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#308 – The Best-Laid Plans

July 22, 2022

parabol team with our geocaching bounty

This week, we welcomed back our Growth team as they returned from a team retreat, and from isolation.

This was our first-ever retreat as a whole Growth team, though our marketing and sales teams had each gathered separately last year.

We put intentional effort into planning as a team. When the unexpected struck, our team had to figure it all out together.

Our Growth gathering plan

Given we’re all together a larger team (12 folks total!), and having learned from the retreats we’ve done so far, we made a few planning choices:

  • We ran a pre-mortem (of course!): We’re big users of our own tool, and so we ran a Hopes and Fears pre-mortem in the weeks before the retreat to learn what we wanted to work on, what we wanted to spend time on, and what we wanted to avoid. We learned that people wanted more downtime during retreats, so folks who want to work out could do so while introverted folks could rest and recharge. We left a good amount of padding into our schedule.
  • We divvied up planning: As team lead, I don’t like the feeling of being a tour guide on team retreats. Our teams are autonomous and self-managing in many ways, and I wanted to set that same standard for our retreat. So team members picked meals and activities to plan, and almost everyone had a hand at leading some portion of the planning.
  • We made time for sub-teams: We wanted our sales sub-team to have time to consider and work on sales-specific issues, and the same for our marketing team. So, we created a staggered schedule where the sales team started first, then were joined by the marketing team for an all-together portion, and then the sales folks left and marketers had a few days by themselves. For our data and design team members, they got to choose which portion they wanted to join.
Growth Gathering schedule: 
July 6-12: Sales, Design & Data
July 9-15: Marketing

In the end, we had a lovely plan for 9 days in Madrid, including scheduled dinners most nights, and activities like a coffee tasting, flamenco lesson and museum tour.

GIF showing our full schedule for the retreat

When plans go awry

The first five days of the retreat went remarkably well: team members had lots of time to meet their own needs for activity or rest, our shared activities were fun and exciting, and we got our key work completed.

I’ve found two important metrics for evaluating how well a team is finding ‘team-i-ness’ on a retreat:

  1. When the scheduled day ends, do people still want to be around each other? Nearly every night, aided by the late 10pm sunlight in Madrid, some cohort of our team found a corner of the city to enjoy, talking and socializing into the late hours.
  2. In the spaces between scheduled activities, does a distinct team culture form? From impromptu geo-caching to a last-minute Escape Room game to challenging one another to a foot race, this certainly held true for us.
A few photos from our team retreat

But on our final all-together day, a big challenge confronted us: One of our team members hadn’t been feeling well, and then tested positive for Covid-19. As a team, we had to decide what to do.

Where we had been operating with a carefully-crafted net, now we were flying freely with no pre-defined plan on how to address this. On the back of the strong culture we’d been building together, we sprang into action:

  • Team members purchased tests and started testing
  • Through Slack reactions, we voted on our comfort levels with various parts of our existing plans
  • We confirmed expense policies for isolation

Within an hour, a plan formed: folks who tested positive would isolate at the company’s expense, others would head home, and still others who tested negative and were comfortable would continue with activities as they saw fit.

In the end, most of us got covid, and isolated either in Madrid or at home.

It certainly wasn’t the ending I hoped for, but I’m very proud of how we made these decisions, how we helped one another and how we adapted.

Slack message with Aviva's reflections on how the team handled our covid outbreak


The strong top-of-funnel growth continues! We’re delighted to see these traffic numbers holding steady, as well as strong growth across the rest of the funnel. July is historically a quieter month as teams take vacations, so it’s nice to see a week that’s all green lights.

This week we…

made good use of our slack (or ‘free’) week to launch a fun experiment: icebreakers.parabol.co. The idea started in our #terrible_ideas Slack channel last week, and an impromptu team rallied to launch it this week. It’s a great example of what we can do with a bit of empty calendar time and some inspiration.

…had frank discussions about our hiring plans and all-company retreat. With an uncertain economic climate and hard lessons learned from our two team retreats, we’re re-evaluating what we put our time and attention on.

…considered new processes for how we turn ideas into plans and how we review design work.

…reviewed designs for disabling anonymity in retrospectives. This is an often-requested feature, and we’re glad to have some cycles to explore ideas!

Next week we’ll…

…kick off the penultimate sprint in trimester 2 of ’22!

Have feedback? See something that you like or something you think could be better? Leave a public response here, or write to us.

Aviva Pinchas

Aviva Pinchas

Aviva is a product and marketing leader with a passion for remote work and organizational design. She previously worked on WooCommerce at Automattic, one of the world’s largest fully distributed companies. Aviva lives and works in Austin, TX. 

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