Starbucks CEO Howard Shultz once said "success is best when it's shared." Recently I've had the opportunity to put this quote to the test by taking everyone in our company on a retreat to the Greek island of Crete. Everything in life is a lesson, and while having fun was definitely the first thing on my agenda, learning from the experience was just as important. The following are a few interesting insights I gained from this unique experience:
1. The importance of being approachable
I know that by now the open-door policy seems like the management world's biggest cliché, but it is something I try to implement in my daily work. What I realized on our company retreat was that there is a certain level of openness you can only reach by ditching your routine and changing the atmosphere. People on all levels felt at ease to come up to me and chat and revealed quite a bit on what they really think. Turns out that even our casual techie environment, with no dress code or corporate red tape, can't compete with a heart-to-heart conversation over cocktails by the pool.
2. Mixing It up can do wonders
When I tell people about our company, I often refer to the synergy between the different departments as our "secret sauce." For example, when someone on our media team detects a problem in one of the campaigns, they can immediately approach the creative team and request modifications. This secret sauce got so much better following our vacation, with people getting to know each other's work on a deeper level. We formed a few wonderful new collaborations and found innovative ways to work together. In our culture, we tend to focus on developing an expertise in our field, but straying from this chosen path to visit new places is highly recommended and is definitely something I intend to promote.
3. Investing in your employees pays the best dividends
Managers who think that keeping their employees happy is doing someone other than themselves a favor could not be more wrong. Our company succeeds because good people want to be part of it and choose us over other places. The positive influence of our trip was so strong, it was evident long before we even got on the plane. The anticipation, planning and excitement made everything better and still continues to do so. We work better now because we bonded, formed a mutual experience and now share amazing memories. You just can't beat that.
4. We're all people
I take pride in getting to know my employees. Every single person in the company was interviewed by me personally, and I make sure to remain updated on what's going on in their lives (our company's messaging group is very active…too active, some might say). But going away on vacation together showed me new sides to people that no working environment could possibly reveal. People were free to invite their family to join the trip, and so I got to meet people's partners and children, and introduce everyone to my own family. It was different, special and important.
5. You can't force bonding
With all due respect to our short vacation together, the level of bonding we've reached speaks highly of our HR department's efforts to build a strong team. Usually, when companies recruit people, they only take into consideration a specific department's needs and the chemistry between its members. We made the decision early on to look at the bigger picture and it payed off in more ways than one. During our vacation, it was great to see people form spontaneous connections outside their usual social circle, and just have fun together. After all, that's what it was all about.