Dev Retreat: Developers Focusing on Self-Improvement

Near the end of last year, the Foraker development team took a half day break from our computers and sequestered ourselves away with two goals:

  1. Discussing cultural issues we were all having at the office.
  2. Generating ideas for improvement (be that for the workplace or for ourselves as technologists).

We think it was a valuable exercise, and look forward to doing it again.

First, though, let’s look back and recap this inaugural retreat and the effect it has had on our company.

The Retreat

I like to frame the retreat itself in terms of Simon Sinek’s “Start With Why“, a great TED talk bout leadership and inspiration.

Why:

To be frank, the culture at Foraker felt like it was stagnating. Folks on the team were feeling frustrated and didn’t feel empowered to do anything about it. Leadership felt it, too, and was searching for ways to motivate the company and improve morale. The idea was put forth that we should gather together off-site to discuss our issues and develop some suggestions for improving the situation.

How:

We found a nice AirBnB rental in North Boulder that gave us plenty of room and privacy. We took a pile of Snarf’s sandwiches and other snacks and hid away for the afternoon in a basement apartment. We were equipped with a pile of sticky notes and markers, which we used to work through our loose agenda of themes for discussion. For each theme, everyone would write something specific on a Post-It and stick it to the wall. Then we spent time reviewing the notes and gathering them into groups, which helped us identify ideas that were of more concern or higher priority to the group.

What

The result of all this discussion (and some additional parsing after the fact by a few of us) were two collections of ideas:

  • Issues the team could address directly.
  • Issues of company policy, which we could not affect ourselves but which we could now at least communicate to leadership in a clear manner.

The Results

Solutioneering

For the items that we felt we had direct influence on, we built a quick Meteor app which we gave the very tongue-in-cheek name “Solutioneering”. This application is used to catalog actionable (in the spirit of S.M.A.R.T goals) solutions to the issues we identified at the retreat. Each solution is given a detailed description, a point person (or people) to lead implementation, and a set of deliverables to track progress toward completion.

Many of us wanted to explore new technologies and several of us specifically wanted to look into working with Ember. To get ourselves started in that direction, we created the “solution” of an Ember reading group: Solutioneering our desire to learn a new technology

We’ve had great success achieving these goals. Being able to measure the progress as we go is a big part that success.

Real Talk

The bigger picture issues were then discussed with our president, Stirling. While many were already on his short term agenda to address, it was good for us to have a clear list of priorities to be able to communicate to him. We are all happy to say that some institutional changes have already been made as a result.

Next

Given the success of this, our first development team retreat, we definitely intend to do it again. We have high hopes of iterating on this process to continue to improve ourselves and our company.

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