2014 Retreat: Learning From and About

· Posted by Val in Company and tagged · Add a comment

bike successRide pride

Friends, I can't believe it's October. Before summer becomes a distant memory, I want to tell some stories from this year's Retreat. If you've been following our company, you'll recall that our little team has grown a bit each year. We work as a distributed team, mostly from our homes in the US, France, Germany, and the Netherlands, in addition to a small office in Bologna, Italy. We get together annually to spend time enjoying the friendships we've developed over the years, as well as hold focused discussions about our company, our products, and ourselves that are best done relaxed and in person. Here are some lessons learned this year. If you'd like to see past posts about our corporate retreats, they're here: 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013.

Lessons learned in 2014

Finding a week that works for 16 people is hard!

This year, we used a 3-color voting grid on a Google Doc (Red: I won't attend; Green: I'm in; Yellow: I have issues) to find August 21-28. Super great fortune for us, because that included Peldi's birthday. Here we are on the last night, celebrating at Clandestino after a day at Portonovo beach. Special shout out to family guests Mariah, the Guids, and La Nonna!

birthdayPeldi's birthday dinner

We all have something to teach

This year, Marco had the brilliant idea of organic learning – teaching each other. We opened up a wiki page to suggestions and ended up with 25 different sessions! Each served a double purpose: our group learned about a wide variety of subjects, and we also learned about each other and our hobbies. Learning From and About emerged as a theme of the 2014 retreat. All sessions, except Florian's talk on security for the dev team, were offered as optional. It was successful beyond expectations.

watercolorNatalie's watercolor class

Location, location, location

Our location was familiar and comfy: we returned to La Sperduta, Peldi's place in the countryside of Marche, Italy, about 3 hours from Bologna office. For the first time, there were no new-comers, so our Retreat had the air of a family reunion. Because our team has grown to 16, we tried a new set up: we rented rooms at a local B&B so we each had a room to call home. At night, we ran an early and a late van back. Before breakfast, Stefano and Peldi led yoga practice by the pool, then, we'd load up the vans and head off for a field trip, or to La Sperduta, where we had sessions, and covered sales & support cases, punctuated by extreme ping pong, extreme Bananagrams and extreme naps.

hammockExtreme napping

Our focus was learning new ways to enrich ourselves and our work.

Here's our full schedule.
Schedule

Getting together annually is at once a defining and a re-defining week.

It's the only time we are all in the same place. It's where we are able to learn on a different level as a mature (ha!) and intimate-but-distributed company. We review our manifesto, we true-up our values and our behavior. We check in with each other in all sorts of ways (e.g., "you still off coffee/a vegetarian/whatever?" or "how'd you hack your baby monitor?" )

smoresBonding over s'mores

To kick things off, we had a real-live behavioralist, Paul Kenny talk to us about organizational psychology. It was not only fascinating, it has helped us understand the communication styles of our peers, providing a richer understanding for teams that span languages, time zones and emotional ranges. We took a profiling test beforehand, and Paul presented the results. We reviewed ourselves as individuals, teams, sub-groups, and the company as a whole. This type of understanding is meant to help us harmonize, diffuse tensions, and trust our colleagues more deeply. So far, we've seen great results play out successfully when working on a complex group task: ironically in choosing the next Retreat location!

Paul KennyPaul Kenny

We learned a lot from Paul, of course, but the single most notable take-away for me was: introverts have the same depth of emotion as extroverts but show it differently. That epiphany has come in handy at work and at home. It was great to schedule this kind of heavy stuff early in the week, so it could percolate, and we could build on it throughout the remainder of our time together.

We learned, and shared and laughed and ate. As always, it passed by too quickly, overwhelming, exhausting and refreshing. We can't wait to do it again next year. At the end of this month, we'll decide where we'll go in June.

DJsStefano and Sax enjoying Mike's DJ workshop

If your team has had a successful off-site and you'd like to share your ideas, I'm all ears! We're also looking for a great way teams select photos when there are, um, a lot of favorites. Comment here, or email val@balsamiq.com.

A few more favorites...

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