In my June newsletter, I shared that my wife, Angie, and I had a “retreat” scheduled. For those who may not know, Ang is not only my life partner but is also my business partner. This quest to make work more human is a family affair for us.
On a walk together in May, we realized that we’d started to lose some of the discipline we once had in regards to preventing the business from consuming our relationship. We weren’t anywhere near crisis stage, but we were seeing some warning signs.
The past couple years have been a whirlwind for us. Not only were we trying to grow a business together, but our oldest son was serving as a Marine including a deployment to Iraq. Angie also ran and was
elected to City Council in our community. Not to mention trying to keep up with two active younger kids. Somewhere in the middle of all that I wrote a book. It’s been crazy.
I think we’ve done okay keeping our head above water, but the wear and tear of constant motion and stress was taking its toll. It was time to step back for a couple days.
Going through the retreat was a great reminder of how important and valuable it is to take the time to do it. Every team or workgroup I encounter is facing their own whirlwind. Your own team is probably stressed and tired from the grind too.
A retreat is probably in order.
The best retreats accomplish three things: build the relationship, clarify and renew a sense of purpose, and align future efforts.
When you leave a retreat, you should feel a stronger connection to the team. This means the retreat should have specific activities and exercises planned to cause people to both get to know each other better and to renew one another.
In one case, I asked each member of my team to write out a few bullet points about what they appreciate about each member of the team. To open the retreat, we went around the table to each person and had the team share what they had written
about each person. It was a simple exercise that ended up being really powerful and moving for everyone involved.
For Angie and I, we used a series of relationship questions to open up some good dialogue about how things are going and where we might need to make some improvements. One thing we agreed we needed: regular date nights (no biztalk allowed).
Clarify and renew a sense of purpose.
Before diving into any reflective or planning discussions, spend some time considering why what you do matters. This might involve sharing stories of how your work has made an impact. It might involve dreaming about how your future efforts might change lives. The goal is to create a renewed connection to the purpose of the work your team does every day.
In our case, it’s been easy to get focused on the numbers. How many speaking gigs do we need to book? How much revenue do we need to book? But, that’s not why we do this. We are working to make work more human by helping change people’s thinking–particularly those who lead and shape the workplace. When we motivate these people to shape a better work experience, it has the potential to improve the lives of countless people. That makes the hustle worthwhile.
Align future efforts.
Once you’ve renewed your sense of purpose, you can roll up your sleeves and dig into the work. There are a lot of ways to tackle this. Your team might need strategic planning exercises to help focus your efforts. Or, maybe you need to focus more on “how” you work. In this case, using the “start, stop, continue” prompts to identify what’s working and what isn’t can be helpful.
While it’s not likely that you will have the time or ability to create any detailed plans in your retreat, you should be able to arrive at a place that helps the team have a shared understanding of what happens next. In our case, we needed both a conversation about how we are working together and what to prioritize. No huge changes needed, just some adjustments and prioritization.
When you feel like your team is really grinding and you begin to see cracks in communication and cooperation, it’s probably time to step back and regroup. The word “retreat” was historically used to represent a command given to soldiers during battle when it was time to withdraw or fall back, usually to regroup and find a superior battle plan. At the very least, retreat means you survive to fight another day.
Particularly in the pressure-packed world of work today, teams need time to retreat from time to time. And they need leaders who understand the importance of making time to do it.