March 25th, 2014, en route to Paris from London:
This is not something we have ever done before. The plan was to seek out opportunities for meeting potential clients, partners and employees the week after attending NSConference. We also made a point of visiting with our UK team while we were doing business in London:
At one point, while we were talking about it, and wondering whether or not to go, I said “Worst case scenario, we get time for an executive retreat along with a few meetings.”
I’d done one of these before, at the behest of Alex King and his friend Scott Sanders. That’d been a trip to a resort hotel outside of Phoenix, Arizona, and had been an incredibly productive time for all of us.
This time, it’s a little different.
At face value, I have been wracked with feelings of self-indulgent guilt. Yesterday we walked to the famous crossing featured on the Beatles’ Abbey Road album. We’re staying in places that I’ve only dreamed of going before, and it costs money.
In reality, all of us are totally exhausted.
One of us once proposed doing this at our home office in Seattle. It’s clear that this would never work in practice. Actual physical isolation has been a critical component to this exercise.
The first day we met, we each went around the table and stated our goals for the meeting. We quickly ended up with several pages of issues to discuss that we have never been able to satisfactorily resolve in the course of a regular work week.
We’ve started trying to deal with some of these problems in the past, but most of them are in a class of extremely non-trivial cases that have inherent complications we’ve never been able to really get around. When we’ve tried to go behind closed doors at home things have always been cut short, just as we started to identify the underlying conundrums. There is always a client call, or a meeting, or some other pressing issue that has forced us to cut things short or have some critical member of the discussion drop out of the talks.
Now we’ve been able to sit down and really tear into the problems, dredge up the issues that are really blocking progress, and start working our way through them. Honestly, it’s been brutal at times.
Some of the challenges are logistical, so we have stopped and figured out how to handle them. Those are the simple ones.
Others are so tangled with issues that we’ve needed one LONG day to get agreement on the basics, then the next day to build on those basics and come up with a game plan to get the resolution we’ve sought for so long. We’ve also had to stop and and capture the results of those discussions and get them sent out to the appropriate people so that we can start executing on the new plans immediately.
The hardest issues have involved innate disagreements on how to proceed, or on priorities for the business (everyone has the right intent, but agreement on which problems have to be solved first can be hard). We all want the same things, really, but it’s been a real challenge to tease out what factors have prevented us from unanimous agreement on a topic. Once those issues are known and openly discussed, we’ve been able to find ways to address those issues so that we could move forward.
The exotic locations have been helpful, but there’s more to it than that. In addition to the opportunity for face time with local businesses, the 7 hour head start we’ve gotten each day has given us a brief window of overlap with the home office to sit in on our daily internal call for a bit and catch up with what’s going on at home.
The backdrop has also presented a welcome contrast to the difficulty of some of the discussions we’ve had. The conversations may be difficult, but hearing a trio of octogenarians grouse to each other, reflecting on casual sex versus matrimony in a local pub while we discuss internal affairs has made things a little easier to take.
It’s been brutal, and things have gotten heated. Yesterday, exhausted and still debating the risk of some of the things we’re planning, a matron at one pub threw her arms around me and said “I don’t know what you boys are fighting about dearie, but I hope you work it out. You all look like sweet lads.” We all felt terrible, took deep breaths, and tried starting again.
We did work it out, and I love my co-founders. Even when we’re tired and having a hard time.
…After I’d wrote the sections above, we arrived in Paris, where we spent another three days.
I had assumed that things would wind down somewhat, but in fact, it only became more intense. Our conversations became longer, we’d talk to exhaustion, then try to find some place that an omnivore, a vegetarian, and a vegan could all get something to eat. We’d focus on the meal for a bit and then pick up the conversation again.
The uninterrupted blocks of time I’d mentioned earlier were crucial, but the continuity was, too. There were some topics that started over breakfast, picked up again after lunch, and were still being talked out over beers at a local pub that night.
Since we’ve returned home, there has been strong agreement that the talks we had in London and Paris have been invaluable. The decisions we made on the trip will save the company several times the cost of the trip each month, and we’ve set a course that we believe will strengthen the business and our own relationships.
And we’ll always have Paris.