In praise of company retreats

July 26, 2012

By David Fox

McNeely Pigott & Fox, like every other 25-year-old company, has a distinctive culture. We have a certain way of doing things that makes us different from other companies. Our culture defines us internally, and it also shapes how we are perceived by the outside world. And if I had to cite one thing that has shaped our culture more than any other – it would be our annual company retreats.

Here's our staff photo from last year's fall retreat.

We were lucky enough to start off last year’s fall retreat with a session with John Seigenthaler (center).

When Mark, Mike and I first got together, we actually did spend a couple of days at a cabin on Center Hill Lake one summer; but I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a retreat. We did talk about the company some, but mostly it was a lot of head-scratching and pipe-dreaming and taking breaks to see if anybody had called – which they hadn’t.

It wasn’t until 1993, when Katy Varney joined the firm as a partner, that we held our first retreat (which had actually been a condition of Katy’s coming on board). At that time, there were about 17 people working at the company, and I can remember the agonizing hours we spent trying to write our mission statement and come up with better systems for buying paper clips and toner for the fax machine. It wasn’t all work, necessarily, and it wasn’t a big party either; but the stories from that retreat – the skit, the song fest and the late night exploits of one account executive who puked on a partner’s shoes – are now company legend.

Last year's Mid Year retreat was the first to feature iPads.

Retreats are about bonding. But there’s more to them than that. Retreats are where you can be intentional about your culture. What kind of company do you want to be? What’s important?

It took us four years, but we did hone our mission statement. Do great work, be a great place to work and be successful enough to share the rewards with everyone at the company – i.e., Do great work, have fun, make money. That was at retreat No. 4 in 1997. We’ve been following that mantra ever since.

Most of our time during retreat is spent in sessions. Some are more lively than others.

Twice every year, a half-day in the summer and a day and a half in the fall, we go off together as a company – all 60-plus of us – to talk about how we want to grow, how we need to change, and what it’s going to take to meet our goals – and hold a few egg-and-spoon races in the meantime. Many of our major shifts in strategy have emerged from retreats. And each year, our culture has become more clearly defined.

There are a few things that always happen at retreat. The egg-and-spool race is one of them.

Having fun. When you make that part of your mission statement, your retreats tend to be memorable affairs, and we’ve had our share. The costume parties get more elaborate every year, and the field day competitions more intense. We haven’t had any medical emergencies, but that’s not to say we haven’t had a few late night trips to the ER. And we have danced – lord, have we danced.

2011 Fall Retreat Costume Party

The costume party is another retreat staple. The theme last year was “games” if you hadn’t already guessed.

So thanks, Katy, for making us have retreats. We’re a much better company for it.

Tomorrow we will close up shop for our half-day retreat, or “Mid Year” as we call it. Check back Monday to see how it went. Maggie Bowers will be sharing photos and thoughts on her first MP&F retreat.

In the meantime, tell us about your office culture. How is it shaped? Who shapes it? Why is it important?


3 Responses to “In praise of company retreats”

  1. pphipps7378 Says:

    Awesome David! You guys rock! So happy for all of you!

  2. Happy 25th anniversary, MP&F! Hope you all have a great time today at retreat!

  3. […] week, partner David Fox explained in his blog that retreats are a fundamental part of creating a great workplace. From telling stories to setting […]

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