By Katy Varney
Mark McNeely likes to tell the story that one of the conditions of my joining MP&F in 1993 was that we would have an annual off-site company retreat. There was no way to predict back then what would evolve into years of company tradition and lore. Mention retreat to any MP&Fer, past or present, and you are sure to get a huge smile and likely several stories that will have you wishing you were there.
That first year, when the company was just six years old, 13 of us spent two days at Adams-Edgeworth Inn in Monteagle, Tenn. While nuances, themes, location and staff size have certainly changed over the years, the basics of our time away from the office haven’t.
We go off-site for two days and one night in the fall. We think it’s important to really get away from the office. With today’s technology we are still available and accessible, but being physically away from our usual walls and desks helps us see things in new and different ways. We try to go no farther than a two-hour drive. We take a bus and everything. Like a grown-up field trip.
We pat ourselves on the back. We celebrate our successes throughout the year, but our retreat is a great time to really give some shout-outs about the year that is coming to an end. For example, this year we won a huge contract that was a companywide focus early in the year … the entire staff got new computers … we were able to announce we’re on track to meet our financial growth goals by the end of the year. Cheers to all that!
We learn. We spend a fair amount of time educating ourselves so we are better at our jobs. We invite guest speakers in; facilitators lead workshops on topics from storytelling to work styles; our staff members lead sessions on best practices and lessons learned on a slew of client projects.
We team build. We’ve done it all when it comes to team-building. From text book exercises like creating structures with rolled up newspapers to field day games to canoe races to a really intense flag football game one year. This year’s games included one called Neptunes, which resulted in some pretty hilarious charades. Our staff has a healthy rivalry going between our company’s two organizational teams. The trophy, a monkey named Peels, goes to the losers. The losing team has the “monkey on their back” for the entire year.
We celebrate. What started as a nice dinner while we are away, has turned into a full-blown, themed costume party. Imagine 60 or so creative types challenged with dressing up to themes such as “Camp Empeeyaneff,” “Extreme Christmas” and “Game On!” and you get creativity and outlandishness like no other. Our Thursday-night party has no doubt become a highlight of our retreat. My favorite costume for this year’s theme, “MP&F in Space” was not Eric Dorman as Elliott pushing an oversized ET (Katie Coppens) in a shopping cart, which won the costume contest; it was Amanda Reinbold’s space bar. Yes, she dressed up as a space bar from a keyboard. Love that.
We set goals. The navel-gazing time also includes planning for the coming year. We set goals. We strategize. We discuss ways we can do our jobs better and more efficiently.
Our motto at MP&F is to do great work, have fun and make money – in that order. Day in and day out, we want to produce the very best work product for our clients. We want to have fun while doing it, and our retreat is just one of the ways. We believe if we do the first two (do great work and have fun) the third (make money) will happen.
So far – it’s a winning formula.