At one of Oomph’s quarterly “retrospectives” in July of 2012, several small teams were tasked with bringing a “Big Idea” to the table. Two of Oomph’s long-timers and best, Ben and Rob, had the big idea to start all-company remote work weeks. In May of 2013 we gave it a trial run with our first company retreat to Cape Cod. Last week we did it again – bigger, better, and more successful than before.
On Wednesday, September 10th, the team drove north to Bridgton, Maine where we set up shop at a lovely historic property – Nawandyn Estate. With three houses and accommodations for 30, it was a perfect fit. Just down the hill was Highland Lake and a spectacular boathouse that would become the hub of our activities.
At the kickoff we agreed on expectations for our collective mindset during the retreat. We agreed that we would be sure to find time to relax, commit to being punctual, treat each other with respect, be in the moment all the time, and have fun that wouldn’t interfere with our other objectives.
We also set some larger goals for the retreat:
Strengthen our team bond
Eliminate ambiguity in certain roles
Make progress on business processes
Stretch our minds in all directions
At a high level, we organized our days by topic, focusing on roles on Thursday, team on Friday, and process on Saturday.
After a flight at dawn from New York to Portland on Thursday morning, post-Big Media Meetup in New York City, our CTO and Creative Director joined the group just in time for the Roles kickoff on the top floor of the boathouse.
We broke into groups and spent time talking about the different roles in the company and where there were overlaps and where there were unaligned expectations. Together we worked through the differences, came to agreement, and will be updating our role descriptions accordingly. Mission accomplished.
To mix things up on Thursday night we swapped out our t-shirts, shorts and flip flops and went “jacket and tie” for a formal cocktail party and dinner at the Main House. We sipped our drinks while listening to Dave and Ben take turns at the grand piano. It felt very “refined” – not your typical tech company gathering! The Oomph Brew, round two, also made a debut, thanks to Rob and Jana.
Afterwards, we enjoyed a hearty Italian dinner to prep us for Friday’s surprise activity and then capped the night playing some fun games organized by Dave G.
The plan for Friday was top secret. The gang only knew it would be some flavor of team building activity and that they would get dirty. There were some interesting theories, my favorite of which was going to catch lobsters for dinner. Ha, that would have been a cakewalk in comparison.
At 8:00am sharp we gathered in the living room where Eric Kapitulik and Tom Blackney from The Program, two commanding former US Marines, introduced themselves and set the tone for the day. We were definitely not going lobstering.
The Program is a leadership development and team building company. We learned the essence of leadership and holding our fellow teammates accountable while doing push ups and planks. We learned the importance of a clearly communicated plan while inflating white water rafts against the clock. And finally we had the chance to execute on what we learned while racing the boats out on the lake. In the end, we were one seriously wet but seriously gelled crew with a new vocabulary and appreciation for all things “team.”
At the conclusion of our day, Eric gave out one of The Program’s coveted grey t-shirts to the team member that stood out. They acknowledged Dave M for being the first volunteer, Matt and Lizzy for being highly successful leaders in several of the challenges, but ultimately the t-shirt went to Jon Clark. Jon earned it by acting as a strong and effective leader even though he wasn’t in a leadership role. Congrats, Jon, way to step up!
On Saturday we hacked some code and our process to the core. On the code side, many of our developers pushed forward with our Jenkins initiative which runs automated tests on a project each time the code is changed. This initiative is a key part of ensuring the quality of our project deliverables, especially during the early sprints in our Agile development process.
The rest of us took on the task of hacking our overall project methodology and delivery process. We started the hack day at 9:30am and while we took one breath for pizza at lunchtime and another for a Maine lobster dinner, our discussions about process continued until 2:00am. And they started again over breakfast on Sunday. I couldn’t be more proud of the passion and energy, varied opinions, and shared commitment to finish what we had started. Some of what we uncovered was eye-opening and led to big, exciting changes that we began rolling out this week.
Sunday, Close Out
On Sunday after breakfast we headed down to the boat house one last time to wrap things up.
Earlier in the week I had asked the team for “+1” moments. In the retreat wrap-up, everyone announced a +1 moment for another person and one thing that they will focus on getting +1 better at post-retreat. While some were on the humorous side, like Nick focusing on getting better at jumping jacks, most were very serious. People want to focus on being better listeners, better collaborators, better communicators.
Last year at our retreat, we tried making something new – plugins, tools, etc. This year we made something better: Team.