Caroline talks about a weekend away with friends and summer offsites
Hello hello, I hope your summer has been a fun one!
For me, this summer hasn’t been as relaxing as I had hoped. I’ve been working way too much for someone who wanted to rest and recover this summer, and my personal life feels like it’s on steroids, from hosting long-awaited visitors from out of town, to being there for my loved ones with health issues, and shuttling my kids to and from all kinds of camps and activities. It’s makeup time for having been mostly cooped up the last two COVID years.
I don’t want to complain because these are all things I’m wanting to do and I’m grateful for. There are many seasons of life, and it just so happens that I’m currently in a very busy season; it is kind of like a Target store leading up to the holidays. Haha. I'm hoping that sharing a quick note with all of you during this harried time will help me process and appreciate what I have been doing, and not feel like I’m just getting through the summer.
Running around with these kids all summer
Photo credit: Chong Oh
I have always been jealous of women who talk about going away on girls’ trips. For me, a girls’ dinner out is hard enough to schedule! So I was excited last month when three college friends and I prioritized a weekend to get away together to celebrate their big milestone birthdays. Our busy schedules meant that we didn’t even make it out of the New York City area (We took a ferry boat from downtown Manhattan to Rockaway Beach in Queens!) and it was just for two nights, but it was a hilarious, moving, and most perfect weekend, which I will call ajummas’ (To see what ajumma means, see my August 2021 note.) weekend. We shared a small but pretty hotel room with two beds side by side, which meant two friends per bed, like a big sleepover party.
These are girlfriends I met during my freshman year in college, and I don’t get to see them very often. It’s mind-blowing to think that my own son is just two years younger than I was when we all met. They are one year older than me, and I still feel honored when they let me hang out with them. We spent our time together eating, laughing, and talking non-stop, feverishly, about pretty much everyone we’ve known in common since the 90s. We often turned to social media to aid our memory and to see what they are up to now. Together we discussed some big and difficult personal and professional decisions we made in our younger days. Once we were done with our past, we also talked quite a bit about our current priorities and our thoughts on how our lives might shift in the next five to ten years.
These women are impressive leaders in their chosen fields, and between the four of us, we have ten kids and all the joys and complications that come with such blessings. There was so much wisdom, vulnerability, and insights that came out of that special weekend.
My ajummas’ weekend made me think how powerful it would be to repeat trips like this regularly to check in on each other and to reflect and dream together. It also made me think about the potential I have for infusing what I learned from the weekend into the peer groups like Chief's Core groups of senior women executives and Bolster’s CEO group that I facilitate. It turns out my girlfriends and I practiced a lot of the same concepts listed in the Harvard Business Review article, “The Surprising Power of Peer Coaching”, including immersion in real-time group dynamics, diverse perspectives, active listening, providing direct feedback, and more.
If you are a part of regular gatherings with old friends or colleagues, or peer leadership groups you love, please tell me about them. I would love to learn more!
Another type of group work I’ve been reflecting on this summer is offsites. In the last seven weeks, I facilitated a whopping seven offsites for teams and nonprofit boards! Because more organizations are working remotely, and struggling to build teams and connections among staff, they are investing more time and money into in-person and remote offsites and conversations. Read about the case for hosting in-person offsites in this CEO Insider article called: “The Best of Both Worlds: 3 Reasons Why In-Person Offsites Should Be Part of Every Remote Workforce.” I definitely enjoy the in-person retreats more, but it’s still better to carve out intentional time to spend time together and have important conversations as a team outside of day-to-day work remotely than not doing that at all.
Seven retreats over the summer is a lot for me because I feel so responsible for each of them going well, even if I only have partial control over the outcome. I often deplete some extra energy and mind space thinking about these events, on top of the actual productive time and effort I’m putting into preparing for them. A couple of times a year, there is one that doesn't go as well (I’m sorry, you know who you are!) as I had hoped for, and it feels very bad. I hope they keep getting easier as I do more of them.
One that I enjoyed recently was an in-person offsite for a fully remote team at Path Forward, a nonprofit that empowers caregivers to restart their careers after time spent away from paid work. I’ve written about their important work in my May 2021 note.
Path Forward transitioned from being a fully in-person workplace to a fully remote one during the pandemic. The team now includes members from all over the country, and until the offsite, had direct reports and managers who never met in person since starting their jobs. (Pretty common these days!) The team has also grown in head count during that time. This summer, the organization decided to bring the whole team together for its first team offsite. In addition to fun staff meals and working meetings, the portion that I facilitated involved everyone sharing their favorite moments and difficult times during their tenure at the organization, with a goal of surfacing shared values and seeing how they could be activated to navigate some real-life opportunities and challenging issues. Naming and aligning on these shared values through storytelling, which was their executive director Tami Forman’s idea, made the whole exercise so meaningful and so organic. It felt like a group of friends gathered around a fire at a summer camp. It was also a little bit like my college friends and me sharing our stories and our thoughts about our future. What a special thing I got to be a part of.
Have you attended an offsite recently, remotely or in-person? I would love to learn what worked and didn’t work for you, in either format. I am dying to learn more, as I know I can do better if I continue to learn and try new things. And for those of you who facilitate professionally, please send me any training or readings you found helpful. I love the pairing of “The Art of Gathering” and “Death by Meeting” when thinking about holding space for these important meetings. You can read more in my April 2021 note and my December 2018 note.
Well, that’s it for now. I’ve got our belated family vacation coming up before Labor Day, and I’m genuinely looking forward to it. Wishing you all some lazy late summer afternoons and a positive start to the fall!