I’ve asked Grant my Chief Operations Officer to write a blog post on how he ran our US team retreat.
Even though I wasn’t present for it (I’m not into travelling – either away or with my family – at this stage in my life), I dialled in for webcam sessions, and I trusted Grant as COO to help our team bond + work out what needs to be done for the next stage of the company.
Team retreats are just invaluable. It’s hard to quantify just how useful + powerful they are.
I’ve run two in the past in Australia and written about them here + here.
If you’ve got a virtual team (or even a physical face-to-face one!) I hope this post gives you some guidance on HOW to do it. And WHY dedicated planning time with your team is truly life + business changing.
One of the best parts about the internet used to be that we could do things virtually that used to require physical effort.
First it started simply – little annoying things like paying bills or checking on your checking balance.
Then, the tasks got bigger. Ecommerce and awesome new software online.
Now, it’s possible to never, ever leave your house. Well, except for food, but even that can be ordered.
So, when you’re planning a retreat, especially with remote workers, it is really like a trip back in time. You can meet people, eat together, learn what they look like 3-dimensionally, and in general, hang out In Real Life (IRL).
It might sound crazy, but doing life together is the new business retreat.
When I looked at how to get our team together, I had a few things in mind – we work together every day. We talk, chat, Skype, and email. We share ideas, deal with frustrations, and generally go through all the emotions and challenges it takes to get work done. Several of the folks on this team had worked together for a couple of years without ever actually seeing each other.
Scientists tell us that somewhere around 90% of communication is non-verbal. While some of that comes through on Skype, lots of it doesn’t. So the first task was filling in some of those holes. Spending time together would help us understand each other better.
Where to host the team retreat
Since everyone was going to travel, Leonie was gracious enough to allow us to have the retreat in my town, Durango, CO. It saved us on one ticket and gave me inside information about local resources.
We look at several options for lodging, but settled on a nice AirBNB place that Joyce located. It had a beautiful shared space and rooms for everyone. This served as the backdrop for our meetings, meals, discussions, and videos. Getting a comfortable base you can work from makes all the difference.
I loaded the place up with some local treats, a little cheap wine (Joyce’s favorite) and some flowers. I hadn’t met these ladies either and I wanted to get off on the right foot!
Leonie made some great retreat notebooks – the goal was to ask questions and stimulate some discussion about the company and where we are going.
In some ways, these seem like big questions for a small company, but while they may be, they are also critical. Direction when you’re small is critical because you don’t want anyone swimming the wrong way.
(Editor’s note from Leonie: want to know the questions that I asked in this workbook? They are straight out of the Biz workbook! I created this workbook years ago for the first team retreat I ran. They were so effective, we’ve used them every year since. When it came to create the Create Your Shining Year in Biz workbook, I used that template and added to it! Fun! So when you get the Biz workbook – you get the exact same planning process I use in my own company to great effect. Hooray! The End!)
We made some inquiries and found a great photographer and videographer.
One of the things we wanted from the IRL experience was photographs that had a shared context. We ended up using Shutterfreek who could do both, and had a style that fit with Leonie’s
anal artistic sensibilities.
We also did videos, just because we couldn’t do this sort of stuff remotely. These parts were useful and fun. Now we have photos and videos that help our online customers know that the whole team here is full of real, live humans who care for them. That’s big, important stuff right there.
So – that was the plan, such as it was. What really happened, was all of that and a lot more. One thing I hadn’t counted on was the backlog of discussion. Online meetings that end quickly often leave subjects and ideas hanging. We would launch with a simple question and wind up covering a lot of ground.
It was super helpful for me to really hear full-length thoughts from the team. We talked through a few meals entirely, just unloading all this excitement in an endless round and round.
We also shared some personal moments. Talked quieter and closer than we do on remote calls. Shared some of what makes us tick and some of what’s broken us, and what it’s like to heal. It is harder to hide the scars in person.
Erin our social media pixie was tasked with documenting the whole thing on social media as we did it. It was mostly for Leonie’s voyeuristic tendencies of wanting to feel apart of all the action from across the oceans, but our social media tribes loved seeing it in progress as well.
We also did the DiSC personality profile. Some of us were less plussed by this, but it provided a great jumping off point for how we all approach challenges and how our thought processes are different. No test can define the whole of a human, we all agree, but each one does cast some light into an area – they are a way of looking.
My favourite part of the retreat was that we got to work together. Eventually the conversations became less about catching up and more about moving forward.
The we-shoulds, and the we-coulds formed into ‘let’s do this now.’ We built some campaigns, made some changes, and talked through concrete answers to some business riddles. Mostly, we just came together and started making things work.
And while Leonie wasn’t there with us in body, she was there with us in spirit – via the retreat handbooks she’d designed, via the “Leonie on a stick” I made + everyone dutifully looked after for the rest of the trip, and via webcam.
In short, our IRL retreat was a welcome break from virtual work.
We have lots of inside jokes, shared memories, and a better sense of how each of us thinks and communicates. The work we started is going strong. I believe we have more respect for each other and clarity about what we all do well.
We’re back to the virtual grind – Skype calls and shared documents, but we are stronger for our time together. If you have a small team, you can even do something simple – just spend a day together. Give hugs, eat together, Talk about the work you do, together.
You might be surprised by the outcome!
Things to keep in mind:
- Virtual teams already know how to work together. What they need is to know each other.
- Vision-casting – helping people understand where they are going together.
- Good food (Did I mention this already?)
- Thorny, multi-faceted business conversations that are difficult to have anywhere but in person.
- Choose beauty whenever possible – space, location, food, outings.
- Be willing for it to go astray into personal discussions as well. We simply can’t compartmentalise life from business. Our spirits, our tapes, our scars, our blocks – they all come up in every part of our life, including business. By talking through them, shedding light for each other, we can become our bigger and best selves.
Hope you found this useful.
And I hope it inspires you to get your own team together – whether virtual or ones you see all the time – and dedicate quality time to connecting and planning.
This is the work of changing businesses and lives.
Enjoy the journey,
See? There’s a reason why I hired that dude. Walkin’ heart on legs!
Whenever I see there’s a draft blog post of his waiting for me to review/prettify, I get totes excitable to see what he’s written next. I’ve asked him to keep on writing ’em, because I get a tonne out of them, and reckon you would too. If ya like this post, let us know and what you want to hear more of!
Also, in huge news:
I would be remiss to remind you that there is only FOUR days left of that crazy nutso 2016 workbook pre-order sale where you save over 50% and get FREE INTERNATIONAL SHIPPING!!! WHAT THE WHAT!!!! GO CHECK IT OUT HONEY BUNS!