I just returned home from the latest Modern Tribe retreat. Four times a year, the Tribe brain trust takes 4 days to dedicate to the business. As hard working folks, it’s easy to become fully focused and dedicated on our clients. We want to provide excellent service. We want to provide the best designs, and the cleanest code. As a consequence of this focus, it’s easy forget that we are also business owners. As we encourage our clients to examine their internal processes, stay in touch with their users needs, polish and craft their marketing messages, and enjoy themselves a little along the way, our own process, marketing and growth is so often neglected.
What’s a business retreat look like?
We set an agenda. This usually takes a solid hour itself. We break things up by “needs a computer,” “fun to talk over beers,” and “we could discuss this while surfing.” We try to balance detail work and high-level thinking so that we don’t burn out too fast.
We start off every retreat with a little checkin. As you may know, we’re pretty fond of mantras around here. Our retreat mantra goes like this: Family, Friends, Finance, Faith, Fitness, and Fun. You’ll see that these things are not directly business related. We’re in business to enable us to live the kind of life that we want, so our checkin is about us as people. Family, friends, and finance are pretty self explanatory. Faith is an interesting one. It isn’t a religious checkin (though it could be). It’s often followed by the question “Are you happy with your place in the world? Do you feel like the business is taking you where you want to go?” You may be surpised to see Fitness on this list. We’re very aware that our physical health plays a strong role in our business health. I know that when Shane doesn’t get to surf, that he starts to get cranky. I know that if I don’t get out for regular runs, I start to feel sluggish and it shows in my work. This process of running through the 6 F’s is especially important for distributed teams. When you’re working in a traditional office environment, there’s a myriad of cues that you pick at the proverbial water cooler. It’s easier to get a sense that Joe is stressed out, or that Mary isn’t as vibrant as usual. Distributed teams need to be more intentional about watching out for each other.
We usually follow the F’s checkin with a deep dive into our finances. We detail our pipeline – this is a spreadsheet that we’ve been working on for years now. It takes into account our outstanding projects and invoices, balances in our potential upcoming work, runs it all through our cost analysis and savings and investment plans, and works a little magic. All said and done it’s a strong indicator of our business’s financial health. It’s not the most fun part of our retreat, but it might be the most crucial. We can’t make strategic decisions about our direction without knowing where we stand. You can hire all the accountants you want, but if you’re not neck deep in your own business finances you are going to miss important realizations.
I’m from Minnesota. We don’t have much in the way of ocean here. It’s also pretty darn chilly here. Having partners that live blocks from the beach is a luxury that I enjoy during every retreat. Taking a surf break may sound a little flakey to my fellow midwesterners, but it’s actually really important to keep the business retreat fun. We live, eat, breathe, sleep our business every day. As business owners or freelancers, you know that there is little difference between a tuesday and a saturday – our brains naturally drift towards our work. So we surf, we retreat, we turn off, and we get inspired. We remember why we’re in this in the first place. And everyone gets a good chuckle watching me get pummeled by giant waves.
The Fun Part
Here’s where it gets good. Once we’ve checked on each other, reviewed the previous 6 months of finances, and studied the upcoming 6 months, we are free to talk about what ever we’re passionate about. What should the business look like in 5 years? Do we have assets that could be better leveraged? Are our contractors happy, and are we doing enough to help them succeed? Do we see opportunities in the world for new ventures?
As responsibilities pile up, homes, spouses, kids and soccer practice – it gets easier and easier to stop thinking the Big Think. You become so focused on the task at hand (survival) that it becomes more difficult to see the world at large. We spent an entire evening discussing how we could solve the unemployment problem? WTF does that have to do with running a successful service and software company? Nothing directly, but it has immense value in thinking about problems, process, and ideation. We argued, dreamt, got excited, and disagreed some more. Are we going to dive into the world of employment tomorrow? No, probably not, but these conversations help us to continue to think the Big Think. At some point down the road, Shane’s idea about helping people re-imagine their current skill within a radically different distribution model may boil down to some actionable project that we can take on. And it’s going to be awesome.