Recently, I met my team at Upscribe in person for the first time.
We hired most of our 13-person team during the pandemic, so we’ve never actually met outside of Zoom calls and Slack. And with new variants emerging and Covid protocols shifting all the time, who knows when we’ll get to see each other again?
Our time was limited so we wanted to make the most of it.
We mapped out an elaborate agenda to take place at a retreat in Temecula (the heart of SoCal’s wine country), piled into an Airbnb together, and got to the heart of who we are as individuals, what we want to be as a company, and tangible next steps.
Many companies are going through a similar experience. With precious little time together, you want to learn, vision, motivate as much as possible.
If you’re meeting a remote team in person for the first time, consider these steps:
1. Start with the individual
A company consists of single human beings, each of whom contains a rich mixture of personality, backstory, and goals. People form the genetics of your company — understanding your genetic code is the first step in guiding your collective evolution.
A few personal exercises:
- I Am… Each person writes 5-10 “I am” statements on a piece of paper — e.g.: “I am a father,” “I am an immigrant,” “I am an artist,” etc. Then, everyone reads each other’s lists, internalizing the core identities of their cohort. (Inevitably, you’ll already know a couple and be surprised by a few others.)
- If You Really Knew Me… This exercise is designed to give people a glimpse behind the social curtain. “If you really knew me” statements reveal what’s not immediately obvious — e.g.: “I suffer from Crohn’s Disease,” “I didn’t grow up with my parents,” etc. They can be positive or negative — the only rule is that they speak to something beyond what meets the eye. Where “I Am” builds identity, “If You Really Knew Me” builds vulnerability.
At our retreat, we then had everyone take some time to reflect and prepare two key personal stories they would share with the whole team: their 5-minute personal story and 5-minute professional story.
Personal exercises like these establish equal footing. They ask each person to establish an identity, get vulnerable, and ultimately create a stronger bond among everyone through the power of narrative.
2. Progress to the group
By now, you’ll have a basic understanding of who your team is as individuals. Now, who are you as a unit, and what do you hope to accomplish together?
- Values & Culture. Instead of simply listing words — “integrity,” “respect,” etc. — each person describes a behavior they admire, and then extracts the value from it. If someone says, “I spend an extra hour with clients to better understand their personal histories,” that exemplifies Service. After each person completes the exercise, you’ll have a master list of company values and cultural behaviors.
- Vision & Mission. We ask: “What’s our grand plan around disrupting a market, revolutionizing an industry, changing the world?” In the broadest possible terms, what’s not working about the status quo, and how should it change? We’re not planning yet. We’re talking about ideal outcomes and a very general timeline for when they should happen.
3. Finally, start planning
With a solid understanding of who you are separately and what your team is together, you can start getting specific about objectives.
- 2022 Plan. Taking a cue from Matt Mochary, ask each person to come prepared with three yearly outcomes for their vertical, and three metrics for measuring each one. By synthesizing each person’s goals, you can come up with unified company goals for the upcoming year.
- Q1 Plan. Finally, look at the most immediate milestone, the first quarter of 2022. Establish weekly and monthly schedules for measuring our desired outcomes.
Through this sequence, we reverse-engineer the present. The trial of every human life is facing the questions: What should I do? How should I live? I believe the best sequence for companies to answer those questions is:
- Understand the intangible values that motivate each person
- Assess how you can further those values as a unit
- List action steps for the mid- and short-term
Plus, it doesn’t hurt if you can do it in wine country.