Episode 1 | Retreats for remote teams with Chris Michael

Episode 1 March 07, 2023 00:53:17
Episode 1 | Retreats for remote teams with Chris Michael
Remote Culture Club with Alix Dunn
Episode 1 | Retreats for remote teams with Chris Michael

Mar 07 2023 | 00:53:17

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Show Notes

In the first episode of the Remote Culture Club podcast, Chris Michael and Alix get into the why, when, what and how of when your team gets together.

Retreats have become a really critical tool for remote teams to connect and get to know each other, but we still oftentimes use them in the same ways: we pile up the agendas as we try and figure our every little detail, ask every question under the sun, and in the process end up tiring ourselves out and spending a lot of mental energy on strategy and substance, rather than connection with colleagues who we really want to be with in person.

Chris Michael helps mission-driven organizations and leaders strengthen their teams and increase their impact. Chris is a fantastic retreat facilitator, he is invigorating, creative and engaging in his approach, and you always leave with so much energy and enthusiasm for your work and the people who you work with. In this interview Chris and Alix cover some of the big questions around retreats and off-sites including: How often should your team meet for a retreat? How do you decide what you should cover? What dynamics must you avoid when designing in-person time?

*This interview was originally recorded as part of the 2022 Remote Culture Intensive, a course for remote teams to rebuild their culture, together.

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Episode Transcript

Speaker 1 00:00:06 Three things I always ask, which I think it's just good practice. What will we, both as individuals and as a team know after the session that we wouldn't have known? What will we do differently, either more of or less of because of this session and how will we feel as individuals and as a team? That's a critical trifecta. Speaker 2 00:00:24 Welcome to the Remote Culture Club podcast. On this show we inspire and equip leaders to build remote culture that works. I'm your host Alex Dunn, and even though I've been leading remote organizations for over 10 years, I'm always learning more. It's really nice to have you here. And without further ado, welcome to the show. Speaker 2 00:00:49 I know I spend a lot of time talking about remote collaboration. I really like it, but I also like people and I like being in person with other people. It's always really, really fun when you have an opportunity to bring people together in person that you normally work with On the Internets, that usually takes the shape of retreats. And despite the fact that retreats have become a really critical tool for remote teams to connect and get to know each other, we still oftentimes use them in the same ways. We pile up the agendas, we try and figure out every little detail, ask every question under the sun, um, that we could possibly want to talk about when we're in person. And then we end up tiring ourselves out and spending a lot of mental energy on strategy and substance rather than connection, uh, with colleagues who we really just wanna be with and be in person with. Speaker 2 00:01:40 So I'm really excited today to host a conversation with Chris Michael from Collaborations for Change. He is a fantastic retreat facilitator. I have personally witnessed him facilitate many retreats and they are always invigorating, creative, engaging, and you leave with so much energy and enthusiasm for your work and for the people that you work with. And we're gonna talk about all things retreats for remote organizations. So how to think about what you should cover in your agendas, the pitfalls to try and avoid when you're doing your planning, the ways he thinks about, um, using that time best and basically all kinds of tactics to think about in your planning for your next retreat. So if you are about to plan a retreat or generally thinking about how in-person time should um, pair with your remote work year, this is the conversation for you. So without further ado, here is conversation with Chris Michael from Collaborations for Change. Speaker 2 00:02:50 Everyone, I am delighted to have Chris Michael here talking with us about the role that retreats and offsites can play in our remote work. We all have to organize them, we all get excited about them, slash nervous about them worry. We're not spending time in the way we should be spending time to sort of make the most of that precious, um, time with each other. Um, so we've got Chris here to talk a little bit about, um, his experience facilitating retreats and how to think about them as a strategic opportunity within your year or quarter or however frequently organize them and sort of what to be mindful of when doing that so that you can make the most of it. Cuz it's probably one of the more expensive things that you do in a given year. So Chris, I mean I feel like the best place to start is just who are you <laugh>? Uh, what's your, what's your, whoa, um, well what's your, what's your background? How did you get into facilitating retreats? It is a pretty niche thing to be so good at. Mm-hmm. Tell Speaker 1 00:03:42 Us. Well thank you Alex and hi everyone. I just love what Alex's and her colleagues are creating here. I hope that we can have a dialogue I guess over the course of the week from this conversation. So my name's Chris, Michael and I, about 20 years ago is when I started working as an activist. And in that period of time that was kind of during the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq and I was doing a lot of nonviolence, civil disobedience trainings all throughout the United States in North America. And that was a pretty intense time. And it was also a time where I observed some phenomenal folks who knew how to hold space and facilitate conversations and intense conversations and especially doing trainings and workshops. That was a real privilege to be able to observe that and be a participant in that. And then over the time I became one of the ones who were designing and holding those spaces. Speaker 1 00:04:31 And over the course of my career I got an opportunity to enter in human rights organizations, international organizations and um, you know, as a campaigner I was an advocate. And then I was doing a lot of training in workshops in different ways, especially before I started Collaborations For Change. I was the head of training in partnerships at Witness, which is a really beautiful, powerful and creative organization that focuses on how to use multimedia, especially video for documenting human rights abuses and using video and multimedia as a storytelling tool for change. And so in that process I was traveling and working with groups all over the world that were using that tool and technology and it, it was a real illumination especially of how limited time is to get together. Especially we were dealing with a lot of groups who were coalitions that didn't have in-person time together. Speaker 1 00:05:22 Often it was during a conflict so we would meet it. It was a non-trivial challenge and I know that folks in this, um, circle if you will, are working with organizations that do similar work. So I say that with the humble element when we talk about retreats, there's an element of, it is such privileged time as Alex noticed and it can be very expensive and it can have a sense of excitement for some dread for some <laugh>. And also just an overwhelming sense of are we using our time correctly or not. And so on the course of my work, I about eight years ago started doing consulting. During that time I've always worked with mission-based organizations, so ranging from Amnesty International's global team and Wiki Wikimedia Foundation, like 500 staff that are almost all remote. So large, big organizations as well as you know, teams of five and 15. Speaker 1 00:06:14 And one of the things I love most is doing team retreats. It is an opportunity, I would consider it as an inflection point for an organization for the org culture, for the sense of purpose, the clarity of mission, clarity of prioritization. And also it's the time for, I would say it's like going to the doctor, right? You know, you have this checkup. That might be a bad analogy, but I think it's fair in the sense we need time to really do a full analysis of how we as a team, as an organization with our sense of work and our norms. Oftentimes, especially since covid we've had a lot more hybrid organizations. So part in R part remote teams, part in person and those retreats require a bit of a unique approach. In my experience before covid it was a bit more, this team mostly all works together or there might be remote teams but they had a cadence of meeting and having those team retreats in person or small sub-team retreats. Speaker 1 00:07:11 Since Covid I last couple years, I think that a lot of organizations are growing or strengthening new muscle <laugh> as it comes and there's some pain points there. So one of my passions is to work with teams and try to support those whom are in that team. I've had to navigate retreats and make the most of that opportunity to come out from that experience stronger, more cohesive and have fun because as we know working remote it can feel very isolating whether it's by choice or forced in coming together, it really requires a a, I would say a lot more preparation than historically we've done with team retreats. So I have, you know, been working remote myself for over 10 years and I think that that gives me a little bit of empathy and increased compassion for folks who are starting that journey and also for folks who have done it for a long time and might prefer being remote. So we all have colleagues who actually getting on a plane to meet each other in person might not be their favorite thing. There's something nice about that. I'll pass it back to you Alex. Otherwise I start talking about my new record player, which I'm very excited everyone. Speaker 2 00:08:14 The Covid split is interesting cuz I think a lot about how basically teams that work in some way remotely before Covid could come up for air in those in-person retreats and I feel like they didn't have gills so they like covid kind of dunked us all in water and then we realized actually like we can't breathe underwater, we have to sort of come back up and I think there's been a transition where people are realizing they need to invest in um, growing gills and being able to actually work for much longer periods of time than they were used to before remotely. And that that's a real sort of change process and can be painful. Um mm-hmm <affirmative> and feel like it's not pleasant <laugh>. So I think that split is interesting sort of that forced remote versus remote with intention and sort of integrating strategies that make sense based on the setup you're aiming for. I mean I'm wondering on that sort of cadence point, do you wanna talk a little bit about how often teams you work with connect in person or sort of what's the cadence that you would you normally see or would recommend if we are working primarily remotely, Speaker 1 00:09:15 Just say budget is a major factor in how global the team is and the challenge is, I think one of the things that I've observed over the years that seems to work well for a lot of groups is where you have sub-teams that meet at least once or twice a year. Meaning a programmatic team that has you know, is working on dedicated projects together, programs together. So those sub-teams meet and then the larger all organization at least once a year doing more than once a year is for most groups seems pretty prohibitive. Going beyond that it can be kind of challenging. There could be a lot of new staff depending upon the size of the organization. And so keeping that connective kind of tissue with the organization and with the team can be tricky. But one of the things that I've observed is like teams that have the opportunity, if you can't do an in-person retreat, you do a remote retreat and try to embody that same intentionality where you block off your calendars, you have dedicated time. Speaker 1 00:10:09 Obviously it's difficult to do a full eight hour type day, but having four hour chunks of time dealing with time zone differences and and challenges, there is a way to create an inclusive opportunity to make sure we're talking more about org health and culture, not just in an all hands meeting, which frankly rarely gets accomplished well in a 45, 60 minute conversation. So yeah, I think if a team, you know, program teams can meet or or working teams can meet at least once a year and an all team retreat, that seems to be kind of the norm for those who are allocating that budget line item and are able to do so. But if not, the creative solution certainly is getting into more of a, a regular cadence to have intentional org culture process conversations quarterly at the very least. Speaker 2 00:10:55 Think of that as like meta work. So like metacognition and like how we think about thinking like meta work, being like how we work on our work. And I think the remote retreat is a good reminder in terms of just the intentionality of blocking time off to have conversations that just naturally won't organically emerge in your day-to-day and you have to actually make time for them and if you go too long without that it can be painful. Are there other sort of heuristics or sort of ways that you think about what is a healthy way of approaching the role that retreats Speaker 1 00:11:25 So many? I mean that's a great question and a big one. I think when retreats come up they often can be seen as like a cure. All right, so our tough conversations, we're gonna have that at the retreat, we'll save that for the retreat, we shouldn't talk about that and that we'll talk about the retreat. Obviously that is a convenient way to not address conversations or challenges or opportunities that need to be. So one of the main elements is having an ongoing log of what are the conversations that we've identified that we do wanna give space for in person where in person will really serve our team as best possible And ha being transparent with that. Not keeping it just with the leadership team or management team but with an all team awareness of here's our bike rack or parking. Lot of what we've identified are things that we, you know, topics or considerations that we wanna really engage with in an all team retreat that's rarely done. Speaker 1 00:12:15 And I think that's a key thing to be clear with a team of kind of this that's really great for their retreat, let's do that. Another element is how do we have bake in some of those conversations in our regular monthly cadence for all team conversations. One thing I've learned about that is when you build that experience and that normalization of having those conversations as a remote organization, even when sometimes you ask everyone to be remote to kind of normalize the experience for all all staff, you start to understand how you're going to carry some of the insights from your remote conversations into the in-person. So it's like a data gathering opportunity that you can use to build cohesion and clarity of purpose and then build upon that at the retreat. It's rare that we can go from zero or from zero to 90 kilometers an hour at a retreat on things around power dynamics. Speaker 1 00:13:07 You know, different challenges or tensions we might have in our org culture potentially around around challenges around decision making or you know, things that often come up that aren't always addressed well in an organization. And so we tend to create this incubation period at retreats and the valve just comes off, everyone gets a chance to vent, gets a chance to express their themselves. That can be cathartic but it can't, it's not always productive. And so one of the things is if we don't build that sense of cohesion and clarity, well inva in advance of the retreat, the retreat tends to kind of have a a very difficult environment. It can um, because tensions will often get exacerbated in retreats. So whatever is at play day in day out, it will show up and often more acutely and brightly and powerfully at a retreat. I usually inherit those. Like we had a retreat and this was a big blow up and now can you help us out? That's often kind of the position I'm in to be honest with you. Which I, yeah I'd love cuz I think it's an opportunity to pivot and try to build upon, you know, people's lived experience and and where they're at and try to collectively determine the story of where the group wants to go in a productive way. Speaker 2 00:14:18 The dynamic you're describing I think is that conflict is easier in person than it is remotely. Um, and that there's a tendency to sort of push under the surface something or to kind of interpret things in ways that are convenient in remote. So, oh that person's frustrated, they'll get over it because I don't have to see this in the office. Are there techniques you've seen teams use that have been enabled to sort of do the, that pre-work or that in between in-person time work where they're actually able to meaningfully grapple with these bigger questions like power and decision making and the sort of existential questions that they wanna say for in-person time because it's hard to talk about that stuff when they're not together. Speaker 1 00:14:55 The things that I do and I've kind of, you know, just learned over time is a pre-retreat in the post retreat require the same amount of intention and investment as the retreat design agenda. Most of us forget those, the pre-retreat and post retreat. So the pre-retreat, some of the things that I think are really critical to establish is a clarity of purpose of why are we having this conversation. And we often can get that from just knowing the team knows, but I use a survey, you have to decide whether it's anonymous or not as a way to elicit and kind of get a shared sense of where the team is at. And one of the things that that enables me to do and and teams to do if, if they do it themselves is you start to get a sense of the qualitative and quantitative data that helps elevate critical conversations versus acknowledging necessary conversations but that are critical and we often get blurry and we wanna do all things that are we think are necessary. Speaker 1 00:15:53 We need to elevate and say actually it appears there is a very clear divide of lived experience around clarity of decision making, which is super common and sometimes it's people that are newer, sometimes it's a power dynamic y y we have to understand that. So there are three things that are often new there. So one is the survey, you get that data. The second is you share that data with the entire team and that's really critical. So it doesn't remain just within management and there's a sense of filtering out. I often will advocate to just make the raw data available if we're in a certain place where I will edit, you know, obviously anonymize certain elements, pull out key quotes and use some sliding scale questions to get more of that quantitative data. Second is I'll design either pairs or tree ads, you know, maybe small groups, but usually I don't get bigger than that where there's a dedicated 30 minute matching where you provide crops for folks to engage with. Speaker 1 00:16:45 It appears there's confusion around decision making. How do you see that playing out in your day-to-day for, it's an example question and have a simple form like a Google doc or you know, rise APA or something and you use that to get additional granular data on how that's playing out. And what we try to do is match up folks who don't often work together, right? And so there might be a manager with another team is working with someone who just started on a, on another team and trying to let folks speak a little bit from different lived experiences but also in different parts of the team and get out of the siloing. Because in remote culture you have a d problem often that arises of siloing like this is my us versus them a competition for resources or lack of clarity of what different teams are doing and how to communicate with one another. Speaker 1 00:17:34 It's like it's ubiquitous. Um, it's a, it's a major challenge for remote culture. So what that does is it starts to build rapport with other colleagues who might not know each other. It starts to normalize that we need to talk about this and we need to talk about it first without an external facilitator of it. See what comes up not having the, you know, this weird new entity or a team come in and like we're gonna now facilitate your experience. You know, I I I'm not a big fan of that right away. I think part of it you want to use the team to explore how are they gonna talk about, how do they talk about it? And then you share out again in transparent way, these are the readouts, this is the insight we had from these pairs or triads. You can anonymize that data where you could personalize it depending upon you know, where, where we're going with it. Speaker 1 00:18:18 And then the third part is often having a remote conversation where it is facilitated, you know, either by myself or supporting folks that wanna volunteer to facilitate that at usually as an all team. And what that does is it kind of builds this, you know, again a momentum around the conversation but also it starts to normalize we need to talk about this. And if through all three of those engagement opportunities you have silence from certain staff. Like so in the survey if you only get response rate of 60% red flag, um, if you do the triads or the debrief conversations and you, you know, you're only getting half of the teams actually sharing any reflections red flag. So it gives a little bit more of an insight as to what we rise up to a critical conversation where someone like myself should really take the lead and hold that space you dedicate more time at the retreat or more time in advance. Speaker 1 00:19:10 So those are like little tactics that start to help us again build a little bit of collective experience talking about what might be difficult or courageous conversations even difficult is in a good framing but it does take some courage to step into spaces, especially for folks whom are often silenced or not invited to speak. You know, the there, there are so many of the power dynamics and the societal challenges that we are living in with an organization. And so how do we mitigate oppressive factors or those challenging factors and create a more in inviting experience. Each situation is unique but one of the things that's very important and normalized, every organization has these needs. Every single one from the most well-funded, you know, hundreds of millions of dollars a year organizations or entities to 5,000, you know, or community-based organizations with no line budget but just volunteer no matter how well your source, how big your HR human resources team is or operations is. So it's good to normalize it but if you don't practice it, you don't get better at it. Speaker 2 00:20:14 Can you, um, are there examples you can share or sort of criteria where you're like whoa that's a critical conversation versus a necessary one? Cause I really like this distinction and I think it might be helpful to sort of get people so some instincts to sort of show your instincts about what is worth elevating in an agenda. Speaker 1 00:20:30 You know, maybe there are three common categories that seem to come up. First off is wellbeing. So personal wellbeing or team wellbeing. When I see things on the survey where it's I feel heard and listened to, it's a fighting scale question that I have and if people are answering one or two like that never happens to me and I see similarities of what team they're part of or maybe identity related commonalities language skill or not skills but language familiarity. There's some analysis that can be done that raises those red flags. And um, so when it comes to wellbeing, so I feel heard, I feel welcomed, I feel included, I feel trusted, I feel respected, things of that nature. Also on burnout with regards to asking questions about the cadence of the work and whether or not it's at a sustainable pace. That's one Second, when you think of an organization, in my experience almost everyone at, at an organization can go somewhere else and make more money, right? Speaker 1 00:21:26 So everyone is choosing because they believe in the mission, they believe in the work, they're investing in their personhood, their skills in this mission. And when I see or hear themes of we don't have a clarity of purpose, we are lost in our mission, we are confused about our priorities. That's the second grouping of category that rises up to critical. So again, it's wellbeing, personal or team wellbeing and then purpose and mission. And then the third that often can rise up to critical is around decision making. And decision making is kind of the catchall for powered dynamics often in my experience where either there's lack of clarity of who's making decision or there's a true disagreement or distrust of who's making decisions and it's being litigated or argued and that often just can benefit from external help someone like myself to kind of acknowledge that often with a management team or leadership team and help folks empower stress, test their assumptions of how they understand they might be communicating with the team, how they might be transparent about decision making, um, how they might be making decisions. Speaker 1 00:22:27 Those are three quick ones that come to my mind that seem pretty common that go to that critical state. And obviously it's not necessarily the numbers game so I'm not looking for the majority of people to feel not heard. It's like if one or two people are having that experience, I wanna understand that and that's why the survey is so important because we always we're in a moment in time when we have a conversation with someone or we fill out a survey and one of the things we need is a little bit of let's see where we're at at this moment in time. And so I often am intentional about when to send that survey and how where the team is at and what's happening in that team's orbit. <laugh> right then cuz that will ho often help delineate between critical because if the team is super burnt out, they just had a huge campaign, everyone's really worn out and you send a survey and it didn't go as well, you're gonna get different responses. And so there's something about having a bit of an elevated perspective of when is it most strategic for us to ask questions of our teeth, not to sugar coat anything, but to just be realistic of what is quote unquote a normal moment in the organization. Not necessarily a heightened moment. We just learned that we lost a a huge grant or we just learned that we got a huge grant for example. Speaker 2 00:23:38 That's super interesting. I think, I mean that tracks and I think decision making has come up again and again in conversations we have with folks too. And I think it's the sort of lurking things that are easy to let go undiscussed and I think those are probably direct corollaries to then what becomes critical <laugh> um, to actually address directly. And I think from a process standpoint that makes a ton of sense. And I think there's also something about like in the runup to a retreat, how certain people will have time and inclination to more intensely participate and like creating like gates to recognize those people that wanna play that role and not just from a sort of it's in their job description or they have a bunch of power and you want them to demonstrate their leadership in person. But like there's sometimes there's random people on the team that can be really interested in this type of thing. Speaker 2 00:24:23 And finding those leaders I think can be really helpful both for having a good retreat but also sort of getting that that scaffolding of people that wanna do the work in between retreats that you need to do in a remote space. Cuz it usually is really decentralized forms of leadership and communication that makes remote teams work well. It very rarely tracks on to some like very structured hierarchy, um, like it can in office environments. I think you've mentioned a few like the fact that people can get overwhelmed by how many necessary conversations they try and have and then that ends up crowding out actually having breakthroughs on the critical conversations. Are there other sort of dynamics or common traps you see people fall into when they design their in-person time? Speaker 1 00:25:05 Mm-hmm <affirmative>? Oh yeah. One of the things that I will often get for example is someone, you know, an organization will be like, you know we've, we've just come to the realization we wanna um, we want an external facilitator and we have an agenda, we have everything lined up, we know what we wanna talk about and you look at the agenda and it just makes my brain just like explode, right? I'm just like in what world are 40 people gonna be able to all be, be able to participate in these sessions and deal with flights and you know the the logistics of it. Oh yeah, you have no downtime. Every dinner is everyone must participate, every meal is a working meal. So there's that. You know, the other common challenge I see is similar to what you're just picking up what you were noting where only certain members of the management team or leadership team were actually involved in designing the experience or the agenda. Speaker 1 00:25:53 There wasn't any input data gathering. You know, I was on this run, I've just thought, gosh I wonder what are the five things I would just encourage anyone to look out for. I often get most insight when I inherit either a treat gone bad, the blowback of that or an organization trying not at capacity to be able to like do the retreat and they decide they might want someone else. Of course the dream scenario is getting six months in advance, we're gonna do a retreat, can we talk about it? That's like I tend to work with those groups again and again, which is great And I wrote these down so I'm gonna just share a few. So first these are like five cautions that came to my mind. The first is we all have to remember that we are a remote team. You can't save everything in the for the retreat which we talked about. Speaker 1 00:26:32 But we're a remote team, meaning we need to have our norms and and practice those at the retreat if you don't have shared agreements for example. I'll come to that in a minute. But I guess main point is just because, because you're in real life does not mean that it's different like it is, but it actually how you take notes, how you share roles and responsibilities. What we can often have is a two lived experience. So when we're in person, certain folks step up or they're engaged in a different way and when we're remote it's different. And so we need to have that hybrid approach in in real life as well. And also that makes a life a lot easier in terms of documentation, clarity of next steps, clarity of you know, bike rack conversations. The second thing we've kind of talked about that often folks forget about is the power dynamics and org culture tensions will be heightened for sure if you don't acknowledge that proactively it will be that much more difficult to have productive and empowering retreat. Speaker 1 00:27:25 The third thing that I would like the caution is the do no harm approach. And so what we tend to do is we assume that we're gonna be able to cover everything and everyone's gonna feel included and that is absolutely not gonna happen unless you have a real focus to that. And so what I try to think about with each session and the cadence of the day and how we arrive and how we exit, you know the retreat is what's the health and wellbeing for each person in the organization? How are we accounting for the breadth of everyone's lived experience, right? So how are we looking at folks' preferences of how to communicate in the remote culture, what we know of people's lived experience when we bring them together, it's gonna be heightened. So how do we prepare for that? How do we have a more graceful entry and more empowering exit to the retreat? We don't think about time zone differences, which languages we're speaking and what does that say about our retreat and how are we being inclusive of those whom are not speaking that first? That's not their first language. How do we are are we mindful of that and the pace that we have so we have this sense of if it's the right pace for me it's probably not the right pace for someone else if you, you know. And so how do we account for that? Speaker 2 00:28:34 I think there is, this is like such a key point and I think there's a presumption that there is a way of working that works for everyone at the same time and that is just not possible <laugh>. Yeah. Um, and I think when you recognize that at different points in time, it's a advantaging different people, you start being mindful of the inequity of different structures and then just trying to make sure that no one is consistently kind of getting the short end of the stick in terms of how you're organizing. Cause I think that's, that mean not is just such a key point, particularly in remote spaces where everyone is essentially ki I think kind of like assuming that the way they work is the way everyone wants to work. And so they try and project that into organizational structures and that doesn't actually work because everyone has incredibly strong opinions about how they work and it's different <laugh> it's different. Speaker 1 00:29:21 Totally. And different teams have different cultures, right? So especially in remote it gets a little bit more refined with teams. So when there isn't an org-wide norm or kind of agreement on how we communicate, how we ask of things of each other, how do we comment on documents like Google Docs, how do we interact on Slack? These are the places where we see certain things come out. And so when we get into this, wow, what a nice, you know, this is the first time I've ever heard this person speak. You know, that's what happens at retreats because oftentimes with remote teams all hands, you might have a few commentaries and each team often runs their meetings differently, which can be a beautiful thing. But when you come into a shared space, how do you look at who's speaking at each session, you know, who's speaking, how are we engaging and inviting others to comment or engage or share ideas? Speaker 1 00:30:09 How are we mo where are bodies? How are we physically organized with ourselves? Are we standing up? Are we moving around? How are we accounting for time zone, you know, looking at everyone in the room and where, what time is their, their bio time right now? How many folks are there and it's 2:00 AM for them and how are we looking at, you know, the, the factors out. Just a quick anecdote, the space we're in, I did a retreat for 75 environmental leaders. I mean it was the most like super powerful group and I got brought in last minute just to be clear, I feel. So it was unbelievable. You would not believe it. We were in the third floor of a conference room that had zero windows. Zero windows for folks who are trying to envision a more powerful, diverse, equitable empowered movement and working together in collaboration across different, you know, methodologies and approaches and envision the world that's gonna be protected with the natural resources and what we're working for in communities. Speaker 1 00:31:04 Being able to have, you know, healthy environments and everything. And we had zero windows and it was like the biggest train wreck that you can imagine just energetically my thinking on that is it's how do we account for people's needs, the cadence and the pace of that day and looking at the bio kind of rhythms and we all have to adapt at a retreat, but how do we not skew or, or or um, lean for the majority all the time or for those who might be privileged across the organization experience or in this particular one as well. You know, there's kindness of how do we account for travel time and having people travel on workdays and have a embraceable entry. That lack of wellbeing and the do no harm kind of mentality is, I wanna raise that as a caution when we don't have that as organizers on these retreats, it tends to cause harm, you know, whether it might be slight, but it can make it more difficult for folks to fully participate. Speaker 1 00:31:55 And then that of course, uh, effects, you know, the, the retreat in the how, how it goes. If your team does not have established shared agreements often called ground rules of how you communicate, I would call 'em shared agreements. And I'm not talking about an employee handbook <laugh>, I'm talking about a shared brain and approach on agreeing of how we communicate with one another and expectations and norms around that. If you don't have that, the retreat will demonstrate that you don't have that and it can be very difficult because you have no shared foundation of expectation. And to your point Alex, it's each person comes with like, well I, I'm working how everybody wants to work, you know, I'm, I'm communicating how everyone wants to work. We can all do that. But when you have thirty, sixty, ninety, a hundred fifty, two hundred fifty, you know, down retreats like that big, when you have that kind of energy, woo, that's tough. Speaker 1 00:32:46 So we need a shared place that we all go to that is those shared agreements and with those we can build upon and refine, but if you don't have it, you start to see folks litigate and it's more of a posturing of what should be. So I have a caution if you don't have that going into a retreat, you need to invest time at the retreat to develop them. And if you don't do that it will, it will cause harm in my experience. You know, I almost hit a tree while I was jogging when I was thinking about the this other faith. Cuz the other thing I would say that like the cautionary tale when we think about retreats and often management teams can have this mentality, we're gonna use this as a way to deliver information to the team, right? For most all meetings I think about the five Ds, we can either deliver information, we can have a discussion, we can make a decision, we can have a debate or we can have a debrief. Speaker 1 00:33:34 Like obviously you have discussion throughout all of those, but generally I've kind of distilled this down to the five Ds is what I call it. Using a retreat to deliver information is just burning money. I mean it's unbelievable how much of a waste of time that can be and yet many, many leaders just don't see it that way. And that's one of my biggest learning curve moments in my work is trying to help shift mentality of you have to deliver that information in advance and then identify what you might wanna discuss or if there's a new decision based upon that or you wanna have a debate, we have to pivot out of using retreats as a delivery of information down or out from certain stakeholders or folks in power often. And that that's something I just wanna flag up cuz I feel like that caution is often not acknowledged and it's not acknowledged fast enough. Speaker 1 00:34:25 And so being in a retreat mindset of let's identify all the things that need to be delivered before the retreat that are just fast, they could be we got this new grant or we're going for this grant or you know, the ED is now gonna transition at the end of the year. Like if you wanna tell, you know, your transition at a teen retreat, which happens, you know, people wanna do that and understand that that's a really emotional rollercoaster you just started for people, it doesn't have to be the ed, you know, it's like we're gonna phase out this program, we're gonna phase out this area that this country specific work we're doing. Those kind of deliveries are often a waste of time and they do more harm than actually if you proactively wrote it out. So everyone had a chance to read it and people could process it. You had a conversation, um, or even a, you know, a slack thread on it to get data of what you wanna discuss or you know, how you wanna use their time at retreat to build on that. I think that's, those are the like five main ones that I had. Speaker 2 00:35:15 It's interesting too when someone's delivering that kind of information, who is getting the catharsis? Because I think for teams that are remote most of the time they're used to processing intense things with their family and friends and by themselves and not in person with their team. And I think that's actually one of the benefits of remote work is that that we do that processing time in our own space. Um, and I think actually getting everyone together to then share something that's intense feels quite cruel. Speaker 1 00:35:43 <laugh>, Speaker 2 00:35:43 Yeah also I, I like really like the five D's that you described and I think the this deliver information is the only one that doesn't require engagement. And I guess you get more engaged the more you go across those D's and it feels like you're advocating that in-person time should be spent maximizing engagement and sort of figuring out I love the graceful entry and empowered exit and that feels really like the important part of that is is the engagement piece and then figuring out how do you build on that and actually like come out with more power than when you came in. Speaker 1 00:36:13 Yeah and it's such a good point on the catharsis. It's like, and that's a great question that I ask folks who benefits from this session. You know, the three things I always ask, which I think are, it's just good practice. What will we both as individuals and as a team know after the session that we wouldn't have known before? What will we do differently, either more of or less of because of this session and how will we feel as individuals and as a team that's a critical trifecta. Like a a three questions to ask across every session and when we're confused about that, that can be great, you know, but then it begs, well why is this now? And sometimes it's just you want a session in there that's unclear, right? It's like we don't really know. Like we know that there's gonna be some good ideas that that could be beautiful but it needs to be framed. Speaker 1 00:36:56 This is just a discussion. We're not here to make a decision, we just wanna ideate, we wanna be creative because what often happens is folks can start advocating or litigating or that energy changes when we think it's a decision's gonna be made in this conversation but it's actually just a discussion. And so I think that that also has this layer of complexity that leaves us, you know, you might have a graceful entry but it's totally disempowering because it feels like I just made my best points but it, they just landed flat in instead of I made my best points. And I'm curious how they're gonna be integrated into the next conversation or the decision that's gonna be made. Speaker 2 00:37:31 I think the discussion versus decision is really critical and I think if you notice that people presume that decisions will be made when you've laid out a discussion session, I oftentimes see that that means that decisions happen at random times in your organization <laugh>. So people are like, if I don't make my case right now, I'm gonna turn my back for like a second and then they're gonna make a choice about this and I'm not gonna get to say my piece. And I think, so I think if that happens a lot that there's probably something there about either gaslighting about when decisions get made or there's not intentionality in how you're making decisions and when and who's involved and that kind of thing. If you go in saying we're just having a conversation and everyone turns into like a lawyer advocating their position <laugh>, you might have some deeper, deeper problems to work on. Caution Speaker 1 00:38:16 Flack. Yeah, caution flag. Yeah, I'm sensing something here. No, that's such a good point. And what's your take on that in terms of when you think about the kind of empowering exits, what are things that come to your mind from your experience that have be most helped with that? Speaker 2 00:38:33 I think usually people interpret empowering exit differently based on what they like and how they think. Mm-hmm. I think some people are looking for an emotional like clothes. They really need to like land the plane. They need to feel like the thing is over. They can now return to regularly scheduled programming. Mm-hmm <laugh>. Um, there's like a, they they need, they need that and they don't get that. They're like, ugh, they did, they, they itch for days. Um, wait, wishing they had that. And then I think there's the like really analytical people who were like, okay but what are we gonna do? Or like what, what is this gonna lead to? Like what is gonna happen in the next, you know, four to six weeks? And I think for them planning and like actually saying what is going to happen and having time at the end for them to get that time to sort of get it on paper, feel really good about being clear. Speaker 2 00:39:16 Being very clear. And I would say that there's like other just kind of like intellectual processors who like need time to kind of pull it all together for themselves in terms of what did we cover? Like what was that story, what was that arc? Where did we arrive? What were the key things that came out of it? And I feel like those are the more like, I don't know, like thematic people and you need to have space for them at the end to kind of collect their thoughts, connect the dots, like mm-hmm <affirmative> have a time to just have open-ended potentially conversation about like what, what came out of it for them. And so I feel like if you can figure out what those archetypal kind of people are, you can then design an end that accommodates all of them. And I think obviously probably leaving the emotional clothes to the very end, um, making sure that the planning time isn't the like, okay, we'll shave 10 minutes off the planning time. Okay, we'll shave 10 more minutes off the planning time. Okay <laugh> then I have five minutes to figure out what's gonna happen. Cuz that is triggering I think for the people clarity. Um, cuz they're, they won't get it. Yeah. Like figuring out what your people need and then designing sessions with that in mind because empowering towards what end I think is different for different people. Speaker 1 00:40:18 Mm-hmm <affirmative> so true. So I think like in this survey I'm always asking you that question, you know, kind of this retreat will have been worth my time if and when and then let people and just see cuz that way you get a little data of those archetypes. I I guess maybe two things that have been more unique as teams move from like more in-person and then became hybrid or you know, then I've worked with a lot of totally remote teams. I think there are two other kind of the empowering ins which are of med of what you noted, but I think that are a little bit unique to the remote retreat. One is folks need to understand their colleagues preferences and to communicate their preferences. And so one of the things that I find with agendas that we need folks to be able to be clear of answer things like, I love this about working collaboratively or remotely I hate this or what, what pisses me off or frustrates me based upon what language you want to use that can be very cathartic but productive and it, it helps leave it with an empowering like I've said to everyone, please do not contact me via text message after work. Speaker 1 00:41:22 I'm with my family, it's really throws my day off, you know, whatever it might be. And like, please don't put emojis or morons on my comments in Slack. I find it it very difficult to understand and it's overwhelming and I feel like, you know, people giving them the opportunity to verbalize themselves those things can have it be an empowering end because if we don't create that space, it's not gonna happen. And I think in remote culture that's something we have to have like a, a finer attunement to. And then the second thing is giving, it's like what you noted, not cutting off time, but giving folks free time at retreats is like so critical. And so one thing that I try to do is end, you know, the next steps in all those things almost at the first session on the last day have a chunk of time that is free time, right? Speaker 1 00:42:14 So we like wrap up where we're at free time in the sense of let's see what, you know, what are the bike racks we wanna bring in? Like have that dedicated space for whatever might have been elevated from necessary to critical in that space or fun as well. And then a formal wrap up that is more of that. So you do the analytical as you know to you do a bit of a thematic weaving of our story together and then you do the emotional like how are you feeling? What you know, what do you want more of or less of those kind of questions at the end. And do that before lunch and then let lunch be organic and give folks co-working time. Like you could say it's free time, I'd like to just say it's co-working our, our hope and expectation is you'll take some of these next steps and knock 'em off quickly with one another. Speaker 1 00:42:54 And I try to have that be a bit more of that last day flow. What I think it does, you know, the way I think about retreats, it's, it's like going on an an airplane on the long flight, which a lot of people have to do for retreats. So at the beginning it's like, just gimme my seat. I just wanted like, do I have space for my bags? Am I okay? Who's my neighbor? What's going on? You know, like all of those things. I made it to the airport, it's stressful. So we have to have a slow graceful entry into the retreat experience. There will be turbulence for sure, usually on the second and third day. So how do you have free time not having a group dinner where it's like a D di I Y dinner or having a afternoon off for walking outside or an outing or you know, games or whatever it might be. And then that close I think of it like, it's like when you land, most everybody wants to get the F off the plane, you know what I mean? Like rarely are you on a plane flight that's long and people are like, I'm just gonna hang out here. It's like the retreat's kind of like that. I'm ready to go, I just need some time for me. So it's just something I would offer as well in love Speaker 2 00:43:54 That, I mean I talk about cruising altitude turbulence is very much, um, just kind of part of it and I think that's actually beautiful because it's essentially saying that any flight is gonna have that kind of thing and it's totally normal. Um, and reco recognizing that that's totally normal and it, and not letting it throw you off, I feel like is really important. I love that It's great Speaker 1 00:44:13 And to call it out, it is the weather pattern. Like we have hit turbulence, we thought we would, we, our flight navigation showed that we might have bad weather. We do it turns out. And so we need to like acknowledge that and I think that that often is helpful for everyone because it, you know, it normalizes we are having this experience. Um, we are gonna stay in flight and frankly sometimes like I had this flight where I got moved to two airports like recently cuz of weather. Sometimes that has to happen at a retreat where it's like we had an assumption that we could move through this conversation or with this conversation faster or more effectively than we did. It seems to have not been the case. We're gonna allocate more time and we're gonna land the plane. I think it can be a helpful and it's a universal analogy Speaker 2 00:44:55 I feel like for your brain now you probably have a lot in your head. I recognize you might not think this much about the work that you do. Um, you just do it and you do it very well. <laugh>, everyone listening to this, um, Chris exceptional facilitator and I, I I presume doesn't spend too much time waxing poetic about what he thinks about facilitation because he's busy doing it. Um, but are there any sort of last thoughts or sort of lingering dots you wanna connect after having the time and space to talk through some of this stuff? Speaker 1 00:45:23 Well thank you again for the privilege. A couple things that quickly that come to my mind. I think Juan stress assumptions and who is it making those assumptions and that goes beyond the organization. So how do we, I do another thing where invite like staff to interview one to three stakeholders, key allies, accomplices to stress test their understanding of the organization, its purpose, its mission, what it's doing well, not well giving some formality to that, but everyone in the organization doing it. It builds that sense of we have, we're we're larger ju than just us. You know, and obviously talking with people whom we partner with and work with I think is is really critical. The other thing, you know, I think you might like this too, Alex, because of your proximity to Memphis, but Elvis had T C B take care of business was this acronym right? Speaker 1 00:46:08 I love Elvis, I mean an ear of Elvis. So I have this thing called S B e Scale back Expectations. One of the things that can happen with retreats is we try to do everything often with an agenda. I cut it in half and be clear of what those expectations are with everyone on the team. I think it'd be really useful in that do no harm approach. We talked about that. Caution can be very helpful in scaling it back and having a narrative as to why certain things didn't make it. But be transparent if folks aren't familiar, I find using the pop the acronym, it stands for purpose, outcomes, um, or outputs and process. So have a purpose for every session. If you can't be clear of the purpose, you'll never have a good plan of the process, right? It has to start with that purpose. Speaker 1 00:46:50 And I feel like we often make assumptions about that. Then I believe storytelling is the heart of all social change. In my experience. I like to look at the retreat with three lenses on storytelling. It's like, what's the story of us right now as an organization? What's the story about this retreat and what's the story about our work that we are doing over the next six, 12 months? And each of those require time and a cohesive narrative where everyone's involved feeding into that. That's really critical and I feel like storytelling normalizes how to talk about these things. Just what's the story of this retreat? How is it gonna be successful? It's an invitation. We also on that graceful entry using storytelling as a way to get everyone's voice in the room, asking people to share a story of why did you choose to join this organization at this moment in time and invest yourself and your skills here. Speaker 1 00:47:41 What's one story where you felt like your work was feeding into the mission and helping advance the work? What's one story where you felt like we as a team lost sight of what was important or we made a tough decision but it was the right decision? Having storytelling prompts, especially early on our first day to get people starting to get comfortable with sharing openly and honestly with some vulnerability in a non-threatening way and connect with each other. Cuz in a remote, unless you have done a really great job building remote culture, which I know someone is speaking on, you're gonna feel that lack of cohesion sometimes in a remote team. The other thing I'll just leave, leave y'all with is I often have a rule of two-thirds, which these are all these like random rules that I kind of like actually distilled down on this jog <laugh>, which was nice. Speaker 1 00:48:26 But the two, so it's like two-thirds of the agenda is structured, a third is not right. So having both open free time, two thirds of the meals dinners are together, one third is not. So you give space for that. You know, two thirds of the, the time in the retreat should be small group or one-on-one conversations, one third all group team conversations. You can see where this goes. There's so many easy things to think about, but the point is, is it all lends towards thinking on creating an engaged, inclusive experience, but also time for individual self. One thing I do most all retreats I guess is embrace silence not only in tough conversations or courageous conversations, not trying to fill the room, not trying to stitch everything together. That's just good facilitation. But also what I try to do is at the end of each day, give at least five minutes of just silence where we're all physically together in the same place, but people, you know, give a prompt or people could take notes or just be reflecting on the day and then share out perhaps or not, you know, um, maybe do, you know, writing on the wall or whatever it might be. Speaker 1 00:49:30 I feel like for the introverts in particular, when we don't bake in time for silence and alone time where it's formally structured, cuz if you don't formally structure it, we can feel obligated to, well I guess I should be here. Not if now being the designer of these retreats, it's how we account again, the do no harm, where's our alone time? Having the leadership to say that's important. Like, it might not be important for everyone. They'll be fine. They'll find someone to talk to <laugh>, you know, the extroverts. But for the introverts, how do we care for them as well and for the betterment of the entire group. And so that silence and alone time and being clear with the agenda design for that. Yeah, I'll, I'm often always surprised by some of the people who come up to me or thank me with emails later. Oh Alex, thanks for the opportunity. It's so good. You know, this Speaker 2 00:50:15 Is lovely. It's a masterclass, Chris. I mean, I feel like <laugh>, I'm serious. It's really amazing to hear you talk about this cuz I've seen you do these things. Mm-hmm. But hearing you explain why and how and sort of how you see it linking up in terms of quality of the personal experience, but also the sort of together experience both from the substance and also the sort of interpersonal ness. It's, it's great. I love it. It's Speaker 1 00:50:38 Beautiful. <laugh>, thank you so much. Speaker 2 00:50:39 Well, we'll, um, share contact information for folks to be able to reach out to you. Are there particular retreats you like to facilitate if people are interested in getting an external facilitator or particular like examples of the kinds of things you like to facilitate? Speaker 1 00:50:53 Oh, well thank you for that. Yeah. And feel free to reach out y'all if you have questions or ideas or, you know, comments on anything. It's, it's so nice to have that exchange, so don't hesitate The things that I love, right. Uncon conveniences are, have always been my favorite for the past 20 years where you go into a place you don't have an agenda, it's just peers coming together love that and designing that as a, like an incubation for creativity and curiosity. It's just so lovely. Team retreats are great. I have the privilege to just work with mission group organizations where their work inspires me. And so, and I'm sure anyone who's participated in this, you, you know, is of those organizations. And so I think team retreats going from like the happy, we're the new team, we're just forming, you know, to wow, we are in it. Speaker 1 00:51:34 You know, I'm pretty comfortable on that full range and I've been really enjoying working with folks who are starting new programs or each organizations and that are intentionally, like, Alex, you were so ahead when you started the room, but being remote first with intentionality. And that's been really fun of helping folks think about how to create that remote culture. Yeah. And I also love supporting organizations that are deep in it. The, the moment of reckoning that we are in and, and should and could and need to be in is a really important place for us societally and just culturally. And I think the organizations that are leading those conversations and leading that with courageous and conversation and intentionality to reform and improve and include and have more, um, that holistic, truly just and intentional path forward is a, it's a real privilege to be part of that journey. Speaker 1 00:52:24 I like it all, you know what I mean? It's just you What a gift, what a gift to be at this moment. I, I just, I had enough shitty meetings, sir. I had enough bad meetings. Do you know what I mean? It's kind of why I do this work. It's really trying to make sure that our time is precious, our energy's precious, and our work is precious. And everyone who's participating in this critical moment of advancing social environmental justice should not be dealing with how to communicate with Slack. Like we should be able to do our work. My purpose is really align with mitigating the mundane. There's a bumper sticker. We love it.

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