The Ethics Retreat

Ethics, in relation to leadership, is an extremely difficult topic to assess.  Because many of us are already aware what is acceptable and what isn’t, reiteration of moral ideals is simply useless.  To teach ethics in a way that will guarantee its effectiveness, it’s better to design activities where individuals can participate in and learn for themselves how to approach stressful situations.  I have designed a two-day retreat focused on tackling the subject of ethics on a camping reserve, where the participants will be more void of internet and phone access in an effort to ensure they are more receptive to the teaching points and lessons learned while at the retreat.

As previously stated, the retreat would ideally take place at a camping resort.  A camping resort would be ideal for this type of activity because the idea of being out of the city and/or suburban life we are accustomed to and having to rely on the barest of necessities, while experiencing a closer interaction with nature, animals, etc. will hopefully facilitate a more honest and more natural experience for the camp goers.

The 2-day schedule for the camping trip would go as follows:

Day 1:

7:00am: Arrival

Move-In and Unpacking

8:30am: Breakfast

9:30-11:30: Activity Sessions – 40 minutes each on a rotating schedule

Activity A: Problem Solving Exercise 1

Toxic Waste: Your town is currently discussing a project, which would bring in a toxic waste facility.  The facility would bring in 500 new jobs and a new stream of revenue for the county.  However, the plan for the facility is located .5 miles away from an elementary school.  The fumes from the plant include toxic radiation, which will undoubtedly affect the children.  What would you do?

Activity B: Problem Solving Exercise 2

Telephone: a spin on the classic game of telephone, where after the game is played participants discuss where the message got lost in interpretation and what they can do to prevent that both in the game and in real life.

Activity C: Problem Solving Exercise 3

Amoeba: the group starts off as one large globe, otherwise known as an amoeba. As different attributes and life experiences are called, they break off from one another

12:00pm: Lunch

Large Team Building activity: Canoeing

Reflection on large Teambuilding activity

6:00pm: Dinner

7:00pm: Free time

Meant to be a social time for attendees, so that they can interact network and make relationships outside of the constructs of the retreat

11:30pm: Lights Out

Day 2:

Breakfast: 8:30am

Activity Sessions: A, B, C 9:30-11:30, 40 minutes each on a rotating schedule

Activity A: Ethics Simulation 1

Scenario 1: “If you knew a woman who was pregnant, who had eight children already, three who were deaf, two who were blind, one mentally retarded, and she had syphilis, would you recommend that she have an abortion?”

Activity B: Ethics Simulation 2

Scenario 2: “It is time to elect the world leader, and yours is the deciding vote. Here are the facts about the three leading candidates:

  • Candidate A: He associates with crooked politicians, and consults with astrologers. He’s had two mistresses. He also chain smokes and drinks up to ten Martinis a day.
  • Candidate B: He was ejected from office twice, sleeps until noon, used opium in college and drinks a large amount of whisky every evening.
  • Candidate C: He is a decorated war hero. He’s a vegetarian, doesn’t smoke, drinks an occasional beer and hasn’t had any extra-marital affairs.

Which of these candidates would be your choice?”

(Ethics Scenarios adapted from

Activity C: Ethics Simulation 3

Group comes up with their own situation

Lunch: 12:00pm

Large Teambuilding activity: Rock-climbing

Reflection Large Teambuilding activity

Dinner: 6:00pm

Campfire roast

Departure 7:30 pm

The two distinctive programs for this camping trip include the Problem Solving Exercises to take place on Day 1 and the Ethics Simulations of day 2.  The problem solving exercises are important to have because they tackle the critical thinking aspects of the ethics.  The instructors will encourage an open dialogue and comments from at least one person in each group to ensure that all views are represented.  Ethics simulations are important because the groups get to act out these scenarios and how they would like to go and how it most likely will occur in reality.  This will help the individuals to assess the gaps between the ideal solution and the reality and how they can react to ensure that the best possible of outcomes occurs.

The larger teambuilding activates, canoeing and kayaking, provide a fun yet effective way for individuals to realize how much teamwork and reliance on one another is important to successful goal reaching.

What modifications would you make to this retreat? How do you feel about the activities that were planned? Should they be restructured or rethought?  Let me know what you think.

(Ethics Scenarios adapted from

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