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2023 marks our 10 year anniversary at Symplicity Designs. On the back of our best year ever as an organization, we just finished our organizational retreat.
In the post-pandemic world, we’re all still trying to figure out how we will work - remote, in-office, hybrid - and what work will mean to us.
At Symplicity we’re clear on our purpose: to make the world a better place, one organization at a time. We get the honour of working with organizations as they tackle complex problems of scale or crisis.
It is more than a “job” for those who ply their trade with us.
It is a calling.
We haven’t had a retreat since 2019. In that time, we’ve moved from a mostly in-office culture (albeit with two offices, two micro-cultures, and a lot of time on the road with clients) to a mostly remote team.
It has made our in-person activities more important to get right.
We wanted to strike the right balance of celebration and connection with meaningful communication around our strategic direction in the next year to drive alignment.
We put a lot of effort into getting this one right.
So with that, here are three thoughts on having better team retreats...
1. The Art of Gathering Read the Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why it Matters by Priya Parker. She provides the most thoughtful and thought-provoking work on what it means to successfully bring people together. Chill is Confusing: Who wants to get on a plane with no pilot? Clarity on expectations for the retreat makes it easier to participate fully. Our support team did this brilliantly in the email leading up to the event - the agenda, the expectations, and even a packing list were included to help everyone navigate the short time together. Make the Purpose Clear: Celebration, connection, and strategic clarity were our three clear aims.
“The purpose of your gathering is more than an inspiring concept. It is a tool, a filter that helps you determine all the details, grand and trivial.”
We started with a 15-minute video celebrating 10 years in business. We communicated the strategic direction for the next year. And ended the first session with a profit-sharing bonus (equal to after-tax dollars) for the entire team. Environment Matters: We spent more on our retreat this year than in past years because of our success. We wanted to treat our team to splendid views and beautiful accommodations. You make a statement with where you host your event. And more lavish is not always best - think carefully about the message you intend to send. Meaningfully Omit Individuals: This retreat was for our team. Not friends and family. The Ending Matters: What are you doing to properly wind down the event? We want our people to take their health seriously. This year we ended with handing out Peter Attia’s book, Outlive. We asked everyone to engage with his conclusions, reflect on their own journey, think about a focus area they want to drill into, and then we would support them with a $250 health benefit to kick start the process. We work with a selfless group that helps facilitate solutions to complex problems. We want to be sure our people put their own oxygen mask on first.
2. The Power of Moments Having trouble curating your own moments? Dig into the great work by Chip and Dan Heath in The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact.
We don’t remember our life in minutes. We remember it in moments.
Think about your own life. The narrative you tell yourself about your upbringing, your coming of age, and your current situation are all anchored by a series of moments that reinforce your story. Take a second and think about it. What moments stick out for you? Why? Most experiences fade. Pits, peaks and transitions tend to stick. Why are we leaving these moments to fate? The Heath brothers argue that we should be curating them. There are four types of emotions that lead to a significant emotional event: Elevation (of the senses), Pride (feeling recognized for achievements), Insight (learning something new), and Connection (with family, friends, and/or colleagues). Here is the one page summary. If you can fuse two or more of those into the moments you create, your team will remember them. Bonus Tip: You can use this to radically change the way your customers experience your brand as well. In fact, a good portion of this book is dedicated to just that. The Heath brother's work has radically altered our events at Symplicity, our on-boarding process, our customer interactions, and on a personal level it has completely changed the way my partner and I curate events for my family (Here is an incredible .pdf on some moments you can curate for your family).
3. Quick Thought: A Rule of Thumb to Remember When Creating Your Event
1/3 planned work, 1/3 planned activities, 1/3 unplanned free time/social.
We need human connection more than ever. And in this transient and hybrid world, the times we get together as an organization require intention.
Our retreat hit all the boxes. Surprisingly, the introverts on our team overwhelmingly suggested we needed one additional night and day together.
I can't wait to make it even better next year.
PS - If you want to dive further into important insights and strategies for pushing through growth challenges and scaling up your organization, check out the latest Racki & Symes podcast.