The annual company retreat. For some it’s a foreign concept. For others, a dreaded few days of forced bonding over free-flowing drinks, upscale bowling, and a plethora of HR “orange flags.” Prior to BAM, the latter was always my experience. Call me easily influenced, but I’ve been converted. I’m here to tell you: Work retreats don’t have to suck. In fact, work retreats can even be nothing short of … magical.
In December 2021, BAM flew 40-plus team members from 13 different states out to Sedona, Ariz. for four days of connection. Arguably one of the most beautiful places on Earth, folks from around the world travel to Sedona to chase the vortex emerging from its red rocks. What is a vortex, you ask? Well, that’s a story for another time.
Here’s what we did over the course of our magical, four-day “work” retreat:
Day 1: BAMfs were welcomed to the main retreat house, a beautiful home facing those famous red rocks. Hired by BAM, the lovely Chef V, known for her colorful and creative culinary experiences, welcomed us with coconut beet soup, braised spiced fish, and forbidden pudding. The delicious meals continued in courses throughout our visit. The first day allowed us to be together after two years of separation because of the pandemic, some of us meeting in-person for the very first time.
Day 2: We embarked on a short hike with those stunning views (seriously, “views” is an understatement) alongside In-Q, an awe-inspiring and award-winning poet, author, and speaker. In-Q led a poetry workshop with powerful words before it was our turn to share our stories. The secret, he shared, is there are no rules in poetry — we just had to tap into ourselves. A brave Brenda (no really, her name is Brenda Manea and she was brave as f*** ) took in a few deep breaths before sharing her poem about self-doubt that transformed into self-love. What followed next was a pouring release of emotions from Brenda and the rest of the BAM team. There was beauty in the vulnerability and the rawness of it all. We felt pain, fear, surprise, hope, and joy. Most importantly, we felt seen. Other team members followed, and the momentum never dwindled.
Day 3: BAMfs were served with another hike, this time it was physically challenging. Snow glistened on the surface of the trail, daring us to take a wrong step. As expected, the views never once failed us. The outcome? The feeling that the challenge was worth it, after all. Back at the main house, we signed up for a coaching session with the wonderful Jeff Jacobson, known for his immersive, all-in personal growth work. Alongside Jill Veglahn, our head of people, and Austin Carter, our director of partnerships, we learned that the power for transformation exists within us all. With a nudge from a stellar coach, if we’re willing to do the work, there’s a safe space for breaking through limiting-beliefs. Just as important? We learned the importance of really listening to each other and the building blocks of teamwork.We ended the night with our hearts and bellies full, and a magic show from the uber-talented Nicole Cardoza, who is an advocate for reclaiming our voices through her #blackgirlmagic.
Day 4: We practiced our power poses in front of the camera for new headshots, where the energy was unmatched. That excitement would carry into our BAMMY awards hosted by the legendary VivvyAnne, known for her lively drag queen performances. We knew our time was wrapping up, but something had happened in our days here. Was it the EOY business results? (Hint: We crushed it). Was it the brilliance of our guests? The poetry, the coaching, the art? Maybe it was the start/stop/keep list BAM built as a team. (For context: Every year, we build lists on what we’d like to start doing, stop doing, and keep doing at BAM). Was it the food, the house, the adventure of it all … was it us? Masked by rocks, but present within all of us, we found the vortex.
Living through a pandemic has presented a new world with a new normal of sorts. There’s the isolation, the worry, the uncertainty of it all. What we lost was a sense of connectedness. Reclaiming that connection should be the goal of any company retreat — the magic of true bonding, the break-throughs and the shared experiences. Building this connection allows us to create self-awareness, team-building, and the ability to hit the “refresh” button. Maybe it was the terrible cell reception in Sedona that gave us the nudge to be present; but if your work retreat loses the forced drinking and the ego dancing to instead focus on the human connection, you too might find yourself counting down the days until your next work get-together.
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