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Last week, the Choice team climbed into a giant van with our fearless leader Heather in the driver’s seat, and we drove 10 hours together to the gorgeous, historic city of Charleston, South Carolina. 

 

We stayed in a breath-taking home on the Isle of Palms named The Bea’s Nest after its previous owner, Beatrice Ravenel of the Charleston Ravenel’s  (any “Southern Charm” fans out there???). 

 

 

We spent some time working, planning, brainstorming, and dreaming for Choice in 2020 and beyond. And, we spent some time sightseeing, eating, dancing, and taking in all that Charleston has to offer. 

 

This is our fourth company retreat. Each year, we take intentional time to think of Choice. It is the one time of year that we step back, assess all that we’ve achieved, lean into pain points and roadblocks, brainstorm our next steps as a business, and put together a solid plan of attack and a to-do list of next steps to accomplish it all.

 

Here are five takeaways from our five days of planning:

 

  • It’s fun (and necessary) to take time out to think about your company. All year long, we think about our clients – What are their goals? How do we get there? What is working and what isn’t? How can we serve them more effectively? How can we communicate better? How can we exceed expectations? But, if you aren’t asking those same of your organization at some point in the year, you are truly missing out. At this year’s Choice Summit, Crosby Noricks talked about the importance of treating your company as a client. Each year, we do just that. We ask ourselves those same questions – What are our goals for this organization? How do we get there? What is working and what isn’t? How can we communicate better? 

 

  • After you’ve set goals, put a plan in place. Once we’ve asked those questions and come to conclusions we all agree on, it’s essential to put a plan in place to reach those goals or to make changes. It’s easy to say, “Here’s what we need to do,” but if you don’t follow up with, “and, here’s how we are going to do it, who’s in charge of what, and here are some solid deadlines,” then it floats around the tasks list for six months and never gets done. As a team, we are goal-oriented and deadline-driven. We know that if we don’t put these parameters around tasks, they won’t get done. Some of our deadlines are in Q3 and Q4 of 2020, but we know who’s doing what and when. We have our marching orders. Go team! 

 

  • Honest conversation breeds trust and healthy team dynamics. This is big for our team. It’s more than okay to raise your hand and say “This isn’t working,” or “I have an idea.” This year, we walked through a fascinating self- and team-assessment to garner information about each individual’s strengths, weaknesses, and goals. When Heather introduced the task, you could see the nervous smiles and hesitation around the table. But as each team member shared deeply, spoke truth in kindness, and encouraged each other, I watched the team collectively relax and open up. After thoughtful feedback from everyone, each team member walked away with a “One Thing” commitment to ourselves – one thing we will start or stop doing in the coming year to make our lives better. I learned so much about each person on our team and myself. I am so grateful for a team that values honesty, growth, and communication. It makes all the difference. 

 

  • It’s important to make sure each team member’s voice is represented. At last year’s retreat in Mexico, we reworked our mission and values. As Heather talks about in this blog post, five years in, it just didn’t feel like us anymore.  As we bring on new team members and grow as an organization, we continue to do this. This not only allows us a clear path to who we are and what we want to do, but it also helps us find employees, clients, and partners that align with our values. This clarity is vital to success. 

 

  • You can accomplish big things when you’re excited about a project. If you own a small business, work in a service industry, or have a job in public relations or communications, you’re probably pretty busy. When you look at all there is to accomplish in a day, it can feel burdensome to take on one more task. But each year, we’ve planned for something big, scary, and exciting for Choice. In 2017, we planned to launch our blog, which went live in January 2018. In 2018, we dreamed about the Choice Summit, which we just saw come to fruition last month. This year is no different. I can’t tell you just yet what it will be (though we are all dying to let you in on the secret), but I will tell you, it’s going to be a lot of work. Though that’s the case, we are all super jazzed (to use Devin Lee’s signature term) about it and can’t wait to get started. You won’t hear a single sigh from the room when we talk about all that has to get done. Our second core value is “Enthusiasm drives us,” and it’s no different here. 

 

 

Although we did so much work and planning, we also find so much value in having fun together. 

 

In fact, we love it so much that our very own Devin Lee Duke was assigned to the Director of Fun position, and she will now be planning quarterly team outings and get togethers. Bringing people together, finding joy in everyday moments, and encouraging laughter are all strengths of Devin Lee’s. We can’t wait to see what she has planned for us in Q4!

 

I also want to share some of our favorite memories from our time together in Charleston. 

 

Heather’s Favorite Charleston Moment:

While the food was spectacular and the lodging a dream (I’ll be back soon, Bea’s Nest), two things really stick out for me. On the fourth day we were there, we spent our entire brainstorm building a new Choice project that will launch in 2020. To say I’m scared and nervous is an understatement, but the energy around that table was palpable. Every single one of us is passionate and stands ready to make it a huge success. Listening to each team member share her vision, ideas, inspirations, and hopes for the project was enlightening. I was truly captivated with them during the discussion. Beyond that moment, though, was the general connection that I watched deepen with each passing day in Charleston. Regardless of the way we were spending our time – working, sightseeing, walking, eating, resting, playing, or in search of the best cocktail (and Shirley Temple) in town – the genuine love and respect for each other was evident. Every day a little different from the one prior, they each passed and my smile widened and my heart grew. There is something about caring for your colleagues outside the office that builds true connection. A frozen gin and tonic together at Leon’s Oyster Shop doesn’t hurt either!

 

Kerry’s Favorite Charleston Moment:

I loved so much about our time together. But my favorite memory was the sunset boat ride on the Schooner Pride. It had rained all day, and even minutes before we boarded, the Captain was still debating if we would go out in the bad weather. The rain stopped, and we were able to board. We ended up seeing a stunning sunset, tons of dolphins right by the boat, and we laughed the entire time. 

 

 

Maddie’s Favorite Charleston Moment:

Something that I continue to reflect on from our time in Charleston is the amount of laughter that ensued. Whether we were giggling around the table during a delicious meal, while chatting it up with an interesting Uber driver or walking down Rainbow Row, there was always something lifting my spirits. With each morning starting with intentional brainstorming and laser focus, by the afternoon we were able to relax and belly-laugh as the day continued. I’m still laughing about Devin Lee’s golf cart driving skills and how we trekked across Isle of Palms for coffee in a not-so-speedy golf cart. 

 

Devin Lee’s Favorite Charleston Moment:

Charleston was packed with sweet memories, but my favorite memory was our nightly dinner conversations. Each night, Heather prepared a table topic which lead to provoking conversation. My favorite part about these questions was learning more about new members on our team but also learning more about women I’ve worked with for two years. These questions also made me think and learn more about myself. For instance, I now have a personal core value which I had never thought of. A question is simple, but it truly brought our team together around good food, great conversation, and even better company!

 

 

Sarah’s Favorite Charleston Moment:

We made so many amazing memories in Charleston and I am still reminiscing on all of the growth we made both as a business and a team. My favorite Charleston moments were the nights we got to spend together. After our productive days of planning and running around Charleston (having the most fun!), I adored the time our team spent together and the conversations we had as the day winded down. The time around our favorite cheese dip, watching random Netflix shows and sitting by the most beautiful fireplace was precious and I am so grateful to be apart of a team where relationships truly matter.

 

We walked away from this team retreat renewed, invigorated for all that is to come in 2020, having learned more about each other and ourselves, and with gratitude for a team that loves to be together. We can’t wait to share with you what we have planned next year. Stay tuned! 

 

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AUTHOR: Kerry Gardner
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