This is a guest post written by our friend (and founding member of EntreArchitect Academy) Marica McKeel; an architect, designer, foodie, and entrepreneur. She is the proud founder of Studio MM, which focuses on her passion for contemporary residential design. Marica finds inspiration by surrounding herself with creative people, collaborating with her clients, and forging strong working relationships with her contractors. In this article Marica shares her recent experience with building a new team for her small firm and how she is being intentional about the culture in which they work.
Using an Off-Site Retreat to Build a Better Business
A little over a year ago I was a sole proprietor in way over my head, doing far too many tasks at once, not all of them well, not getting everything done, no time for thinking or planning – only doing… doing… doing.
I realized I needed to step back and “work ON my business instead of (only) IN my business” if I wanted it to be a success. I was reading The E-Myth Revisited at the time, and I laid out Michael Gerber’s 7 Step Business Development Program into a few simple questions I could answer:
- What kind of life do I want?
- What do I value most?
- What is my vision for my company?
- How do I measure success?
- What is the “spirit” of my business?
- How do I carry that “spirit” throughout my brand?
I didn’t realize it at the time but I was beginning to define my firm culture.
Fast forward to 2016… I worked very hard to establish our brand, develop systems for working efficiently, and create strategies for growing our business. But now I have a team. The new question I need to answer is, “How do I get my team to be as excited about Studio MM as I am?”
Sure, I was extremely selective during my interview process and I know I’ve hired amazing individuals, but how do I make sure we are even more amazing together as Studio MM?
Team building retreats often get a bad rap as a waste of time with lame exercises and no real point. In today’s world I think employees put an emphasis on individual growth and opportunities for advancement. In other words, I believe firm culture outweighs salary – this is extremely important (and good!) for small businesses.
My first full-time employee started September 1, 2015. The second started October 1. In January we went on our first team “off-site.” We were only 3 people which does make thinking up team building “activities” a bit more challenging. Luckily we are a creative bunch.
3 people, 36 hours, 3 Sessions, a roll of 24″ wide white poster paper and lots of sharpies and sticky notes…
Outline for our off-site:
Session 1: Introductory Session
A. 2016 Goals for Studio MM
B. Activity: 3 Things
Session 2: What is our Story?
A. Activity: 3 Questions
B. Business Development is part of everyone’s job
C. What sets us apart?
Optional Morning Yoga Session
Breakfast and Job-Site Visit
Session 3: Creating an Action Plan
A. How can we be more Efficient?
B. SMART goals / how, when, who
End of Off-Site: Team Lunch
As we began our first session I unloaded 3 boxes of pens, sharpies, red and blue markers, sticky notes and index cards onto the table in front of us. Then I asked Marisa and Tracy to help me tape up large sheets of banner paper on the wall.
Yep, this was going to be a participatory session.
On one of the white sheets I presented my goals for Studio MM for 2016. We noted Session 3 was to create an action plan for attaining these goals which made the discussion in our first session flow much more easily. I wrote Efficiency on a sticky note and stuck it to the paper. After a few minutes we had yellow sticky notes covering the page with sharpie notes off to the side explaining and connecting ideas. Throughout this session (and through the next day) sticky notes moved, more were added, and sharpie notes were everywhere as we organized our thoughts on efficiency.
Next up was our first activity: Write down 3 things you are good at and 3 things you need to work on. This one got groans from Tracy and Marisa… but when we got into sharing our answers and they were pointing out things the other was good at I knew it was a successful activity.
Yoga break: Tracy is very into yoga so I asked her if she’d do a yoga “class” for us. She planned an optional morning yoga for day 2 but also put together a few quick sessions to break up our day – things like “5 minute stretches you can do at your desk.” Perfect break for our brains between sessions.
The second session was the one I was most excited about but also the one I thought would be the most difficult to get going… Boy, was I wrong! We hung up a new sheet of banner paper and started with the activity: 3 questions, 3 minutes each to answer:
- If you could describe Studio MM in one sentence what would it be?
- If you could ask just one question to determine a person’s suitability for working with us what would it be?
- If you could ask just one question to discover a person’s suitability for being our client what would it be?
Answers came in the form of brilliant sentences, bullet points and questions. Sharpie in hand, I scribbled their answers on the wall and we continued to brainstorm. We discussed questions our clients might have and “who we are” as answers to those questions. It was suggested during this session that if we were looking for someone special to join our team (one of our first goals for 2016 was to hire another person) we should better present “who we are” on our website, and we went through ideas on how to do that. At the end of the session we were well on our way to an “elevator pitch” for Studio MM and excited for why and when we might need that.
“Business development is part of everyone’s job.” – Todd Reding, CEO Charrette Venture Group
There was so much excited energy at our last session that after dinner we came back to the table and refined our ideas into 3 concise sentences. We had our elevator pitch. It was a wildly successful first day!
Day 2 began with morning yoga, a walk through one of our projects which was under construction nearby, and then back to the table for our final session. With more sticky notes and sharpie scribbles on the paper from Session 1 we created our Action Plan. We determined how we would attack our goals, who was in charge of what and when we thought was a realistic time to get each one done. We had great ideas, lots of inspiration and we were all excited about our next steps.
Our last “activity” was Team Lunch. Marisa is an excellent cook and always brings delicious smelling lunches to the office, so I asked if she would be in charge of lunch. She directed Tracy and me on cutting veggies and other prep while she cheffed our lunch. Total team effort and an amazing lunch!
When I got back to the office I hung up all banner pages from our sessions. Looking over the notes and sticky notes I realized I had 2 people with me who were as excited about making Studio MM the best it could be – a true team. Wow, that’s awesome!
To give our team’s perspective, I asked if Tracy and Marisa would write something about our off-site as well. This actually was fun for me to read too. I knew it was a success, and has made us FAR better overall and as a team, but didn’t know what they thought about it all.
Here is what the team had to say:
Marisa: I’ve always been a big fan of retreats—in college, some of the student groups I was a part of would take a weekend to travel away from campus and strategize about the upcoming year. Therefore, when Marica announced that we would be doing our first offsite, I was excited—but also a little nervous about how the “corporate” retreat would work in contrast to my prior experiences. It turned out there was very little to be nervous about. We spent much of our time talking about the studio–everything from business management, to efficiency in the office, to personal and professional goals for the year. Marica combined these long strategy meetings with fun activities, including hiking and early morning yoga, giving us all an opportunity to get to know each other on a personal level. While Marica could have done much of this type of planning on her own, I really appreciated the opportunity to contribute my own ideas and to bounce them back and forth with both her and Tracy–It felt like a methodology much truer to the identity and vibe of the studio. All in all, after four months of non-stop work and deadlines, it was a terrific way to be reminded of why we do what we do—and to get excited to start the new year off with a bang.
Tracy: When I first learned about Marica’s plan to have a two day off-site with employees I thought it sounded like a giant waste of time. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Not only did we set company goals as a group but we came up with a plan of action on how to achieve those goals. And once the brainstorming juices were flowing we were able to come up with an elevator pitch. The process of collaborating on this short script explaining who Studio MM is has really helped us define ourselves and what we want to achieve. I don’t think we could have been so productive if we tried to accomplish these tasks during our normal work days. The off-site allowed us to take our minds off of the day to day tasks and responsibilities and really focus solely on building our team and our business. Most importantly, by the end of the off-site I felt we had really bonded as a team and I was left swelling with pride and excitement for all we are and all I know we can do together in the future.
Question: Have you used an “off-site” retreat to plan and strategize for your small firm?
Photos Provided by Studio MM