How We Organized Abacus Retreat 2017
Last week, Abacus headed into the untamed wilds of Pennsylvania for our annual company retreat. For three days we lived together in a spacious cabin where we cooked meals, chatted around bonfires, and aligned on some of the developments coming down the line for Abacus. The retreat gave us a chance to blend professional development with company planning ahead of a big period of growth. It was relaxing and productive, helping everyone get to know our teammates a little better while resetting towards the bigger picture.
View from the hiking trip on the way back. Scroll down or click here for more photos!
In the collaborative spirit of Abaretreat 2017, I sat down with Business Development Representative Kalie Krueger to hear what she learned in the course of (expertly) planning and managing our company retreat. If your organization is planning something similar, the tips she learned during this process might help you strategize your own team getaway.
Give a junior team member the chance to shine
The first step in planning a retreat is choosing someone to lead it. Executing a company retreat is a complex, public undertaking. Kalie appreciated the fact that she, as a more junior member of the team, had the opportunity to show off her project management skills on such a big stage. If you have (or are) an employee eager to show initiative, the retreat could be a showcase.
The Sales team (L-R): Matt Dumoff, Kalie Krueger, Ollie Mittag, Julia Broder, Matt Macksamie
Survey early and not often
Before you pick out destinations and dinner menus, poll your company on a few key aspects of the retreat: which dates they prefer, who they’re comfortable rooming with, which activities they’d like to do. Factoring in the team’s input at an early stage made Kalie comfortable finalizing logistics unilaterally later on.
Book a venue you’ll have to yourselves
Because we had our own space, we were able to prepare meals in groups, hold impromptu team meetings in the living room, and lounge around without distraction. Had we shared the retreat venue with other people, it would have been harder to focus on the close-quarters interactions that left us feeling more aligned as a group. Unless you’re a particularly large company, skip the hotel and rent a house.
Plan activities around the 8-hour workday
Kalie and the leadership team wanted to make sure our time away was productive, but they also wanted to give us plenty of free time. Ultimately they used the 8-hour workday as a rule of thumb: every day, we had scheduled itineraries until around 5pm, and after that we just had dinner and hung out. It ended up being a nice mix.
Delegate and conquer
The retreat leader can’t plan everything themselves. That’s why different stakeholders planned each of our workshop activities. Our VP of Marketing Bethany led us through a communications workshop, while the founders hosted a business strategy intensive. Also, since customer service never goes on a retreat, Charlotte, our Director of CS, organized and led shifts of volunteers to attend to any customers who wrote in.
Customer Success: Syeda Tarannum, Deirdre Kennedy, Charlotte Cerf, Sasha Reagan, Sofie Seiden
Plan activities that challenge everyone
A diverse mix of activities encourages everyone in your group to step outside their comfort zone. For example, some people had to conquer a fear of heights to get through the high ropes course. Others found Bethany’s DISC assessment—which presented each of us with a guide to our personal communication style and had us communicate with other team members in a relational way—to be an intimidating task. Even our hike on the way back required us to forge ahead resolutely. Everyone, at some point during the retreat, should encounter something they need to work through and overcome.
Expense management is key — seriously
Nothing emphasizes the utility of real time expense reporting like watching the totals accrue as employees buy groceries on the drive out. We also spent a lot of money on unforeseen purchases; incidental expenses included a spontaneous ice cream stop, a second pizza order, tolls for the drive, and a tip for our ropes course guide. These items added up quickly, but Kalie always knew whether we were in-budget because she had live visibility into the trip’s expenses.
Bring a drone for the team photo
Never have we felt more like a startup than when our CTO Josh used his camera-enabled drone to take the company picture. At first it felt strange to stare into the ominously hovering device, but I have to admit, it took a great group photo.
As Abaretreat 2017 ended, our team felt relaxed and aligned heading into the rest of the year. Thanks to Kalie for taking the initiative to plan the retreat so thoughtfully, to Bethany and the founders for their workshops, and to all of our customers and partners for making 2017 the most exciting year in Abacus history.