Month of Evolution: 30 Days of Creative Team Development
What it is, why it’s important to your business, and how to conduct one
With the Great Resignation still in full effect, many companies that were once considered popular workplaces in their local market are anxious, and rightfully so. With more and more progressive organizations making remote work a permanent part of their culture, “local talent pools” cease to exist. 4.3 million people quit their job in August (that’s nearly 3% of the workforce). According to many surveys conducted like this one, the motivators to leave include things like financial needs, work-home balance, remote work policies, job disinterest, and job stability concerns.
How the Great Resignation is Affecting the Design Industry
In the design world, great resignations have oddly been an integral and unquestionable part of the industry since the beginning. In 2017 (long before the Great Resignation swept the nation), the average employee retention rate for creative agencies was a surprisingly low 30% per year. This is obviously a huge problem because an agency is only as good as its people.
Reducing this employee turnover rate (which in turn improves the quality of design work + client success rates), was one of the key drivers behind Gallardo Labs being founded 8 years ago. While most design firms were focusing on team productivity, profit, and agency image, we took the risky move of putting our people first above ALL else, betting that productivity, profit, and image would come as a result. We see our team as full, three-dimensional, creative individuals who are also parents, community leaders, family members, artists, dog owners, world travelers, aspiring chefs, writers, etc.
Creativity is not something that can be blanket produced or engineered to bring out of a group. It must be nurtured, cultivated, discovered, and refined at an extremely personal level. Our company model is built around this personalized creative discovery process — using inspiration, confidence-building, and 1:1 support to help team members as individuals define their true self and purpose. Focusing on “the individual” inherently helps our group flourish as a whole, which directly affects our quality of work and client relationships in a tremendously positive way. We’ve spent almost a decade building an elite team that is composed of such individuals and in those years, we can proudly say our yearly retention rate is at 99.6% (a whopping 69.6% higher than the national average).
One of the biggest challenges that we’ve been tackling at Gallardo Labs over the years with all this in mind, is how to help our team members shed what they don’t need and put more into what they do. This lofty self-improvement goal eventually turned into a living, breathing annual company-wide experience called our Month of Evolution.
What is the Month of Evolution?
The Month of Evolution (nicknamed MOE) is an annual time where we re-evaluate our internal strategies to make ourselves achieve more, make better choices, and live better, more successful lives, both as individuals and as a team. It requires extreme vulnerability by all (including leadership) and involves a series of workshops, challenges, communication tactics, and fun exercises designed to invoke something within.
Planning for MOE
Defining business goals
First things first — by defining our business goals, we were able to stay aligned with each other throughout the planning and execution process. If you work in a larger organization, by tying business goals to this initiative, you will more easily gain buy-in from other stakeholders.
Our MOE business goals were:
- Maintain a high team member retention rate. Clearly understand each team members’ motivators, challenges, and drivers so we can devise custom plans to keep them happy and mentally healthy at work while helping them reach their professional goals.
- Improve communication and foster diversity. Inspire better communication and collaboration between team members by gaining awareness and understanding of our individual biases and personality types.
Deciding on a month
We chose September as our MOE because we noticed it’s when the team was most likely to report feeling preliminary signs of burnout. Projects are typically in deep stages at this point at the end of Q3, parent’s kids are back to their crazy school schedules, most PTO has already been taken, and the holiday break feels close enough to dream about, but still too far away.
September also marks the beginning of fall and the outward seasonal change in nature felt like a nice time for us to focus on changing inwardly — kind of like a refresh period. End of the old. Beginning of the new.
No matter which month you choose for your organization, make sure it’s the same every year. The team should depend on it and be able to look forward to it. It will also help you plan much easier.
Picking which areas to evolve in
To keep the momentum up during all 30 days and help the team evolve in the most impactful specific areas, we broke the month into four themes. (Why four? There are four weeks in a month and each theme was assigned to one week.) This allowed us to stay organized and intentional with our activities. Here are our categories, but yours may differ depending on where you feel your team will gain the most value:
🚀 Week 1: Professional Development: Map out and openly discuss career and life goals, both inside and outside of our company.
🧭 Week 2: Personal Development: Dig a little deeper into who we are as humans, reflect on where we are in life, and understand how we can be better versions of ourselves.
🏀 Week 3: Team Development: Understand how we each work together within our team. Learn how different personality types can collaborate and communicate better.
🗝️ Week 4: Emotional Development: Increase your emotional intelligence — aka: your ability to perceive, use, understand, manage, and handle emotions and biases.
Main components of a successful MOE
To properly kick-off MOE, on September 1, we asked everyone to finish their work early and join us on Zoom for a virtual instructor-led yoga flow class by Orange Theory fitness instructor Sara Helms (who was incredible and highly recommended).
After the class, I explained the week-by-week areas of evolution and asked that everyone approach the activities with an open mind. I emailed a link to each person to fill out a personality test from 16 Personalities, which would be used for several things later in the month. (We purchased the Team Plan in advance and they give you your own team portal with quizzes for each member.)
By starting off with yoga and then diving into the details, we were able to clear our minds and properly prepare for the journey of self-discovery ahead. If yoga isn’t your jam, try another physical activity — even something simple like a walk in the park. Be sure that everyone’s calendars are cleared for the afternoon so they can take the personality quiz without feeling rushed. The results are fundamental to important exercises later on.
The workshops were the most challenging part to plan because they each required a larger time commitment (and impressive calendar coordination skills) by everyone. However, do not skimp on them — it was in the workshops where we grew, learned, and evolved the most.
Each workshop should tie directly to one planned area of evolution. Ours included:
Speak to Inspire (4hrs) — Many experts say that public speaking is ranked the #1 fear in the U.S., more feared than death itself. Since we spend a vast majority of our time presenting ideas, designs, and expertise, we wanted to empower our team to be confident and inspirational speakers by helping them each find their own unique communication style. Speak to Inspire was led by Julia Beauchamp Kraft and she custom-designed it to:
- Cultivate confidence and teach reliable tools to overcome nerves
- Improve communication skills in high-stakes speaking moments
- Discover your unique, authentic voice as an expert
- Elevate your communication style from good enough to inspiring
Defining Personal Values (4hrs) — Values highlight what we stand for and represent who we are as an individual. They guide our choices and behavior. When we understand and honor our core values, we can experience life in a more fulfilling + mentally, emotionally, and physically healthy way. In this workshop, we each defined our unique core values.
Team & Culture (2hrs) — Because we are a remote and diverse team, communication and collaboration are crucial to our success. During this workshop, we dug into the 16Personalities quiz results and conducted several of their virtual team workshops focused on exploring each personality type + combinations of types that make up our team. We learned so much about ourselves and others. We also learned where gaps lie within our team makeup and where our strengths and weaknesses lie when working together. And most importantly, it brought us closer together.
Challenges & activities
Each week, we gave the team a challenge and conducted a few mini-activities. Some of our favorites included:
- 30min a day reading challenge
- Starting a gratitude journal
- Spotify takeover (we gave our Gallardo Labs Spotify account to a team member for one day to make a playlist).
- Daily 10min guided meditation breaks
- Random rapid-fire get-to-know-you questions asked on #moe, like “Would you rather speak every language in the world or be able to talk to animals?”
- Spur of the moment emotional checkpoint on #moe asking the team what emotions they’re feeling in that moment while sharing the wheel of emotion
Keeping up the momentum
Since everyone on our team (and presumably yours) is very busy with work, I was concerned about keeping up engagement and excitement about this not-directly-work-related experiment all month long. To some, I knew putting this much time and energy into themselves instead of projects or clients, may feel unnecessary and very uncomfortable. To get even the biggest critic onboard, we temporarily changed our entire work environment to surround the team with MOE motivation and support.
Your team will have different motivators, but here are some ways we successfully created an extra safe space:
New slack channels
- #MOE was a temporary channel created on day 1 where we could discuss anything related to the month’s experiences, share photos, and communicate activities.
- #gl-creatures was added during Team & Culture week. Here we can share as many pics of our pets and kiddos as our hearts desire.
- #urawesome was also added during Team & Culture week as a place for us to give shoutouts to others at random.
First thing each Monday morning, I sent out a detailed email of what to expect that week + goals, recommendations, and my version of a mini pep-talk.
Surprise themed goodies
For Professional Development week, we gave each person a monthly pass to MasterClass. For Personal Development week we gave them gift cards to Papier to custom design their own journal. For Team Development week, we planned East vs West coast in-person gatherings. We got team members on each coast together for a day and evening of work and play.
Whether your team is in-person or remote like ours, by spreading the surprises out over each week, you’ll keep everyone engaged and excited to continue all the way to the end of the month.
On the last day of September, we did one final exercise together called Creating Your Vision. It was focused on helping us each create our own vision board (we created ours in Figjam and it worked perfectly, but any tool will do for yours, including old-fashioned paper and magazines). Vision boards are important. In design, they can be understood easily as mood boards for our lives.
This exercise was a perfect culmination of everything we had learned over the past 30 days. The vision board blended professional and personal goals, values, lessons learned, aspirations, inspirations, etc. At the end, we each presented our vision boards and were then urged to save them out to be used as screen savers to remind us of our vision and purpose every time we in front of the computer.
For leaders of all types of companies, but especially those within the design industry, I hope this summary helps and inspires you to conduct your own company Month of Evolution. The investment upfront may be large, but the learnings gathered and team connections made will be everlasting. Improving the design agency turn-over rate, battling the 2021 Great Resignation, and challenging age-old industry standards require drastic measures — and a Month of Evolution is one powerful way to start.