Tomorrow will conclude our 9th semi-annual retreat here at TH3RD BRAIN.

In its honor, I am sharing with you the greatest lessons we’ve learned and best activities we’ve conducted to make the best retreats. If you don’t have a company retreat coming up, not to worry. Several of these ideas can be used to establish trust within teams outside of retreat settings –

  1. Ensure everybody learns the direction of the North Star.

    Retreats are a time to get informed. Every individual knowing the company’s grand plan is essential to create transparency necessary to spark the best ideas – What are the company’s top priorities, why is the company growing in that direction, how will it get there, and what is needed from each individual to make it happen.

  2. Establish trust with each other through sharing personal experiences.

    One retreat we allowed everybody to conduct an activity to the entire team. My brother Alec enrolled us in an exercise called Highs and Lows, in which we shared the highest and lowest moments of our entire lives.

    Sharing these intimate stories with each other was more powerful than I could have imagined. The activity created a bond enabling us to trust each other throughout the retreat and into the future.

  1. Enable the team to provide feedback to every individual in a constructive and enlightening way.

    It’s critically important team members can get feedback from everybody, not just their leaders. The most impactful feedback may come from the team member you least expect it from.

    Retreats are the perfect setting to have an open dialogue about improvement. One exercise we incorporated this year was strengths and weaknesses, which I learned from Overcoming Five Dysfunctions of a Team.

    Everybody gets a turn to state a strength and weakness they have. All team members get to raise their hand if they agree or keep it down if they disagree with the individual’s short self analysis. Then, each team member gets to say the strength and weakness they see in that individual – hands go up or stay down accordingly as each perspective is shared.

    When everybody has shared, the team member who has received the feedback gets to say what they heard from the team and what they plan to do to address their weaknesses.

    This activity provides individualized feedback, and also establishes a supportive, open team atmosphere to reiterate important areas of improvement. If you are leading this exercise, I encourage you go first to establish vulnerability.

    Discussing each of our artists’ careers at length is the primary focus of one of the two retreats we conduct each year. In addition to the exercise above, we are hypercritical throughout the retreat about ways to improve workflows and ensure team members are doing what it takes to achieve the artist’s mission.

  2. Learn everybody’s learning and communication styles, as well as personality types

    One of the most challenging aspects of entrepreneurship is understanding others are not going to do things exactly like you do… And that it is okay. In fact, if you empower others and play to their strengths, there are certain things they will do even better than you.

    Utilize the retreat to figure out the differences between individuals. Understand how they process or convey information best. For certain people, pushing them to address their weaknesses is critical to their success. For others, it’s important to get them support to compliment areas or skills that don’t come naturally to them.

    For example, our most visionary team member at 3B experiences an enormous challenge when he is asked to put pen to paper to write out concrete plans. Verbally, he is lights out! But when he is tasked to write his actionable vision, he can sit at his computer for hours without getting started.

    Instead of having another conversation with him about how to improve, it can be better to pair him with a younger team member whom he can dictate his vision. They can write as he speaks. He will get what he needs done for the artist and the other team member benefits significantly from getting to witness the magic of his visionary thought process.

    There are lots of tests online to help identify our personality types. Last year, we brought in Tatiana Kolovou, one of my former professors from the Kelley School of Business, to conduct the Myers Briggs personality test on our team.

    After learning about each other’s differences, we focused on understanding how our artists’ different personality types could impact the effectiveness of different ways we communicate ideas to them.
  3. Create enough time for real work.

    But just enough. We do the retreats during weeks of the year where there is less going on in the outside world – It’s a great way to kick off the year! As managers, our work never stops. Prior to the retreat, it’s my mission to understand the work priorities for the week as clear as possible so I know how to spend most of the allocated work time.

  4. Don’t overwhelm yourself with the scheduling process

    The importance of the retreat is the presence needed from every team member, which requires you to lead from where you are at and be present yourself. 

  5. Make sure you have the BEST healthy food!

    Do not skimp out on this – it is far more essential than you would originally think.

    We are incredibly blessed to be graced this entire week with my sister Sami and her team member Muaz from Wholesam! Sami owns a viral food truck, is Ludacris’ personal chef, and caters events. Retreats are exhausting. The Wholesam team cooks three meals a day for us and ensures we have the energy we need to complete the day. Taco Thursday last night was incredible!

    Luckily, Sami has been able to make most of our retreats, but when she hasn’t, the process of ordering in each meal or going out multiple times is horrible. I would never recommend it. Spend what you need to get quality food for the retreat.

  1. Make time for nature

    Throughout the year, you rarely get out of the office with your entire team. When you do, it’s usually an industry event or out to dinner for a colleague’s birthday. Do reflection or vision exercises in nature when possible. We’re lucky this retreat as Jenni from our team was able to find a house right on the beach in Carpinteria. Dolphins have been swimming each morning – it’s incredible. For your reference, for the 13 of us staying here, the house was $800 a night. Go Jenni go!

  2. Allocate time for individuals to focus on themselves and their path

    I did an exercise with one of my team members where every six months he would write to me the current status of his job and his vision for the way his role would evolve over the next six months. I am a big believer you need to see your dream in order to achieve it.

    Each time, no matter how difficult the role he prescribed himself was, he stepped up to the challenge of his own words. In life, we make time to be the person we believe we will become. The world shifts to reflect our deepest burning desires.

    One time he struggled to complete the simple exercise in excellence. I believe he would agree his career didn’t grow quite as much in that period. Exercises like this give the individual a chance to recognize what he or she has learned about themselves and focus on defining actionables and implementable habits to expand their role or refine skills within it.

  1. Push people who don’t normally lead to narrate discussions or activities.

    Being able to speak in front of others is one of most people’s biggest fears. It is also a critical skill to success. As a manager, we are constantly learning what’s important to others and enrolling them in our artists’ visions. There is no better way to practice than on your team members at a safe setting like a retreat. I enjoy seeing more quiet team members get the opportunity to step up to the front of the room and present their vision.

  1. Make time for something fun!

    Retreats can be intense. Play a sport as a team or go on a boat ride together as we are about to do right now. Providing a break from the work environment can be imperative to ensuring everybody leaves the retreat feeling excited and ready for what’s next.

    You don’t need a budget to have fun! However, if you do, the possibilities are endless.

    A couple years ago, I had the pleasure of speaking at Spotify X, their ten year anniversary retreat. On the final night, they brought their entire staff to a private island to host a talent show style concert. Each band was made up of Spotify employees. My favorite performance was The Blacklist – a group who only performed songs still banned from Spotify at the time. They probably need to retire soon, if they haven’t already 😉

  1. Bring in Guest Speakers.

    We’ve been blessed with so many incredible leaders attending our past retreats (and our accelerator). We have brought in best-selling authors, label executives, representatives from streaming platforms, radio leaders, agents, promoters, brands, and more to educate and motivate our team as to what is possible.

    These sessions bring fresh perspectives into the retreat setting. They are also a great reprieve from hearing the same people talk the entire retreat.

    Furthermore, bringing in guest speakers displays our commitment to sharing information and educating at the highest level. If the speaker can’t make the dates of the retreat, feel free to have him or her come by the office another time.

  1. Pick the right place!

    We have done retreats everywhere from Joshua Tree to Breckenridge, Colorado. If having speakers are important to you, you may have to keep the retreat close to home, unless you have a budget for travel or are open to having them Skype in.

    Here are other questions that must be asked before you confirm a location: Does the place have wifi? Cell service? Is it near a grocery store? Close to great nature spots? Will the main gathering room be a great presenting space? Will the sleeping environment be comfortable and conducive to getting proper rest? These aspects can make or break a retreat so be sure to vet your location or make sure whoever is in charge does before confirming it. 

  1. Get rid of technology for important activities.

    In our highly connected world, this is the most challenging. Removing cell phones and laptops from the environment makes for many of the key moments and best discussions of a retreat. For significant blocks requiring participation of the entire group, have everybody put their phones in the middle before you begin. The focus level of the group increases significantly. The benefits of this simple decision are astronomical in creating clarity and an environment for ideas to spark.

Radically transparent businesses like the one described above are not for everybody. However, I do believe these environments are the most prone to creating successful, meaningful work.

At TH3RD BRAIN, it’s our mission to CREATE TOGETHER! Retreats almost always have full attendance. They push commitment and remind us our team is a family. As we all live together for the week, we can see firsthand how people react in certain situations. We utilize this awareness to enable creativity to flourish throughout the year. Most importantly they give us a chance to reflect on the past, identify what we have learned, and look vividly into the future together.

If you feel compelled, please feel free to share your most powerful retreat experiences in the comments below.

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