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Hey everybody. Welcome back to the podcast.
Full disclosure. Sometimes I have a real hard time recording the intros for the podcast and today is just one of those days. I have recorded this intro about five times and can’t seem to get it right. Fingers crossed that this is the one, everyone.[00:01:00] Today is a business episode. I am talking all about our annual staff retreat agenda.
I’ve gotten a lot of questions over the years about how we structure our annual staff retreat. Today, I’m going to talk through the history of the staff retreat, and how it’s evolved over time from 3 people in my living room to renting an event space over the past two years. I’m a big fan of these.
If you’re even a small practice with 2 staff, I think it makes a lot of sense to think about an annual retreat. It’s an awesome way to keep people connected and give your practice a little infusion of energy.
Now, no matter where you are in your practice, there is a Testing Psychologist mastermind group for you. I’ll take that back actually. There are only groups for intermediate and advanced folks at this point. I am doing two sections of beginner practice groups starting in January. So those are full, but intermediate and advanced practice [00:02:00] owners, there is space in the mastermind groups for you.
The intermediate groups are for solo practitioners who may have an admin assistant or a psychometrist but don’t have any aspirations to hire other clinicians but you’re still feeling overwhelmed and would like to streamline some processes, maybe get your life back from your practice a little bit, feel less scattered. And then the advanced group is for group practice owners who hire or employ other clinicians and have an eye on scaling, growing, and CEO mindset kind of stuff.
So if you’re in either of those groups, I would love to chat with you and consider a group coaching experience. You can go to thetestingpsychologist.com/consulting and sign up for a pre-group call.
All right, let’s jump to a little discussion about having an annual staff retreat.[00:03:13] All right, folks, we are back and we are talking about staff retreats.
A little bit of history about my experience with staff retreats. I was fortunate when I first started in private practice, a local group who had been together for 25 or 30 years was for the first time ever looking for a new psychologist to join their group. So this was a group of folks who were 65 some close to 70 at the time. The first member of their original group retired, and so they had an opening. Through a friend of a friend, I got connected with them, did a couple meet and greets/interview, it wasn’t that [00:04:00] formal, but a couple of meet and greets just to see if we’d be a good fit. I was fortunate enough to get into that group of elder psychologists who had been together for so long.
Now, the interesting thing is that they weren’t a group in the legal or financial sense, but it was a group in what I would call the truest sense, which was they were intimately connected to one another. They knew one another’s families. They knew one another’s kids. They hung out outside of work. They genuinely liked each other. And most importantly to me in this podcast, they met annually for a retreat every year for about 25 years.
I got inducted so to speak into this group of psychologists and they graciously invited me to join their retreats right off the bat. So they would spend the morning time going around the circle, sharing [00:05:00] about their personal lives, their kids, their marriages, and just generally doing a deep dive into their wellbeing, and just where they’re at in life at that point. Then we would all walk somewhere close by for lunch together. And then we came back in the afternoon to shift gears into business planning and practice development or logistics for the group.
Now, after growing up in a family that didn’t talk about anything and took the less-is-more approach to intimacy, I don’t even know if that’s a thing, this was pretty revelatory. I got to see successful older adult psychologists, both men and women model friendship and business partnership in what I still consider to be the healthiest way I’ve ever seen.
It was super uncomfortable for me given my age at that point; I was 30 [00:06:00] and they were all 65- 70 years, my relative outsider status to them; I was new to the group, and just generally being an introverted person who doesn’t talk a whole lot about my feelings unless pushed, it was uncomfortable but it was life-changing as far as business management and how to navigate professional relationships in a personal, intimate way.
So when I branched off on my own, I took this model to our practice as well. Initially, we retained the same model. Everyone would gather at my home. So this was first in my living room. We had three of us on my couch that’s sectional. And then we moved eventually to our back patio where there was a little more space and we would spend the morning in a circle sharing as much about our personal lives as we were comfortable sharing. Lunch was typically [00:07:00] catered. Then we would spend the afternoon in business development.
This model worked well up to about 10 or 12 employees. After that, we had 1 or 2 years where we tried the same model, but the personal circle in the morning started to feel like a lot for most people. We are connecting and sharing, but people somewhat jokingly/not jokingly started calling it the trauma dump and crying time and things like that.
I started to get the message that maybe this was not the right way to do things. People were talking about emotional hangovers and vulnerability hangovers and that sort of thing. So that was a signal to change things up just a bit. Which brings us to where we’re at right now.
Over the past [00:08:00] two years, we’ve rented a local event space in our downtown area for our annual retreat. We do it in late September or early October when folks can still hang out outside and get some sunshine throughout the day during breaks. We do a happy hour afterward so we can sit outside if we want. This particular space is gorgeous. It’s got wood floors, big windows, high ceilings. It is on the second floor of a popular local restaurant so they end up doing the catering for lunch. So it’s a great venue.
As far as the format, let’s talk about the format. We keep a similar format to the historical one, but we’ve tweaked it a bit to meet our growing practice. So this is where we’re at right now.
Basics. We start at 9 a.m, we end at 3 p.m, and we have lunch at noon. It is typically on a weekday for us. It’s Wednesday because [00:09:00] that’s a day that we have a lot of meetings. That’s our staff meeting, our consult meetings, things like that. So most people don’t have to reschedule a lot of clients. That’s more convenient. People do get paid of course for attending the retreat but they do not get paid for the happy hour afterward. That is optional.
At this point in the morning, let me back up actually. We abandoned the whole group model for the entire day and instead, we split people up into tables of 5 or 6. We spend the mornings doing personal connections at each table, which turns out to be much less intimidating than sharing all of your personal info in a circle of 40 people.
For the past two years, I’ve used a tool called change cards. I’ve mentioned them on the podcast before and we’ll link to them in the show notes, but I’ve used change cards to facilitate the discussion. Change cards is [00:10:00] a deck of 50 circular cards. It has questions like when was the last time you felt courageous, or describe an idea that changed your life, or what’s a new routine you’d like to develop? Things like that.
So these are questions that allow for varying levels of depth and at the same time, let people titrate their sharing however they would like. You can go deep if you want to, you can not go deep if you want to, but the questions are set up so that you’re going to be sharing something meaningful no matter how much you choose to share.
Now, after the small group sharing, that typically takes about an hour, maybe an hour and a half. This past year, we did a big group activity that was like a scavenger hunt. So there were 30 items. People had to approach others to fill in their items. So these were things like find someone with the same birthday month, or would you rather [00:11:00] play RISK for a day or Monopoly for a week? It’s a great philosophical question, by the way. Or do the chicken dance with someone. That sort of thing. Some of it was silly. Some of it was trivia about other people. Some of it was just connecting and dancing together or singing together or something like that.
It was a nice balance to the small group stuff let people mingle around, they changed up their tables, they stood up, they moved. And again, gave people an opportunity to connect a little bit deeper and learn about one another. So, of course, it broke into side conversations and people would go deeper into the questions when it was relevant.
So we break for lunch at noon. It’s totally unstructured. People can move tables, go outside, or whatever. Like I said, it’s catered. It’s like a buffet thing. So people just move through and get their food and sit down.
In the afternoon, from about 1:00 to 3:00 pm, [00:12:00] we move on to business development. To kick this section off, I do a state of the practice address, so to speak. I talk about our vision and our goals for the next year and three years as per the EOS guidelines. I go over our core focus and our niche and I talk through our values again.
When I talked through our values, we took a fair amount of time and did a big round of value shoutouts. We went through each of the values and just let people raise their hands and throw out examples, give kudos to people, et cetera to represent our practice values. This is super important for us. I think I’ve mentioned and talked about our values on the podcast quite a bit. This is just another way that we’re drilling down on values and or doubling down maybe and making sure that values are [00:13:00] interwoven in everything that we do in our practice.
So we did a big round of value shout-outs. I’m writing them down on the whiteboard. I’m giving people props as much as possible. It’s a cool thing. This was also a time during the state of the practice when people would ask questions about the practice direction, our future plans, hiring, revenue, numbers, and stuff like that.
I’m pretty transparent with all this information, but you can take whatever approach you would like. But for us, this is a time when people can ask those questions in a big group and we can talk through some of the material that can mostly live on the leadership team during other parts of the year, but we opened it up a bit.
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All right, let’s get back to the podcast.
Now, after that, we assign each table an area of our practice to focus on. So one table might have admin, one might have billing, one might have testing, counseling, training, groups, each area or department in our practice. And then they get 15 minutes to brainstorm all the things that are working well. They write those down on a big sticky notepad—one of those 2 by 3-foot sticky notepads. And then they get 15 more minutes to [00:15:00] brainstorm all the things that could change or improve in that area. Again, they write all this down in two columns or top section, bottom section, write all of it down. Then we go around and we have folks present their ideas to the group, both sides, what’s working well and what’s not working well.
Now, as someone who wants everyone to like me all the time and has had to work on building my tolerance for anything that even resembles not totally liking me all the time, this can be tough. People are pretty honest with what’s not working and I’m grateful for that. I had to do a little development over the years to be more okay with that, but at this point, people feel comfortable saying whatever they want.
Again, I am paying attention to what people are saying; any ideas or positive things or ideas for improvement that gather a lot of attention or snaps or [00:16:00] applause or whatever, it gets written down and recorded and then put into action we translate it back over to the appropriate department’s meeting agenda for future discussion after we get back to real life in the practice. So just gauge what people have a lot of energy around and make sure to keep track of that.
And then we wrap up. Typically, we do a little raffle to give away some small gifts and do any housekeeping that we might need to do before we wrap up. Then we end around 3:00 pm. And we have always done an optional happy hour afterward for anyone who wants to stick around and decompress.
So that’s our structure. It has worked well. Like I said, we’ve tweaked it over the years, but that’s where we’re at currently.
A few notes and things that I’ve learned over the years as we have done these retreats:
The first thing is that people really [00:17:00] enjoy the time to connect with one another. They just need some prompting to go deeper than day-to-day conversation. They just need permission. I will never get rid of that morning personal connection part because it seems to be very valuable for folks.
The second thing is we’ve been very mindful about seating arrangements over the years, especially the past couple of years to make sure that supervisors aren’t seated with supervisees. Hopefully, no one is seated with their direct boss. We try to mix up the table so that every table has one representative from each department. So we have an admin person, a testing person, a counseling person, a leadership team member, a pre-licensed person. So we try to mix it up to give folks an opportunity to connect with others that they may not connect with on a day-to-day basis. That has also worked well.
I think that folks tend to leave [00:18:00] the retreat feeling more invested in the practice and more involved in the direction of the practice. Typically, our leadership team drives a lot of decisions, so it’s nice for everybody to be involved in what stays, goes, and gets developed.
One thing I’ve learned is that I should have transitioned to an event space much earlier. Even a small private room in a restaurant would have been easier and more convenient than my house. We did a public park during COVID. It’s just really nice to have everything taken care of by the space: the catering, the food, and everything like that. They do the setup and the cleanup. It’s really nice. It lends it a little more legitimacy to the event and it makes it feel a little more retreat-like just getting out of the office. That is one thing. I’ve never done it at the office and I never would do it at the office simply because I want people to get out of this space and have a little distance.
Another thing I’ve [00:19:00] learned is that the happy hour is crucial, even if not everyone is drinking, of course, it’s just really nice for people to decompress and connect in a less formal setting. It’s like it cements the connections that have happened throughout the day. And so, that’s always a fun part.
I’m always one of the last to leave just being the host, I suppose, but inevitably I’ll end up staying late with 2 or 3 or 4 people. It’s always a surprise, folks who I may not know as well or that may not be the “extroverted folks” in the practice. I’m not sure what that is, but there’s always a nice mix of people and not always get to know someone more than I did previously. Happy hours are great.
And then the last thing I’ve learned is just that having a retreat is really cool. It’s a unique experience. I don’t think [00:20:00] many practices do them, certainly not all practices. And those that do don’t tend to do them well. I can’t claim to be an expert in hosting a staff retreat. As you can tell this agenda is I think relatively straightforward. It’s not revolutionary by any way. But our format seems to work well and people appreciate the balance of personal and business and the opportunity to participate in both sides of things.
So if you are thinking about doing a retreat or would like to have a way to have your staff connect in a little different setting or a little different way, I am a big fan of doing a retreat. You can get in your head about it in trying to make it perfect, but ultimately it’s just great to bring people together, and like I said, give them an opportunity to connect with one another and anchor back in to the business.[00:21:00] All right, y’all. Thank you so much for tuning into this episode. Always grateful to have you here. I hope that you take away some information that you can implement in your practice and in your life. Any resources that we mentioned during the episode will be listed in the show notes, so make sure to check those out.
If you like what you hear on the podcast, I would be so grateful if you left a review on iTunes or Spotify or wherever you listen to your podcast.
And if you’re a practice owner or aspiring practice owner, I’d invite you to check out The Testing Psychologist mastermind groups. I have mastermind groups at every stage of practice development: Beginner, intermediate, and advanced. We have homework. We have accountability. We have support. We have resources. These groups are amazing. We do a lot of work and a lot of connecting. If that sounds interesting to you, you can check out the details at thetestingpsychologist.com/consulting. You can sign up for a pre-group phone [00:22:00] call and we will chat and figure out if a group could be a good fit for you. Thanks so much.
The information contained in this podcast and on The Testing Psychologist website are intended for informational and educational purposes only. Nothing in this podcast or on the website is intended to be a substitute for professional, psychological, psychiatric, or medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
Please note that no doctor-patient relationship is formed here, and similarly, no supervisory or consultative relationship is formed between the host or guests of this podcast and listeners of this podcast. If you need the qualified advice of any mental health practitioner or medical provider, please seek one in your area.[00:23:00] Similarly, if you need supervision on clinical matters, please find a supervisor with an expertise that fits your needs.