A staff retreat? Watch me retreat.

Staff retreats. Some places you’ve worked may have had them. Generally they involve similar kinds of activities and similar moments of enjoyment and… discomfort. Here are a 10 tips for What to expect when you’re expecting… to go on a staff retreat based on my experience.

1. Assigned teams.
If you are particularly unlucky, this means you will be put on a team with the head of your organization and an older woman who works in finance and turns out to be surprisingly good at volleyball but cannot for the life of her remember a basic pattern. While teams are being assigned, the head of the organization will insist that everyone restrict phone usage to a minimum during the activities, but he will wander off periodically from your group to stare at his phone with a very serious and important expression on his face. Everything he does will make you angry.

2. A guy with a microphone.
He is incredibly enthusiastic. He probably has a Masters degree in Recreation. (I learned that such a degree existed from a really terrible boss I had at a summer camp job during college. He really enjoyed asking questions he knew the answer to just to “make a point.” And by make a point I mean make people feel stupid.) He has jokes lined up that he knows from experience will make the majority of the group laugh. He has done this so many times that he already knows what mistakes your team will make and what roles your team will fall into before you begin. He is the leader of the activity leaders. He is simultaneously obnoxious and endearing. You will not be able to help thinking he is totally awesome. But you may also be certain you would never be friends with him if you met outside of the staff retreat environment. (I should note that I have had a few women lead these things, but most of the time the main person with the microphone is a dude.)

3. Cheesy icebreakers.
So exciting. Especially if you are a social worker because that means you have definitely never heard of an icebreaker. And you’ve certainly never facilitated one in a group setting. Meanwhile, you are probably making faces at your favorite coworkers on the other side of the facility… faces that say why is this happening to me? But it’s no use. You are stuck learning what the head of your organization would eat if he could only eat one food for the rest of his life. His jokes about team members’ answers are so offensive hilarious. It will be clear by this point that he dislikes the cat lady and the woman with the oddly short legs. Don’t worry; you already knew he was a misogynist.

4. A mediocre meal at an inconvenient time.
Time to eat! Score! Oh wait, the food is very dry and flavorless. The vegetarian option has cheese, so you better not be vegan (or vegetarian and lactose intolerant for that matter). Also, immediately after eating you will be asked to do something very active that will, without a doubt, cause you to get a terrible side cramp.

5. Blindfolds.
There is always a point where part of the team needs to be blindfolded. Some people will refuse to participate due to a lifelong health condition or a lifelong attitude problem. You will end up being one of the people who agrees to be blindfolded. And you will probably giggle awkwardly because you have no idea where you are or what is happening as you carry some sort of unknown object to some undisclosed destination. And because you are apparently feeling like a 12-year-old girl for the day. Afterwards the activity leader will try to convince you that you’ve learned something very important about yourself. Say something vague so that he doesn’t push it. Think resistant thoughts about how you could never grow from some stupid staff retreat game.

6. One great teammate.
This person is smart and hilarious. They understand the objectives of the games and make boring things entertaining. Fixate on this person. Laugh at their jokes. Become their friend for the day. Say thankful prayers in your head that they were put on your team. Stand strategically so that they are between you and the head of your organization.

7. A no-talking rule.
The blindfolds are packed up, but wait: a plot twist! No one is allowed to speak! How will we solve the puzzle? But really, will we ever get through this activity? You will be shocked by how idiotic people on your team can be at times. Really? You can’t remember which option you tried two seconds ago? Also, why do you refuse to turn around and look at your team when YOU KNOW WE CANNOT EVEN MAKE NOISES. You will become incredibly aggravated and start gesturing frantically as if nothing has ever been so important. What is happening to me? you will wonder. I’ll tell you: you are at a staff retreat.

8. One-too-many activities.
When you see it is ten minutes until the designated end-time and start to relax and reconvene with your favorite coworkers, the guy with the microphone will return and tell you that he has saved the most challenging activity for the end. During this final activity, your team will probably fall apart, yell at each other and generally do a terrible job of working together because you all just want to be done with this sham of a day. If you felt like a team before this activity, by the time this activity is over you will go back to wanting nothing to do with each other. Unless of course you are in that one group where everyone has such a good attitude and is so good at teamwork. Buncha jerks. (Obviously I was not on that team.)

9. A crisis of faith.
As the day comes to an end, you will consider the job of the activity leaders. You will remember working at summer camp and facilitating similar activities: The trust fall and trust circle. The rope web thing where you try not to talk about how much people weigh, but have to find a way to identify the people who can reasonably be lifted by the rest of the group and/or passed through a small opening. The one where everyone has to cross an imaginary body of water on “rafts” represented by pieces of wood, cardboard or maybe just sheets of paper. You recall the “joy” of people who refused to participate. So who wants to do this for the rest of their life? you may wonder. But then you remember that you’re a social worker and everyone else thinks the same thing about your chosen profession.

10. The end.
It’s over! You made it! Someone will wave at you enthusiastically and say “Bye! Have a great weekend!” And as you try and fail to find the exit because it seems you are no longer allowed to go out the way you came in, you will wonder who the hell that was.

OR maybe that’s just how it was for me.

At the end of this day of fun, we were asked what we had learned about working together. I didn’t share at the time, but I’ll tell you all what I learned: fate must have put me on the same team as the head of the organization so that there would be no doubt in my mind that I should work somewhere else.

As my coworker’s wise friend put it:
“I have a retreat from work. It’s called HOME.”

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One thought on “A staff retreat? Watch me retreat.

  1. Jane says:

    Last week, we did the ‘cross the sea of lava on pieces of cardboard…’ I was the snarky girl in the back hoping no one would notice I haven’t crossed over. Thank you, microphone man for calling me out and making me cross last to the enforced cheering of the rest of the staff.

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