Sharing Common Ground
It’s a balmy 87º sunny day as the shuttle vans filled with Modern Tribe team members from across the hemisphere arrive to convene at beautiful Rancho Santana, Nicaragua. After hours of driving across the dried out Nicaraguan junglescape, Rancho Santana is a flourishing oasis by the sea.
We do these trips for many reasons, but the primary justification for these trips is not so that we get work done, it’s not so that we collaborate, or that we achieve anything in particular. The most important result of these adventures is that we form trust as a team. We gather to discuss how we might achieve our mission:
Live well and do good work.
Our cultural consistency has been well affirmed. This was by far our largest group ever, at 47 strong (48 if you count Stick Jeff – our surrogate since Jeff couldn’t make it), and yet it felt like home. We had team members from Argentina, Italy, France, Switzerland, Canada, the US, Brazil, and even China. In spite of a wide geographic, cultural and political diversity, we were able to align and build trust. We quite literally gathered to share a common ground.
We have a tradition on our team trips of sharing stories in the evenings. It’s an opportunity to learn something about each person on the team. It’s also an opportunity for everyone on the trip to make themselves vulnerable, to trust the team, and to share something beautiful.
We were very concerned about the scalability of this exercise. It worked great with 10 people. Does it work with 47? Amazingly, it continued to be a tremendous success! Every presentation was entertaining, enlightening, and in large part personal.
Some of the more unusual ones included Cassi’s presentation where she had all of us get up and learn to dance the Electric Slide. Andras’ modification of our very own events calendar plugin to make it into a Jeopardy game all about Hungary was particularly shrewd and fantastic. And, we were all taken in when Neill timidly fumbled his way around a mandolin only to surprise us when he and Scott pulled a fast one on us by playing a well rehearsed Irish jig from atop a small cement island in the middle of a pool under a clear starry night sky. From personal tales of loss, trials and tribulations, ornery goats, culture quizzes, legal misadventures, origin stories, foreign curses, how tos, bacchanalias, and boss moms, there’s nothing quite like a story night on a Modern Tribe team trip.
While it is true that our main goal is to build trust, our secondary goal is to make space to collaboratively chew on ideas and challenges that would otherwise be difficult to find time to work on. Every morning, after breakfast, we embarked upon a series of sessions from about 9am until about 3pm. By the end of this journey we had orchestrated over 60 sessions in up to 4 tracks.
Sessions include topics such as “Standardizing Design QA”, “Defensive Coding”, “Multilingual Products” or “How to ensure our company fosters diversity”. Each session has a leader, a note taker, and a timekeeper. We encourage the “law of two feet” which not only permits but encourages people to move between sessions to suit their interests. There’s no point in being bored at a session.
Rancho Santana is well equipped to support our group. They have a sizable air conditioned conference room for our large sessions and our sessions which required a projector. Other sessions could choose to locate at any of a number of breathtakingly beautiful meeting points. What’s more is the internet is quite good so we were able to share all our notes on Google Docs and to look things up on the internet as questions came up.
Let’s not pretend that this is all work and no play. Every day was a blend of achievement and celebrations. We stayed up late playing games (Who has a parka, a banana or an oil pump! Space Team is an excellent game for confusing the hell out of bystanders), sipping fine spirits, and trading tales. Matt continued his winning streak taking first in Tribe bingo and throwing down a proper victory dance. Leah and her swag team produced a Tribe trivia game at every dinner where winners were awarded swaggy prizes like custom unique tribe patches, coasters, and frisbees. And while I have a tradition of telling the wait staff to ambush some unsuspecting soul with a birthday song even though it’s not their birthday, this year, the team duped me – the day before my actual birthday – with a birthday fiesta!
Oh, and then there was the time that Geoff and Kyle, having aligned their business units decided that their departments should get married.
Adventure is a substantial portion of the Tribe ethos. It is part of what drives our company and it is something that we look for in our team mates. Rancho Santana is pretty remote but we managed to find plenty of thrill.
Shane assembled a surf class where over a dozen team mates hit the waves together. Carly used her presentation session to make a case for running and challenged us to get up early and go for a run. And Nick M, being a passionate soccer coach, orchestrated a fantastic game of soccer on a local field. Products vs. Services. The pitch featured an occasional cow (we used a dung heap to mark the field boundary) as well as an adorable stray dog. And just as it was time to wrap up the game, Reid and Cliff collided leaving Reid with a solid shiner to commemorate his fine time on the field.
This is no ordinary business trip just as this is no ordinary business. This is a pilgrimage which we embark upon annually to be introspective as a group. To evaluate what it means to have a life well lived. To evaluate what it means to do good work. And to taste the fruits of our labor.
For a complete set of photos see our 2017 team trip Flickr album.