6 stories, 20 seconds and one single image each. 2 minutes total – go!

That’s how we begin our twice yearly company retreats: with a Skillshare version of Pecha Kucha that helps us learn more about each other, while conveniently exercising a few presentation and storytelling skills along the way. This time, we learned about Gabe’s nurturing nature when he showed us a picture of a full pig that he roasted to feed nearly a thousand people, and Ethan revealed his competitive side with a photo of his middle school election posters (he won the presidency, two years in a row). This year, we headed to the beach for a 2-day, 30,000-foot view of where Skillshare is going and how we should get there. But, almost more importantly, we used our time to welcome new team members and strengthen our relationships.

Since the work we do every day requires perseverance, patience, and big picture thinking married with extremely detail-oriented execution, we have to be air tight on our roadmap and we have to get to our end goals together, as a team. At our last retreat, we focused on teamwork, rewrote our core values, and read the book Tribal Leadership, which taught us about working together as a singular force to achieve our ambitious goals. We also envisioned the early stages of Online learning.

Our most recent retreat a few weeks ago reiterated the themes from last time – teamwork and innovation / invention – and, building off of those priorities, focused on creating a culture of rigorous execution. Yet again, we walked out of the retreat with a clear direction and a plan for how to get there. It was our most productive retreat so far, and here’s why.

The Success Formula is Simple: Vision Alignment + Team Bonding / Fun

And we only have 3 simple rules:

  1. No cell phones during work sessions. For the retreat to be effective, everyone needs to be present and united around the same effort, not distracted or half-invested.
  2. Pre-readings are mandatory. Rather than waste time presenting information, we prefer to focus on analysis and decision-making. Pre-readings picked by session leaders help everyone prepare.
  3. All other topics are off the table. The only topics we’ll be covering for the retreat are the ones that are relevant to the stage of our company, both in terms of our culture and our strategy. Again, focus!

A Snapshot of How We Spent Our Time

In other words, how we actually achieved the results we wanted:

  • Motivational Kick-Off: Our CEO always starts the retreat by going over the agenda and theme of the retreat and answering any outstanding questions so we’re all start off on the same page. Of course, Skillshare Pecha Kucha is one of the first things we do, too. We also have a Year in Review presentation that goes over our small and big wins, favorite memories, and other warm fuzzies.
  • Vision & Mission Alignment: This session is CEO-led and the point is to reflect on our mission and lay out a higher level company roadmap for the next year.
  • Team Collaboration: Given our roadmap, we spend time in cross-functional Community / Product team groups fleshing out the details of our projects. We’re invest in each other’s priorities and aim to think holistically, not just in terms of our teams’ individual needs.
  • Individual Creative Time: Collaboration is core to our team values, but we set aside time for each person to individually brainstorm ideas and plan out their own next steps in peace and quiet.
  • Action Planning & Team Goal Setting: The Community and Product teams present their roadmaps and goals, and we all finalize the company goals and next steps together. Each team creates an action plan that’s includes who does what by when.
  • Culture & Process Improvements: We reflect on what we should do more or less of (i.e., fewer meetings!) and how we can work together more smoothly.
  • Early Morning Exercise: Running and yoga are our favorites, but we encourage everyone to wake up early and get revved up for a second day. It’s not unusual for us to wake up to the sound of the Rocky theme song…
  • Fun & Games: From beach BBQs to Q&A Roundtables where we answer quirky questions about ourselves, we’re here to relax, get to know each other beyond work, and strengthen our team 100x.

Our retreats help us step back and set goals, review our vision and values, and come together as a team – that ensures we’re all on the same page and prepared to succeed as we swing for the fences.

Written by:

Abigail Besdin