BL&T No. 111: First Barrel Team Retreat Takeaways

Agency Leadership

This post originally appeared in my newsletter, Borrowed, Learned, & Thought. BL&T is sent weekly on Mondays. In every edition, I share lessons learned in agency leadership, life, and e-commerce. This post does not include all the details shared in the newsletter sent via email. Subscribe here.


"As Jay [Copart CEO] was talking to a business associate one day, he thought out loud about how great it would be if he could meet every employee personally and travel to all of Copart’s yards, which numbered more than 110 at that time. His associate laughed at him and commented he would never be able to do it. Was he crazy? That was all the challenge Jay needed to prove him wrong. Jay promised all the employees he would come meet them personally at their yard over the next year. The world tour was born. ... [It] took on a life of its own, and the spirit and excitement that had been lost over the years returned..."

From “Junk to Gold” by Willis Johnson [Book]


Greetings from Naxos Island, Greece!

I return to Athens tomorrow to kick off the start of the Society of Digital Agencies Annual Global Members Meeting (SoDA GMM). Dana and I came a few days earlier to get the most out of the trip. Besides our tour of Naxos today, a highlight has been using our rental scooter to get around the island.

Several years ago, Dana and I traveled to Barcelona and fell in love with the scooters weaving through tiny old streets. It inspired us to purchase a scooter upon returning to Brooklyn (and my decision to ride a motorcycle after moving to PA). Once we saw how expansive Naxos was, the first thing we did was rent a scooter. Riding it up and down the steep, stone-clad streets and along the coastline has been surreal. It's wild to think this is everyday life for the locals. We've had fun joining in for just a couple of days.

I'm looking forward to continuing the journey tomorrow in Athens. It is my first time attending GMM. Throughout the year, I enjoy connecting with like-minded folks to discuss relevant agency and leadership topics and learn from each other. Having dedicated time with a larger group to chat with will be nice.

2022 Barrel Retreat in NYC

Last week was a long-awaited milestone for Barrel. We hosted our first-ever team retreat in NYC from Wednesday to Friday. So much has changed since going remote in 2020. Most of our team has not met outside a Zoom screen, yet spending time together in person felt natural.

Our goal for the time together was simple; to get to know each other and create new memories through the process. We also wanted this to be a time for the team to experience NYC, knowing that many of them had never been to NYC. After weeks of planning, seeing the event come together was like an out-of-body experience in the best way.

Here is a quick overview of the agenda:

  • Wednesday: Welcome Dinner & Drinks (Gemma)
  • Thursday: Breakfast, Welcome Presentation, Team-Building Activities, Lunch (Prince Street Pizza!), Team Outings (MoMA, Rock Climbing, or Hall des Lumiéres - a client!), Dinner (Mable's Smokehouse), Bowling (The Gutter)
  • Friday: Breakfast, Selfie Scavenger Hunt (We created a list and tasked five teams with checking off as much as possible in two hours. The winning team took a selfie with all 24 items!)

Shout out to our Team Experience Coordinator, Allison, for her work coordinating the events. It was a lot of fun working with Allison alongside the other Barrel partners to put everything together.

I left the retreat in NYC on Friday afternoon and was on a plane to Greece hours later. It wasn't until I settled in on the flight that things slowed down. I thought about what a success the last few days had been and some takeaways for next time.

The value of time in-person as a remote team.

This experience underscored the importance of making time to connect in person as a remote team. I remember seeing attendance dwindle for team happy hours when we worked in the office. Looking back, we scheduled these to make time outside work for people to connect, but they had no structure. It was amazing to feel the difference in getting everyone together outside of work last week as a remote team. During our few days together, everyone was fully engaged in our activities and with each other. I am curious to see if this experience changes the dynamic on Zoom.

Logistics matter.

When planning a multi-day event like this, it is easy to overlook everything in-between the agenda activities. Overall, we did a good job planning for them. For instance, keeping all out-of-towners in the same hotel made transportation easy. We saw groups coming together to make their way to and fro. One area I think we could have better guided was downtime. It all worked out in the end, but in the future, making suggestions on how people could use the time would be more seamless.

Treat it like an event!

Barrel Co-Founder/CEO Peter, Allison, and I worked on a welcome kit to provide to every team member upon their arrival. The kit included a tote bag, one sheet (schedule, locations, contact info), two branded t-shirts, and a hoodie. We also shared ground rules ahead of the event and reinforced them throughout the event. All of these elements worked together to generate excitement and create alignment about the purpose of the retreat.

Big thanks to everyone on our team for their participation, professionalism, and engagement during the event. It was such a pleasure to spend time together. I’m excited to do it again.

Thought Starter

How might in-person time with my team strengthen connections?

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