When’s the last time you had a really great staff retreat? I’m not talking about a “working vacation” type of retreat when you were able to knock out a big project free from the distractions of the office and phones. It’s a bonus if the group can accomplish something like that.
I’m talking about a retreat when you came back a better team than when you left; when rest and renewal came as much from the relationship building that took place as it did from the setting around you.
Years ago when I was the Executive Director for a county based early childhood initiative, I gathered with other executive directors from across the state for an annual retreat. It was a chance to hear the latest developments in our programs and, more importantly, it was an opportunity to spend time building relationships with folks who faced the same challenges that I did day to day; people I could count on to be there when things got tough or I hit a roadblock of some kind.
While our common roles and programs brought us together, it was in the meals around the table and the late night conversations about life and family, more so than child care standards and children’s health indicators, that developed a bond of trust that we were on this journey together.
Truth be told I think that bond was sealed the day we rafted down the Nolichucky River together, each of us secretly trying to steer the boat though only one of us was actually assigned that task. Our raft spun around in circles the entire trip. And we laughed. A lot.
In his book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, noted business leadership author Patrick Lencioni reminds us that, “Members of great teams trust one another on a fundamental, emotional level, and they are comfortable being vulnerable with each other about their weaknesses, mistakes, fears and behaviors.”
That kind of trust and vulnerability doesn’t just happen, no matter how fine the people are who make up your team. In Too Busy NOT to Stop I wrote about our need to stop as a staff team in order to breathe life into our relationships and our ministry. That is hard to do in our rampant busyness. Putting a staff retreat on the calendar gets you half way there!
Equally important as carving out the time to be away, however, is the intentionality of dedicating a few of those precious hours to focusing on staff team relationships. The goal is simple. To know and be known. To allow time and space to share in ways that help us to know our stories, to have compassion for our struggles, to value what each person brings to the table. It is a chance to put our guard down and to risk being accepted for who we really are.
The vulnerability of being our true selves brings freedom and life and builds the kind of trust that Lencioni speaks of; trust that will help you as a staff team to be and do all that God has put in you and before you.
So what kind of activities help to build this kind of trust? Here are three ideas to consider as you plan your next retreat.
The Staff Bio Book
Nonprofit consultant Joan Garry calls this “the foolproof icebreaker that you cannot call an icebreaker.” Each staff member is asked to write a two page bio and submit it with a personal photo a week before the retreat. I know what you’re thinking. We don’t even have time to go on retreat! How are we going to have time to write a two page bio! Garry insists that everyone will participate. The bios will be compiled into a “book” and given to each team member to read before the retreat. No one wants to be left out of the book! Some bios will be funny, some will be poignant. Some will be story like. Some have included collages. All should include something about how and why folks got connected to the ministry they are in. Garry offers details on how to use this autobiography exercise on her website.
The Soundtrack of our Lives
They say if you really want to know about a person, ask to hear their favorite music playlist. Music tells a lot about us.
For this activity, each staff member is asked to submit a song in advance. The only prompt is: “The song is the soundtrack of my life.” Compile the songs into a playlist. At the retreat, play each song. Invite the group to guess who chose it as the soundtrack for their life. Once the person is successfully identified, have them talk for a little bit about why they chose that song. Later in the retreat, have the playlist playing in the background. Give each person a copy of the playlist to listen to after the retreat.
Our staff team went on retreat a few weeks ago. We did a fabulous exercise together around our Enneagram types. If you are unfamiliar with the Enneagram, it is a set of nine personality types that is a powerful and insightful tool for understanding our motivations and behaviors and understanding others as well.
I recently began coaching using the Enneagram and opened our retreat time describing each of the nine types – the Challenger, the Helper, the Individualist, and others. After giving a brief description, the team tried to guess who among us was that type. Once the individual(s) was identified, they read some statements about what it is like to be a 4, or a 7, etc. At that point the discussion turned to understanding what life was like for that type – what was hard, what gives them joy. I was taken back by how loving and honest and fruitful the conversation was. It was an exercise that gave space for us to be our true selves and for our peers to understand us better.
However you go about investing in your staff team relationships at your next staff retreat, I can assure you that the benefits will continue long after the retreat is over.