I just spent a three day weekend on a retreat with my employees in rural Vermont. For the fourth year running, we have gone to my family’s land outside of Bradford, VT--the place that I spent my summers as a kid (my parents were teachers). It is a lovely environment—a small house on a hill surrounded by a lot of gorgeous land. There is a pond, a stream, gardens, and fields where our neighbors run their sheep and horses. My dad is a nonstop gardener and landscaper. Numerous colorful daylilies and other flowers are everywhere, as well as a vegetable garden from which we harvested a few foodstuffs.
Attendance was over thirty this year, more than ever, so, sadly, we had to dispense with significant others. Almost everyone at NGP made it. Four hardy souls worked Friday, so that support to our clients would not stop, and arrived late that evening. The logistics are getting more complicated as our employees in California, Vermont, Virginia, Maryland and DC converge, coordinate and arrive together in different vehicles. We shop and cook for ourselves, and, because the house cannot fit too many folks most of us bring tents and camp out as well. It’s quite something to see the forest of tents grow up on the hill by the house, and elsewhere. An NGP alumna generously volunteered to cook for all of us. She made incredible meals.
My parents took off for most of the time so that we could have the space to ourselves, spending their nights elsewhere and attending my mom’s 50th high school reunion and a wedding of a friend that was conveniently timed. They were excited to see the NGP crew and talk to as many of us as they could.
I was really psyched when, just as it started to rain upon our arrival, I located the box of NGP windbreakers that we had shipped up in advance, and that we had an excellent rain location, a large room in a local church, on reserve. We did some significant work in that room, taking advantage of the skills of a professional facilitator who led us through some business exercises. I was happy with how that went. We will follow up on them now that we are back in DC.
Something else that I thought worked pretty well was an idea proposed by our facilitator. She had everyone write questions addressed to me, and another set for each other on cards. Later she had me answer the questions in front of the whole group. The questions to me varied greatly in their seriousness and impertinence: testing my abilities to parry them, come up with coherent answers, or explain myself. I had been a bit skeptical of the exercise, but I found myself enjoying it a great deal. And I even received kind feedback from a few observers. The questions of each other part worked also worked well.
One of the big highlights for me was the bonfire in the back field, where we had the Lefty awards and we toasted each other. I’m more than a bit of a pyro, and spent a great deal of time in the previous week which I took on vacation up there cutting out unwanted and dead trees, dragging brush, and accumulating fuel for the conflagration. I loved hearing my employees toast each other – I hope they know what an unusually cohesive, smart, talented, and funny group we are. (We had the proper burn permit in place). And I tried my best to convey my gratitude and to recognize each person for their contribution by handing out handmade trophies topped with our mascot. (Thanks to my assistant for all the sanding, polyurethaning, and gluing. It was more than you bargained for, but it worked). The fire-watching die-hards stayed and fed the fire until two a.m.
We also got to embark upon our now-traditional outing to the famous Mr. Puttz course, where we broke into groups of four or five and competed in the family friendly activity of putt putt golf. I still don’t know if I won my group, or who scored the lowest of all.
The rest of the time was great as well: card games, volleyball, swimming in the pond, throwing the Frisbee and golf discs, hanging out with the employees that I am just getting to know and the ones who I have worked side by side with for years. I even got to drive the backhoe again.
Because of the elements I’ve described above, the weekend was almost wholly wonderful, renewing, and productive. I only wish could have gone to sleep earlier rather than feeling the responsibility of making sure everyone behaved well into the night. My thanks to everyone who helped make it happen.