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If the pandemic forced your staff to work remotely, the adjustment back to working together (when it is safe to do so) may feel strange. Folks have fallen into new habits, schedules have changed, and our ways of communicating have adjusted. Some of those changes are for the better, and a hybrid workplace may be in your future, but either way, you’ll need time to explore what work will look like post-pandemic.
This is where the concept of a “re-entry retreat” comes in. The idea here is to set aside intentional time to mark the transition to post-pandemic work and explore how it will impact your team. A planned retreat to explicitly mark this occasion and strategically explore the future is not only justified, but highly necessary for many professional settings.
What would be included in a Re-Entry Retreat?
A re-entry retreat serves 3 purposes:
- Creating time for a team that has felt separated to re-connect;
- Reflecting on what was accomplished during the pandemic, and how;
- Envisioning how the team will work together moving forward.
While specific projects and topics may need to be on the agenda, they should not be the primary or first focus – that would be putting the cart (the work) before the horse (how the work is going to get done).
Instead, consider the following discussion topics as you plan your Re-Entry Retreat:
As a foundational component to your retreat, take time to acknowledge that many staff will not have spent much time together over the last year or more. Parts of the team may even be new. Create informal and formal time throughout your retreat to give folks time to catch up. Opening the retreat with coffee and refreshments before the official agenda starts or making sure there is no agenda for lunch are two potential “free space” times.
Likewise, you may want to create a formal portion of the agenda during which folks are given time to share personal updates. For example, consider asking folks to complete the sentence: “One thing that you might have missed in my life is ___________” or “A new hobby I explored over the last year was ___________.” I completely understand that some folks despise ice breakers, but I truly believe that ice breakers can be planned to serve an intentional purpose. Here, the purpose is re-creating connection among colleagues.
Acknowledging Challenging Circumstances
Before we move on from this wild pandemic working world (if we are even there yet), it is incredibly important that leaders acknowledge the circumstances under which their teams have been working. It is entirely possible that teams have lost members to the pandemic – either because they needed to transition professionally or because their lives were lost. This is not something to glaze over. Team members may also have lost friends and loved ones, or been forced to make difficult choices about everything from elderly parents to kids in school.
The stress and confusion that this pandemic caused was all too real, and your team deserves some time to acknowledge that. Whether you achieve this through a leader’s address or a group reflection, opening the floor to share what that felt like allows team members to be heard and validated. While you may not dwell for too long on the challenges, they should have a distinct place in your agenda.
If loss and grief are part of the picture, be sure to consider whether team members need additional support from counselors; let them know how to get that support and/or how you will make it possible for them to take time to get it.
Celebrating Success & Appreciating Contributions
There is a good possibility that your team achieved a great deal despite the challenges of the pandemic, and that fact should be acknowledged too. Not just vaguely and symbolically with a “thanks for hanging in there,” but explicitly and specifically. Try to create a space where particular accomplishments are recognized – whether it was products launched, services provided, or simply the continuation of operation. Be specific about what was accomplished and how particular team members contributed. Again, this acknowledgement will go a long way in helping the group feel seen after a long time of feeling somewhat anonymous behind a screen.
This is a great opportunity for a group activity – a brainstorm to create and marvel at the list of accomplishments; a shout out session where folks are invited to name specific things that their colleagues did to support them; or an anonymous “drop a compliment in the hat” activity can all create an interactive opportunity to celebrate. Remember that not everyone had the capacity to contribute in the same ways, so small contributions should be appreciated as much as larger ones.
Reflecting on New Promising Practices
One of the positive things to emerge from this pandemic was new ways of operating and creative solutions to challenging circumstances. A practical conversation to uncover and explore those strategies will help to ensure that they are not simply discarded when work returns to some form of normalcy. For example, were online meetings particularly effective for some reason? Did you hone in on new, more efficient ways to move processes and projects along? Were you communicating in new and different ways? Serving your constituents more creatively?
Consider asking team members to brainstorm new ways of operating either in advance of the retreat or in a brainstorm during it. Put them all on a list of “new practices” and then start to hone in on which of these new practices deserve consideration for a permanent place in the organization. If the practices can be broken into themes (ways of meeting, grant review process, accountability strategies, hybrid work schedules, customer service, etc.) this could be a great opportunity for small group break-outs or sub-team work.
This portion of the meeting may be the most practical and productive conversation of the day, and I encourage you to provide adequate time for it. You never know how it might change your organization for the better! Be sure to leave your retreat with at least a few new practices identified and a plan for how to try them out or permanently implement them moving forward.
Inviting Questions & Ponderings
Before departing for the day, be sure to open space for questions from the team – whether they be very specific (how many hybrid days will we be allowed to take?) or more loose (are we exploring topic A in relation to our customer base and the pandemic?). This will help a leader know where the group stands, whether any confusion remains, or what topics need to be on the agenda for future gatherings. It also shows that one retreat is not the “end” of this transition. The conversation can and must continue.