Last month, for the first time in TEN7 history, I gathered together my entire Leadership Team for a two-night retreat. This was not a zoom meeting. We got together in person… face to face! It was amazing!
For a little context, TEN7 has been growing, which has allowed me to expand our Leadership Team as well. There are now five of us:
- Our CEO (That’s me!) – Ivan Stegic
- Director of Operations – Dani Adelman
- Director of Growth – Megan Glover
- Director of Development – Lex Vazquez
- Our newest addition, Director of User Experience – Janna Netland Lover
I’ve never had such a deep and talented team of leaders around me before, so it seemed like the right time to get everyone together, away from the zoom screens and the ticking clocks tracking our days, to get to know each other better and to think about the future.
The decision to gather in person was intentional. TEN7 is a proudly distributed workforce and we work hard to build a cohesive culture across our virtual team, but this moment called for something different. Dani flew to Minneapolis from her home in Oregon, where she was picked up by Janna and her incredibly oversized Subaru (It has 19 cup holders!) to be brought over to my house, where Lex, Megan and I were waiting. We then piled into the Subaru and trekked to a lake house about an hour and a half west of the Twin Cities.
As soon as we were all together I knew it was going to be a good couple of days. First, I realized that many of the people on the team had never actually met face to face! It was inspiring to watch people who work so closely together in the virtual world start to establish a different kind of chemistry in person. It was just beautiful! Second, the laughter echoing through the car (did I mention, this is a HUGE car?) during our drive was contagious! I was excited to soak in the energy and to see where our combined talents and passions would lead.
The agenda for our retreat was simple. The car ride was spent discussing a book that I had assigned as homework for the retreat, The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive, by Patrick Lencioni. It was a valuable discussion that helped us each evaluate the unique talents that we bring to the table – more on that below!
When we arrived at the lake house we each selected our own rooms, then lost ourselves in a combination of insightful discussions, board games, and a few rounds of Old Fashioneds in the evenings! We were even joined by our Chief of Staff, Erin Cardinal, who wowed us with her culinary talents, keeping us fed and energized so we could stay focused on the tasks at hand.
Two days later, when we said our goodbyes, there were a few key takeaways from this inaugural retreat:
- Homework Can Make a Great Icebreaker
I wasn’t quite sure how people would respond to a reading assignment as pre-work for the retreat. It ended up being a perfect way to start. People took the reading seriously and the discussion helped us define our roles and inform our work together.
- Scaling Your Mission and Values Requires Focus and Reliance on Your Core Competency
I’m fortunate to have a team that genuinely leads with empathy. They have embraced our values and our mission. But as we talked through our goals and hopes for the future, it became clear that we need to be intentional about reinforcing our values as a vehicle of growth, not as a byproduct. Growth that is values driven is sustainable, and is how we will truly Make Things That Matter. Then, our UX expertise and deep Drupal experience will catapult us forward.
- Being Honest Means Understanding We Can Do Better
We are justifiably proud of the work we do and the way we serve clients, but the retreat helped us have honest discussions about areas where we can, and need to, do better.
We spoke about ways to increase our efficiency, to serve a wider variety of clients with options that fit their needs and their budgets. We also had conversations about instances when we didn’t live up to our own standards, and how we would work to repair relationships and build trust even when things didn’t go perfectly to plan.
Gratitude for the Team - They Care Like I Do
As the founder of TEN7, it’s sometimes hard for me to let go of the reins and to hand over responsibility to others. It’s something I’m working on because I know it’s in our long-term interests as a company.
This retreat helped me move forward along that path. I was immersed with people who are bringing their talents to the table every day. Just as important, I saw that they care about TEN7, and our mission, just like I do. With leaders like that in place, I can breathe easy and let things go, knowing they are in good hands.
Two Days Wasn’t Enough
This is kind of a counter-intuitive lesson when I think about how exhausted I was after just two days of a retreat. Still, in the future I will probably extend to another full day to allow more room to explore ideas as we expand our goals and vision. I’d also like a little more time for board games and Old Fashioneds, because laughter is a great team builder!
This retreat is not the end of the story. We focused on a three-year vision that will require a lot more fleshing out to become a reality. This will demand a great deal of hard work on all of our parts, Leadership Team or not. Part of our effort centered around ideas for a whole company retreat that will take shape in the near future. In addition, there were concrete ideas that we hatched at the lake house that we are already implementing, and that I know will make a huge difference for us going forward.
In the end, getting away from it all helped us come together in new ways, positioning us for a long-term plan to Make Things That Matter.
Voices of the Leadership Team
During our car ride to the lake house, we discussed this question: What is one thing you do that the company could not do without? Here are some of the responses:
“My instinct in first answering this question was to say something about how I nurture the team. The Leadership Team helped me clarify that I bring people (our team) together. I’m the organizational pillar. I work to bring a calm, nurturing energy that makes people feel comfortable, welcome and cared for.”
— Dani Adelman, Director of Operations
"My previous experience as a senior developer gives me a unique perspective working with our development team to solve problems. I am able to offer different approaches, working with a developer to resolve a particular issue."
— Lex Vasquez, Director of Development
"Before joining TEN7, I was on the leadership team of another growth company, so I came to this role hyper aware of the common challenges that come along with growth. This experience helps me get ahead of potential issues to suggest proactive solutions. From my perspective, growth is about people; the financial bottom line is secondary."
— Megan Glover, Director of Growth
"I provide the perspective of a person who is NOT immersed in the world of development. This means I can close gaps of understanding between developers, designers, and clients."
— Janna Netland Lover, Director of User Experience