Twig Furniture by Steve Johnson via CC 2.0

Welcome to the Lake

Your workplace’s secret for productivity

There’s a story at the place where I work; an elderly alumni gave a gift to the college after he had been dined, but mostly wined, by a past college president. The gift was his 10+ acre rustic camp at Racquette Lake in the Adirondacks. You know, cabins with authentic chairs and tables that could pass as something from your brush pile.

Deans at the university are now under a mandate to usher their managers and employees out to this “scenic, restful place” once a year for what they term, “retreats”. In my dictionary, a retreat is anything that involves me soaking my feet and relaxing with a rum toddy. ​ In the world of work however, a retreat is a meeting that begins at breakfast and proceeds until midnight, the next night, following one last PowerPoint of 30 slides. At our retreats, eyes are glazed over by two in the afternoon. By five p.m., I’m usually talking in Amharic.

It is mid-January and in a few hours, I am headed for one of these retreats. Not including windchill, the temperature in the quiet town of Racquette Lake, as I write this, is four degrees.

The single most frustrating thing about our company retreats is the way in which one can’t even employ the most reliable meeting-avoidance behaviors, such as excusing yourself to go to the bathroom. ​ The last co-worker who tried this at Racquette Lake was found two hours later stuck to a tree. ​ The wind blew him there and held him in place.

If we are lucky, we will be directed to ice fish for our lunch. ​ This however, will not stop the meeting. ​ They’ll simply set up the portable projector screen on the frozen lake surface and keep talking.

This year’s topic, Seamless Strategies for Matrix Management holds promise. I’m gonna bring a wet suit and slip down an open ice hole when no one is looking. ​ Then I’ll surface in a hundred miles later over in Lake Champlain and drive home in a rental car. ​ By the time everyone’s back at our regular campus, all “rested” from the retreat, I’ll be pouring hot coffee for them.

They’re gonna need it.

Next slide please?