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A Purposeful Step Back

A Purposeful Step Back

We’ve all heard the lament of people who say, “I just keep taking two steps forward and one step back.” And they speak of it as though it were a bad thing. Just when they’re making progress, something goes wrong, and they lose momentum. But what if taking a step back was done on purpose, and it was actually a good thing?

We’ve taken staff retreats at least once a year for my entire tenure at Woodcrest. It’s been our purposeful step back to unplug, recharge and reflect on the course of our work and health of our team.

A staff retreat can become part of the natural rhythm of your organizational life. At first we didn’t think we could afford the time away, but now it’s something we all look forward to. Staff retreats provide the space to ask those questions we know we should ask but rarely do: How are we really doing (beyond the numbers)? Are there things we need to be thinking about that will better equip us for the future? Is there any relational tension that needs to be processed or addressed? Do we have what we need for the next run?

I remember the first time I heard someone talk about the benefits of taking time away with your team. I was drawn to the idea immediately. However, when it actually came to planning it, it just never seemed like a good time. I fell prey to the urgent over the important time and time again. It was a crisis that finally compelled me to do what I intuitively knew I should have done long ago. In fact, I became convinced that the crisis might have been avoided had I not dragged my feet so long in getting the time we needed away as a team. Should you be one of the more reluctant ones, here are a few benefits to help you move from agreeing conceptually to implementing proactively:
•    Some problems cannot be solved in an hour-long staff meeting, no 
matter how dedicated your people are to solving it.
•    An environment that’s different from the norm enhances the ability to 
find creative solutions.
•    Time and space do wonders for innovative thinking and enhancing 

One of the most compelling cases made for the value of staff retreats came from a most unusual source. I was reading an article 20 years ago analyzing the tech bust in Silicon valley during the 1980s. It was a crazy time, with people setting up beds in their offices. Nonstop work and 70- to 80-hour weeks were the norm. Poor decisions were made. Relationships got frayed. all of these things contributed to an unfortunate — and very preventable — decline.

At the time, no one could have imagined taking a staff retreat amidst the frantic activity. But maybe that could have been the most important thing to do. Counterintuitive? Yes. Convenient? No. But sometimes that’s exactly what’s needed when all hell is breaking loose.

Consider these practical suggestions to help you make the most of your experience:
1. Start with a conservative plan. Even half a day can do wonders.
2. Come with a specific problem/question. Bring something to ponder.
3. Unplug! Turn the phones off. Don’t let anyone bring their computers. Create space for focused engagement.
4. Give your team permission to nap. Sometimes a well-rested body will do wonders for people’s perspective.
5. Include something fun. encourage people to bring their favorite music, games, sketchpad or camera to enhance the enjoyment factor and explore their creative sides.
6. Record your thoughts. Amidst great brainstorming, people can get so engaged in the process they can forget what was decided.
7. Be patient with the process. Even if it doesn’t go well the first time, learn from the experience, and try again.
8. Let the experience do its own good work. Some of my best experiences on retreats were ones where I didn’t think much happened, but later realized that being away did its own good work. As unusual as it might sound, two steps forward and one step back might be the best thing about your life this summer.

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