From Skeptic to Convert: An Inside Look at the 2014 Gaslight Retreat

Earlier this week, all 24 of us headed to a giant cabin in Hocking Hills for the annual Gaslight retreat. Most of us drove out on Sunday night to enjoy the scenery, swimming pool, fire pit and company. Then we spent Monday and Tuesday learning more about each other and doing big picture business planning.

I joined Gaslight full-time in late July, and before that, I’d spent 13 years working as a solo freelancer. As a tried-and-true introvert, I was a bit skeptical heading into my first retreat. Was it going to be packed with annoying trust falls and rah-rah cheers? And wouldn’t it be weird to cram into a cabin for two-plus days with all your co-workers? But my skeptical attitude quickly turned around, as I realized …

Trust exercises don’t have to suck.

This was my biggest dread going into the weekend, but it ended up being my favorite part. What made the trust exercises so successful? For starters, we broke into small groups or five or six that fostered both intimacy and authenticity. There was no pressure or judgment about what you shared or said. You didn’t have to whitewash your stories or opinions for fear of professional repercussions.

We did several of these over the weekend, but my favorite was when we took some time to reflect on our families, childhoods and backgrounds then shared details with each other. I told my group about growing up next to the Mississippi River and how my parents would send me outside to play in a life jacket so I didn’t drown. This prompted several great one-on-one discussions later—about everything from teenage rebellion to whether it’s relaxing to live next to water.

##Long meetings aren’t necessarily the worst thing ever. My other fear for the weekend was that it would feel like one long, never-ending meeting. The kind where everyone talks and nothing gets done. We probably spent about a third of our time meeting together as one big group, and while there were definitely frustrating moments for everyone, it was a big positive overall. I could feel the energy in the room, and the open debates about the overall vision statement for the company really put everyone’s passion about Gaslight on display.

A few critical things made these 24-person meetings work better: We alternated between small groups and the whole group at regular intervals. There were ground rules about being respectful, giving everyone a turn to talk and assuming good intentions. Our CEO, Chris Moore, created an agenda for the weekend that time boxed each discussion and kept us from falling too far down the meeting rabbit hole.

Cramming into a cabin with your co-workers is more fun than weird.

As an only child and introvert, I was nervous about sharing living space with everyone for three days. We rented a huge cabin, but we still shared bedrooms and bathrooms and meals on top of all the work we did together each day. This seemed like a recipe for energy sapping awkwardness.

My energy definitely ebbed and flowed during the retreat, but I think that was probably true for everyone. And some of my favorite moments happened around the edges of the formal programming. Doug Alcorn laughed so hard during a board game that he started crying. Jim Anders isn’t afraid to head into the wood with an axe to chop more fire wood. Lauren Woodrick is so committed to Big Lebowski watching that she brought all the ingredients to mix up white Russians.

We’ll be posting pictures of all the fun on our Facebook page soon. So if you’re not a fan, you should go over there and like us right now. We promise not to make you do any trust falls.

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