My journey with Converge, and my foray into agency life, has introduced me to many things including the joys and challenges of working in a distributed team. This term means team members are working remotely as opposed to a collocated team, where everyone comes into the office at the same time and is physically located in the same place. (Quora, 2015).
Converge is one company with two locations—Philadelphia, PA, and Cedar Rapids, IA. Since many of our team members work remotely, we have implemented and relied heavily on technology with tools like Slack and Zoom to keep in touch, and Basecamp and Trello to manage our projects and internal deadlines.
With any distributed team comes challenges. I noticed it was hard to “read” the person on the other side of the phone and so we often missed some non-verbal cues, like when someone wanted to say something, but didn’t know how, or if we simply just needed a break in the discussion. We were missing that human interaction.
Research has shown that “communication is the key to the success of project teams in a distributed environment; many virtual team issues such as conflict management, trust or team cohesion are rooted in team communication behaviours and processes.” (Weimann, 2010)
To address some of these recent gaps in communication, our senior leadership decided to bring the whole team together for an all-company retreat. It was a jam-packed two and a half days filled with reflection, celebration and brainstorming. I wanted to share three simple, but important aspects of the retreat that I believe led to a successful experience.
We got out of the “stress box” (Agrawal, 2016). Although we convened in Cedar Rapids, we didn’t conduct all activities at our company headquarters. Whether we mean to do it or not, many of us associate our work space with the stress of deadlines and deliverables. To encourage our team to “leave the stress behind,” we explored other meeting venues to host interactive and creative sessions like the local student-run hotel and even the downtown library’s rooftop.
We took some time during the first few hours of the retreat to look back at the last few months to consider what we’ve done as a company and where we can continue to grow and improve. Once we had this break for honest reflection, we celebrated our success and the opportunities to come. Our leadership rolled out the red carpet for us at the local country club. The price of admission – an index card explaining one great achievement we experienced these past few months. Our leaders took the time to read all the index cards and we all tried to guess who wrote them. Not only was it fun, but it was inspiring and uplifting to hear these stories.
Finally, we took the time to learn about each other’s personality preferences. Not only is this crucial for each team member’s self-development, but it is just as important for the continued growth of the company. As a certified Myers-Briggs Type Inventory (MBTI) practitioner, I made a convincing argument to use this assessment tool to help us better understand our communication preferences and pave the way towards clearer team and company interaction moving forward. We took the time to learn about those innate predispositions and discussed how we can strengthen our internal and external communication with this knowledge.
It has been a few weeks since our retreat and I continue to receive positive comments about the MBTI session. The Myers-Briggs Foundation says that “type is a journey” so it is re-assuring to hear that team members in Philly and Cedar Rapids continue to think about their MBTI preferences and how that affects their interactions with others on their team. In my follow-up with team members, it has been interesting to hear about their observations and experiences moving forward now that they are armed with this knowledge.
What cool and innovative ideas have you implemented in your retreats? Have you worked with the MBTI? I’d love to hear your thoughts, and if you’re interested in exploring the MBTI assessment for your next retreat or team-building exercise, don’t hesitate to reach out to me. We’d love to share our expertise.