We recently gathered in New Hampshire for a fall retreat of the SRE team. This was a great group gathering that we planned as a team. The goals of the meeting were threefold. First, we had a number of planning issues to manage: who was doing what work in the next year, etc. Second, we had some professional training to accomplish, such as honing our negotiation skills, working on conflict management and resolution, and revisiting our key client goals. The last thing was the best. We scheduled a group activity, which was a culinary treat, too: a cooking class!
We met Chef Ron at the Victoria Inn, a nice B & B in Hampton, New Hampshire. It was only 10:30 a.m. but he agreed – we had to start with a drink! Within an hour, the kitchen was starting to smell of all things good: onions, peppers, baked torte, salmon, and my soon-to-be favorite, the seafood bisque. Yum! After a drink or two, I set out my iPod and we were all listening to Beatles music. Mindy was behind the camera, Shawnna was on the grill, Kari was cutting thin strips of veggies, Sandy was kneading, and Jenny was mixing up….something. It was so much fun! There was even a random dog walking around, too. Chef Ron was on! We learned so much so quickly and he taught us the best lesson of all: let your natural ingredients speak for themselves.
When we sat down as a group to eat, we felt like we had accomplished something. Then we tried the food itself. Wow! The flavors were popping! I selfishly asked for extra bisque, and by the time the dessert came I was so filled I couldn’t start it. So Sandy and Shawnna and I decided to take a walk. It was a beautiful fall day filled with sun and clear air, with a hint that the cold was sneaking up soon. After we left, we went to a great bar on the water in Portsmouth and the cold actually crept up on us there. The bar offered blankets and cocktail tables with flames in the middle. While we were relaxing with a drink and each other’s amazing company, Kari looked out in the water and rather quietly said, “Look, it’s a seal”. If it was me, I would have stood up and yelled and then probably lost the moment of quiet reflection that was not lost on Kari. We enjoyed trying to follow the seal’s path, and then eventually realized we were exhausted and headed back to the hotel.
I have said for years that the best moments in life are the ones that are unexpected – ones of unplanned joy. I do still believe that, but I also believe that within a planning framework, you can provide the platform for the unexpected as well. As I drove home later, I thought about how lucky I was to have such a great team of great people: of excellent people first and excellent professionals second. I feel like I had to share this experience and see if other small businesses have company outings as well, and what their unexpected fun experiences have been. I am going to try to milk the revelation of this experience for a bit, until I realize that somehow I have to top it next year… What a great challenge to have!