April 16, 2015

Fundamentals of a Successful Retreat: a 2015 Recap

Corporate Retreat, You Say? Let’s Do It The SPC Way

Ever plan a vacation for your family? What are your intentions? If they’re like mine, you want to reconnect, remove the distractions of everyday life, and get back to what matters most. You want to have meaningful conversation, and make lasting memories. You want everyone to have a good time, and return home feeling rejuvenated, refocused, and perhaps most importantly, happy and proud to be part of your clan. Well, these are the objectives I keep in mind when I plan one of our team retreats, because we are in a sense one large family both figuratively and literally – we are owned by two brothers after all.  We don’t all live under the same roof,  some are at the Austin HQ, others are in NYC, LA, Minneapolis, and even as far as Rome and Sao Paolo, so these get-togethers are crucial for maintaining our unity and our cohesion. We do them every 18 months or so, and it is some of the best money this family spends.

Here’s an inside peek at our most recent retreat that happened from March 23 – 26, 2015.

Work Hard

Brook Schaaf        Julie Avila

We are, first and foremost, in the business of generating the best ROI for our clients. So we use a majority of our time away from the onslaught of our daily work to discuss how we can best accomplish this. What are we investing in as a company? What are our goals? How can we best serve in our role as trusted advisors to our clients?

We each did a lot of talking… ok seriously a lot of talking!

Stephanie Harris CEO










Each “role”, whether a team or an individual contributor, presented on their unique challenges, what it is they do that we might not understand, and the kind of support they need from the rest of the organization to be successful. Interestingly, two groups used the same imagery to depict how they feel sometimes: being under attack from “bombs” of requests. I think we can all relate!

Dan Bryant







It was a great example of our first value, professional intimacy, as it was a look at different personal perspectives – how we relate to each other, what we need from each other, how we can be better understood. Sounds like the core of all family dynamics.

We also did a demo of our proprietary enterprise management solution, which is being custom-built from scratch, ChocolateMalt (the actual chocolate malts to celebrate this session were DELICIOUS).

Affiliate Management Agency

We all were very excited by the cool things it can and will do in the future, and brainstormed additional features. As one of us pointed out, thankfully we hadn’t dubbed this an olive sandwich or we’d be less excited by this surprise culinary tie-in. Needless to say, we were rocking sugar highs for the rest of the morning.

Brian Littleton, ShareASaleWe even had guests join! Our friend, CEO and President of ShareASale, Brian Littleton did an amazing session on the exciting advances in the network. Another two core values, expertise and improvement, were on full-on display during this info-sharing and info-gathering meeting of the minds.   We came home with LOTS of ideas. I think ShareASale will be sorry we gave them so much homework!

Thanks to Khorus CEO Joel Trammell for also coming out. We have been working on our team alignment so that we all move in concert toward the achievement of our common goals. Our fourth value is responsibility, and it’s very important to us to own our actions. Khorus is a cascading goals software that will take this to the next level. One of our owners, Forrest Schaaf, even said it was perhaps the best presentation by a software provider he’d ever heard, which is high praise from Forrest! I had to agree – we were all inspired by the internal clarity this brought us.

Play Hard

All work and no play is “no way” for SPC. We work hard so we can play hard, and play we did! Since our retreats are the only opportunities we have to all see each other until the next time, we make the most of it! Check out our zip-lining high above the trees.

Schaaf-PartnerCentric           Schaaf-PartnerCentric

There was a sky bridge you had to walk over to get from one landing to the next, and one of us thought it was funny to shake this treacherous thing for the others still carefully balancing across. Talk about a bonding moment – he shall remain nameless, but I will never forget the look of pure terror on our team member’s face when felt the uncontrollable shaking of a very rickety bridge high above that he was still many steps away from crossing. The hysterical laughter from the rest of us safely watching from our perches made it all worthwhile. He likely will not agree.

We also did a fond farewell to Brook Schaaf, our departing CEO who stepped up into the Chairman role in March. We each went around discussing our favorite memories of Brook – some only the family should ever know about 😉 But some the world should share in – Brook serenading us at our last retreat at Disney World or wrapping his desk in plastic wrap, or his penchant for gag gifts (he once tried to send me an actual car dashboard because I kept mentioning I’d love to see a dashboard of, you know, KPIs and such).

Perhaps the best future memory of all though, was a presentation of a classy portrait for our departing leader that even had him blushing. We did this for a client once – his idea– so turnabout is fair play, no?

Brook Schaaf

We might do a separate blog post on the creation of this work of art. It’s not your everyday team that can put their collaborative minds together to come up with such a unique statement.

Socialize with Friends

Affiliate Program Management

A retreat is not complete without some socializing with the outside world, and we love to make an occasion of us all being together to eat, drink, and be merry. We invited everyone in the industry, clients, affiliates, contacts, vendors, and the like, to join us for a “community night” happy hour. We had a great time seeing old and new faces, connecting and deepening relationships, and walking around barefoot because our shoes killed us (that was me, but it was a pool location in my defense).

BuildASign Affiliate Program

Thanks to everyone who came to hang out with us at our community night. It is always wonderful to see and be seen, and I always love showing off my family. They were all well behaved … unless they were on the “late return” bus :-).

Now It’s Time To Say Goodbye…

Before you know it, it’s time to go home. Everyone always gets sad when the vacation is over. You know your family gets along well and loves each other when you see tears during the goodbyes. I take this as a testament to the strength of our bond, our culture, and our commitment to each other and our work. It’s that much more special when we don’t see each other every day to take time out of our busy lives to get together, re-engage, reconnect, and renew our dedication. That’s what successful families do, right?

On the way back to the airport, I kept thinking about our Start/Stop/Continue exercise (we do one at every retreat – if you haven’t done them, I highly suggest trying it out after a quick google search). We brainstormed a ton of great suggestions and ideas from each category to make our business stronger, our lives more productive, and deliver on our promise to our clients. Under “Continue” was the proposal “team retreat” with lots and lots of votes.  That’s one suggestion we will happily oblige.

Check out the full photo album on our Facebook page.