of these funds is a testament to the work of our team over the past two years, who have been driven, dedicated and collaborative along the journey to this milestone. We would also like to thank each and every individual who has supported and advised us along the way, including but not limited to:
We couldn't be more excited to welcome Dr. Urmi Bhattacharya in her new role as Country Director to the Fortify Health team. Urmi joins with extensive experience relevant to fortification, management, and monitoring & evaluation. Prior to joining Fortify Health, Urmi was a Research Manager at the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) South Asia for four years, where she managed six large scale programmes across five states in India, including two fortification studies. She has also served as the Global Head of Monitoring and Evaluation for Uganda and India at STIR Education. Urmi earned her PhD in Economics from Indiana University in 2012 and has since dedicated her passion and skills towards making high quality education and health systems accessible to all people.
Introducing Our New Team
We’re delighted to announce that over the past few weeks we’ve welcomed on board three new full-time team members. After completing our first ever round of recruitment over the summer months, we’ve hired a Programme Officer, a Partnerships Officer, and a Senior Partnerships Officer.
Shweta, Programme Officer
Shweta has worked as a Research Associate at JPAL South Asia on Non-Communicable Diseases project. She led the RCT study in Mumbai that assessed the impact of reminder call services on compliance to diabetes treatment among elderly populations. Shweta has also worked with the Overseas Development Institute as a Research Intern, studying perceptions of youth on working in the agricultural sector, and its impact on agriculture in Uganda and Ghana. She has completed MSc in Anthropology and Development from the London School Of Economics.
Muneer, Partnerships Officer
Dr. Muneer holds a Master’s in Health Administration from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai and a Bachelor’s in Ayurvedic Medicine and Surgery from Amrita University. Before joining Fortify Health, he was working with Public Health Resource Network in Delhi coordinating the end to end implementation of a nutrition programme in Odisha. His interests include public health, nutrition, anthropology, international politics, history and geography. He is an aficionado of ghazals and Indian classical music.
Shiva, Senior Partnerships Officer
Shiva holds a degree in social work from CSRD- Institute of Social Work and Research, Ahmednagar with academic achievement of clearing UGC, NET. He previously worked with STIR Education as a Senior Program Manager, where he was closely associated with ministries and the education department in Delhi, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. He was a also Gandhi Fellow, working on School Leadership Development with the Govt. schools in Gujarat. His interest lies with evidence-based interventions, government partnerships, and policy intervention.
Fortify Health is excited to announce that we have received a GiveWell Incubation Grant. This will allow us to continue setting up a micronutrient initiative in India over the next year. GiveWell has recommended a grant to fully fund our budget of $295,217 and has published their review of Fortify Health on their website.
Our intervention takes a two-tiered approach to improving fortification in India. Firstly, we will work with industrial flour millers to facilitate addition of iron, folic acid, and vitamin B12 to wheat flour, offering immediate measures to prevent anemia and neural tube defects (NTDs). Simultaneously (and secondly), we will take a longer-term approach by supporting a state government to develop sound fortification standards, implement an effective monitoring and evaluation system, and progress towards a fortification mandate.
Our brief plans for the next year will be to:
Once fortification is underway, we will focus more on quality assurance, and monitoring and evaluation of fortification programmes.
In January, Fortify Health’s founding team conducted a visit to India. Our aim was to learn about project opportunities to contribute to ongoing efforts in food fortification.
We learned critical information about the food fortification landscape and norms in India, including challenges and progress, as well as identifying specific programmes we could start up. To understand the complexities of fortification in India, it is important to be aware of the Indian government’s safety net programmes and food industry norms. Read our background notes to learn more.
We spoke with key players in fortification, meeting with the government’s Food Fortification Resource Centre and a range of NGOs working in flour or rice fortification: Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), PATH, Food Fortification Initiative, Nutrition International and World Food Programme.
We have published summary notes from key conversations, which you can find below:
Food Fortification Resource Centre
Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition
Food Fortification Initiative
World Food Programme
From these conversations and from our own models and cost effectiveness analysis, we have developed several project proposals for fortification projects we believe to be highly impactful. These will be online and publicly accessible soon.
This post provides an update on our progress and explains our decision to explore opportunities to add value to iron and folic acid fortification in India. Having extensively reviewed the academic literature and NGO reports, and having spoken to experts in the field who strongly encouraged us to develop this project even as non-experts, we set out to understand where in the world a new fortification initiative might have the most impact. The approach to our evaluation was driven by data and expert guidance.
For an overview of why we began working on iron and folic acid fortification and for background information about iron deficiency anemia and neural tube defects, please see our previous post.
We began our evaluation with country-level analysis of available data, including disease burden, potential intervention scale, status quo fortification gap of centralized mills, and potential risks (contraindications). These were complemented by estimated parameters for more subjective factors, including conflict, crowdedness, language barriers, and miscellaneous positive factors. These scores were standardized and weighted to compute a composite score for each country. Data are available in this spreadsheet.
These scores and the suggested weights are certainly not a literal indication of the importance of further fortification efforts in the countries evaluated. While this framework was useful in guiding our location selection, we do not claim that its guidance is absolute nor do we claim that fortification (or access to plentiful nutritious food and good health, for that matter) is any less important in locations with lesser scores. Consider this spreadsheet as a visualization of various factors relevant to determining with limited information where our new initiative might be expected to have the highest potential impact.
Disease burden was modeled as the combined DALY rate of iron deficiency anemia and neural tube defects.
Potential intervention scale was modeled as the log of the country’s population. As such, larger countries with greater potential scale were nonlinearly compared (e.g. India’s population of approximately 1.3 billion was scored approximately twice as high as Sudan’s population of approximately 40 million). This transformation was deemed reasonably aligned with assumptions of potential scale (e.g. the feasibility of working within one state in India compared to at a national level in a smaller country).
The status quo fortification gap of centralized mills was calculated given data aggregated by the Food Fortification Initiative on staple food consumption, centralization of milling of rice, wheat, and corn, and the amount of that staple that is currently fortified. As such, an estimate of the the centrally produced fortifiable food not currently fortified was used in comparison.
The primary potential risk factor (contraindication) considered was the burden of malaria, expressed by national DALY rate. Existing data and meta analysis suggest that iron supplementation programs are associated with increased risk of malaria contraction in high burden regions lacking malaria services. Iron supplementation differs from iron fortification: supplementation involves consumption of high-dose iron tablets at varied frequency (daily to biannually, depending on program) whereas fortification involves consumption of low-dose trace amounts of iron consumed regularly through fortified staple foods. To our knowledge and informed by expert consultation, data on the impact of fortification on malaria risk is not currently available. Even so, several programs are currently underway under the assumption that the low dose of fortification would not carry the same risk. We believe this is an area of worthwhile exploration and would be happy to work with a health economist or statistician to analyze existing data to produce informative evidence. Given the present uncertainty, we included malaria risk as a contraindicating factor in our location selection.
Political feasibility, the presence of ongoing war or political instability, was subjectively rated to reflect both the feasibility of working with government approval or collaboration, the endurance of implemented programs, and safety establishing projects.
Language barriers were considered to reflect our confidence that we could build partnerships with local organizations and governments. Countries where English is spoken (our native language) scored higher than countries where Spanish, German, or French is spoken (our non-native languages), which scored higher than countries where none of the four languages is spoken.
Crowdedness, the presence of existing actors already doing (or planning to do) work similar to our aims, was assessed by reviewing the governmental and NGO efforts currently underway in countries scoring highest on the aforementioned factors. A subjective score was assigned to each evaluated country.
Miscellaneous positive factors included existing relationships with potential partners or influential people.
Considering these factors, India emerged the most promising location to explore specific opportunities for our work. By comparison to other top candidates, India scored slightly to moderately lower on disease burden, higher on potential intervention scale, higher on status quo fortification gap, substantially lower on malaria risk, slightly lower on political feasibility (the average scores of top locations was heavily skewed by Bhutan), higher on crowdedness, lower on language barriers, and higher on miscellaneous factors.
Put another way, reasons to work in India compared with other top candidates included potential intervention scale, status quo fortification gap, low malaria risk, lower language barriers, and positive miscellaneous factors, even though other top candidates had somewhat higher disease burdens and appeared less crowded.
Across India, 38.3 percent of the population suffers from iron deficiency anemia (compared to 2.3 percent in the US). Anemia affects 55.3 percent of women and 69.5 percent of children in India considering all causes (including anemia resulting from iron deficiency, intestinal worms, etc.).
Having connected with several experts working in the field, we have overwhelmingly received encouraging responses to our initiative (and have been grateful for pushback, as well). Despite several actors’ efforts on micronutrient fortification in India, it became clear from conversations with organizations working on fortification in India that there is plenty of room for further focus. Anemia is a substantial problem in India and existing interventions are sparsely implemented.