How FINE’s “Corporate” Retreat Helps Us Advance

Posted in Personal — Aug 28, 2015

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FINE is 40+ people across three (sometimes more) cities with diverse skillsets who all united in the common cause of making clients look good. Computers, phones, and the Internet connect us every day, but no one’s yet developed a true substitute for human connection, for knowing who you’re working alongside, whether in-person or virtually.

To keep it real, and keep us truly connected, we turn once a year to a gathering we call the FINE Summer Retreat. Spearheading the effort is FINE’s Ambassador of Awesome, Emily Griffith. But for it to work, we’ve learned, everyone must contribute.

Why Retreat?

The hard and soft cost of a company retreat is significant, and the outcome is not always immediately clear. So, as always, planning this year’s retreat invited fundamental questions. Where do we want to go? What do we want to accomplish? What challenges do we need to embrace? What do we need to prepare for? What will people love? Why do companies do retreats at all?

FINE’s Tribal Elders gathered 6 months in advance to help define the goals and approve the leap of faith. The mission: bond around our common roots. Be human. Be awesome. Be nice. Bring friends. These are the things that make our workplace better, but they’re also the things that make our work product better.

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What’s In A Retreat?

We’ve learned the trick with a retreat is to find new and more natural ways to bring people together. We came up with 8 ideas for corporate retreats that make them less corporate, and more FINE.

    • The Place To Be.* For location, 2 days at the scenic Resort at the Mountain on Oregon’s Mt. Hood was the choice. Being away from an office-y environment, more in feeling than distance, is important, but staying close enough in proximity to be accessible helps. And being at the foot of an active volcano adds to the excitement. We accentuated the sense of arrival with custom FINE regalia: tees, tanks, hoodies, water bottles, backpacks, and table décor.
    • Spirit Week.* To build anticipation, and maximize the experience for those visiting from our other locations, the retreat became part of a prolonged “Spirit Week” with a team breakfast, happy hours, a Brew Barge party, a potluck lunch, and a Farmer’s Market/Food Cart Extravaganza.
    • Social Medium.* In lieu of the usual icebreakers, a FINE Social Scavenger Hunt became a constant conversation piece. Each attendee shared a weird, special, or unbelievable thing about themselves that others had to unearth through conversation. We learned people have nicknames like Beef Juice and Snowman. They’ve climbed mountains, won push-up contests, met Presidents and pop stars. Most shockingly, one among us had never eaten applesauce. The facets are endless.
    • 5x5s.* Most importantly, we took charge of our own retreat content. No trust falls or red-faced motivational speakers telling us to power up or break through. No “if we were an animal, which would we be?” workshops. We ditched the boring corporate baloney and owned our own “5X5”. Each attendee talked to the group for a 5-minute presentation accompanied by 5 slides. It was Jiu Jitsu and Farsi lessons, a tree to plant, a (water) drinking game, an equestrian demo, and many more extraordinary shares.
    • Tribal Elder Talks.* Our senior leadership also came forward with longer stints on the mic, taking 15 minutes each – just long enough to share more in-depth insights and perspectives, but not long enough to drone on and on. Or at least that’s what we told them.
    • Family Dinner.* After our day of indoor talks, we assembled for a gorgeous al fresco family dinner among the incredible mountain scenery. We toasted to many more fun times together, basked in the Oregon sunset, watched the stars come out, then responsibly consumed adult beverages until dawn.
  1. DISC-ography. We turned the stage over to our partners at Xenium HR to start the second day. Each year, we like to arm agency folks with tools to better work together with different personality types (including their own) and how to better understand one another. This year, 4 “DISC” dimensions provided the framework: Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Compliance. These personality aspects are a common language to increase self-awareness and adapt behaviors with others to help get shit done and manage conflict. After establishing our profiles, we divided into sub-groups for a collaborative exercise to simulate surviving a shipwreck. What could’ve spun into a boring corporate slog was actually an introspective and entertaining experience. We came away with big smiles, a deeper understanding of ourselves and each other, and most notably, new identifiers: Are you a C? You’re D’ing out right now!

    • Field Day.* The retreat ended with an old-fashioned BBQ and Field Day. It was a 3-hour regression to Elementary School with a short attention span rotation of water-gun fights, lawn bowling, croquet, golf, beach volleyball, frisbee, kickball, soccer, and impromptu cartwheels.

Exhausted yet energized, we bid farewell and traveled back down the mountain, recognizing that this FINE Retreat, as intended, wasn’t a retreat at all, but rather, an advance.

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