Sometimes a Retreat is in Order

An eagle approached, flying straight and true over White Sands Lake, talons outstretched. “Grab Bailey!” I yelled to Joe Vanden Plas, and — from his vantage point on the long pier, closer to my dog than I — the IB editor likely saved little Toto from the equivalent of a flying monkey. (At least that’s my romanticized retelling of the story.)

The eagle perched on a nearby branch when our group of about 20 ate dinner on lakeside tables, likely hoping someone would let go of the tasty little pup. Eventually the magnificent predator gave up and left, and we breathed a collective sigh of relief. But it was cool to watch him soar over the lake.

My husband cooked for everyone and, later, he read their palms for dessert. (Kevin is multi-faceted in “spousal support.”) Patrick Farabaugh tipped over in a kayak, and Pat Hasburgh backed into a tree and broke out a tail light; stuff happened that made for good “Pat stories” later around a campfire.

The IB team ate together, studied together, worked together, planned together, and played together at Dillman’s Bay Resort, four hours due north of Madison. Some shared a lavish huge house with jacuzzi and sauna, some had individual rustic cabins, and some stayed in the “hotel” suites. Everyone had a private bathroom, our general criteria for travel. No one wanted to share that.

However, we had group outdoor meals, campfires, games, spectacular mist-over-the-lake sunrises and breathtaking orange and pink sunsets. We were housed on a peninsula with shallow beaches and deep fishing areas, heavily forested and dog-friendly with free paddleboats. The location was perfect. It’s a family-owned business (75 years), and you don’t have to sign out the complimentary canoes, life vests, bicycles, DVDs, or books. I adore the place (can you tell?).

What I loved even more was the almost palpable relief of leaving behind easy cell phone access and Internet interruptions for a few days. I knew it would take that, to really focus everyone’s attention to working ON our business instead of IN it. I wanted to prove that planning — normally a tedious, long process — could maybe even be FUN.

We kicked off the retreat on a recent Sunday night with a cookout, followed by a two-hour workshop by Barry Callen on the importance of building a workplace that truly promotes differing opinions and new approaches. We invited a touring art community to join us, so we would have strangers to mix with, and we got down to the fun business of (1) doing impromptu presentations; (2) defending positions; (3) juggling multiple tasks at once without mental fatigue; (4) leading and following; (5) communicating without words; and other business-friendly foundational exercises.

Throughout the following days, we often referred back to Callen’s mindset, and it really paid off with regard to new product ideas and internal communication skills.

Then we had the business portion, first with an open review of our books and performance to help us set realistic joint goals for next year. All staff was invited and participated. We rewrote our mission statement and then brought in Kathleen Paris, Ph.D. (and excellent trainer) to facilitate our resultant new product planning sessions.

Some of what we did next was by the book. Other activities were more spontaneous or adventuresome. We built in time to celebrate nature and to share our personal stories and professional goals. You learn a lot about character, too, playing Trivial Pursuit after a full day’s activities and a glass or two of wine, and I can vouch for all of the characters who work with me: In Business magazine is more than a brand — it is what these people bring to the table that makes it (and our affiliated products) excellent.

The brand provides a platform or stage. What they have done with the opportunity to shape that brand — and will do in the near future — defines its continuing performance and ultimate legacy.

My husband said maybe he isn’t cooking next year, so maybe we’ll divvy it up. But I expect he’ll join me with the staff again in 2010, same place, same staff, because of what we did together this year.

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