When I told my dad I was out of town for the CivicActions retreat, he texted back, “I’ll bet you did a lot of team building,” (eye-roll emoji implied). My father worked at the same place for over 30 years, and has a healthy dose of skepticism for all things “company.” As a newcomer, this year was my first retreat, but I already had a strong sense that CivicActions was not my dad’s company.
It’s true that what many organizations call team-building events are often empty gestures toward fixing a lackluster work environment, but when you’ve already got a strong team culture as warm, open, and authentic as ours, it’s just called hanging out. This year CivicActioners hung out in Boulder, CO for the annual company retreat.
As remote workers, our real-life meetings with one another are few. The rest of the time we get to know each other through an ecosystem of tools and processes — from Slack jokes to weekly all-hands calls — that keep us connected. Contrary to the notion that digital technology “flattens” our experience of human interaction, folks at CivicActions form real relationships in a culture centered on values of openness, authenticity, and care.
Folks at CivicActions form real relationships in a culture centered on values of openness, authenticity, and care.
Even so, after much time interacting with my coworkers through avatars or a grid of talking heads on the screen, I expected that the real-life meeting would be somewhat jarring. While some folks did turn out to be unexpectedly tall (or short), mostly I was struck by how warm and familiar everyone was. For the next three days, the joy of being together IRL fueled a packed schedule of working, visioning, and playing.
With the backdrop of the Rockies and the focus that comes with having just a short amount of time together, we gathered around this year’s theme — ‘ascend’ — to ask deep questions about what it means to transform government services and how to measure success.
By focusing on their success and investing in the communities we are a part of, we all ascend together.
The mission to modernize government — by breaking through established bureaucracies and outdated processes — may seem ambitious, but we don’t approach it alone. Our role is to support an extended community of partners, rising alongside the government agencies we serve. By focusing on their success and investing in the innovative communities we are a part of, we all ascend together.
Turning Ideas into Action
How do we know if we’re a force for good? CivicActions CEO Henry Poole put things in context by talking about how our values and work can radically change the way we treat each other and the planet. Open conversations across all areas of the organization raised questions about our measurable impact on government technology and culture, from training and procurement to service design and delivery.
Open conversations across all areas of the organization raised questions about our measurable impact on government technology and culture.
In smaller “open space” sessions, we broke big goals into smaller parts by having conversations centered around specific action items. From maintaining healthy developer sandboxes to promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion, we identified ways to improve processes, build stronger connections, and turn inspiration into action. (Whiteboards, sticky notes, and snacks helped a lot.)
Bonding in Boulder
With the mountain-fresh air and the beautiful Rockies just outside, we made sure to keep the good times rolling when we finished working each day.
Seeing is Believing
After returning home to our pets, families and (arguably more comfortable) workstations, I heard folks say things like, “best retreat ever,” and “I’m having CivicActions withdrawal.” After a week of getting to know this group of talented, dedicated people through meaningful conversations and a lot of fun, I feel I can safely drop any of my remaining inherited cynicism about company retreats and just believe.
Thanks to an incredible team and some ace organizing, we left Boulder with renewed energy and action plans for staying true to ourselves and our mission to help government deliver better services. In fact, we have so many opportunities ahead of us, we’re looking for talented new folks to join our team and take part in the joy — both online and IRL.