5 Considerations for Work Events in a Post-Pandemic World
Back in the before times, our remote team gathered twice a year – something we found critical to maintain relationships and our culture. Just as in many other parts of our lives, that was put on pause for the past two years and we had to make do with seeing each other's faces via Zoom. So when I was tasked with planning our first in-person retreat since 2019, it certainly felt like a tall order!
We had an opportunity to not only host a retreat for our team, but to be intentional about the event we were putting on and create an experience filled with connection. So I turned to The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker for guidelines on shaping our time together. Here are five steps I took that could be applied in any in-person, post-pandemic gathering:
1. Find Your purpose.
Yes, we knew we were having a team retreat, but needed to dig deeper to get to the WHY of our gathering. We started the process by talking as a leadership team and drilled down to our purpose– an opportunity for our team to connect with each other, build trust and recharge. With the purpose in place, it could be used as a “bouncer” to decide which activities to include, and what to leave out.
For example, someone suggested we work on developing our employee value proposition as a team during our retreat. While a great idea (and something we absolutely plan on doing!) it didn’t quite fit with our purpose so we decided to leave it off the agenda. One thing that did make it in: a team cooking competition! It checked the boxes of connection and trust-building so it made it onto the agenda.
“THE PURPOSE OF YOUR GATHERING IS MORE THAN AN INSPIRING CONCEPT. IT IS A TOOL, A FILTER THAT HELPS YOU DETERMINE ALL THE DETAILS, GRAND AND TRIVIAL.” — PRIYA PARKER
2. Consider your space.
Our space would set the tone that would embody the vibe of the retreat and so choosing a stuffy hotel ballroom certainly did not fit with our Brilliant Inky culture and was not going to fly.
What would work? A place that was casual, fun and a departure from our day-to-day.
Additionally, we considered the needs of our people by choosing a place where people had the option to share rooms if they felt comfortable or have their own space. A ranch outside of Austin Texas fit the bill perfectly and allowed for unplugging and a focus on our time together.
‘YOU SHOULD…SEEK A SETTING THAT EMBODIES THE REASON FOR YOUR CONVENING. WHEN A PLACE EMBODIES AN IDEA, IT BRINGS A PERSON’S BODY AND WHOLE BEING INTO THE EXPERIENCE, NOT ONLY THEIR MINDS.” — PRIYA PARKER
3. Listen to your team.
Before I dove any deeper into planning, I wanted to hear from our team. What were they hoping to get out of this event? What was their comfort level with COVID precautions? Did they have any dietary requirements? What were some favorite snacks and beverages? Did they want an action-packed schedule with lots of activities or more downtime to relax?
Getting a read on our team’s preferences and needs allowed for the creation of an agenda that tailored to the individuals on our team while creating a great experience for the whole group. We continued listening to the team while we were together and adjusted the agenda as needed.
We’d had a karaoke competition planned, and several team members suggested that instead of a competition, we could turn on music and open it up to whoever wanted to participate. As a result, the karaoke competition turned into a spontaneous dance party with our team DJing–one of my personal favorite moments of the retreat!
4. Set the stage.
According to Parker, 90% of what makes a gathering successful is put in place beforehand. Priming your attendees helps to get them excited and gives them a clear picture of what to expect.
I hosted an “Ask me anything” session during a team call where team members could voice questions and I created a “Know Before You Go” document that housed all the details of the retreat from an agenda from what to pack to travel details.
“EVERY GATHERING BENEFITS OR SUFFERS FROM THE EXPECTATIONS AND SPIRIT WITH WHICH GUESTS SHOW UP.” –– PRIYA PARKER
5. End Strong.
I wanted to leave our team on a high note after a wonderful event so I was intentional about creating a closing ritual to end our time together. We ended with an awards ceremony celebrating accomplishments of our team from the previous year followed by a reflective exercise where we shared words to describe each member of the team. We ended strong and left people with a feeling encouraged after our time together.
“A GOOD AND MEANINGFUL CLOSING DOESN’T CONFORM TO ANY PARTICULAR RULES OR FORM. IT’S SOMETHING YOU HAVE TO BUILD YOURSELF, IN KEEPING WITH THE SPIRIT OF YOUR GATHERING, IN PROPORTION TO HOW BIG A DEAL YOU WANT TO MAKE OF IT.” — PRIYA PARKER
Make Meaning in the Moments
Whether you’re hosting a company retreat, a leadership offsite or an all company meeting, think about how you can make your event intentional and a point of connection for your employees.