“I had no idea you played the trumpet!” Etonam Sowu, Integrate Health’s Director of Monitoring, Evaluation, and Quality Improvement, was met with applause and big smiles in every zoom box as he concluded his trumpet solo. No, we hadn’t changed our work from primary health delivery to performing arts. But we had felt the need to liven up our first virtual Senior Leadership Retreat to help our team deliver on our healthcare approach.
Grounded by the pandemic and separated by an ocean, our Senior Leadership team needed to reconnect. Adapting some of the suggestions in Mulago’s piece on stellar digital convenings, we brought together our Senior Leadership team from across the US and Togo for six hours of intense discussion split over two days. Our goals – strengthen collaboration, learn new leadership strategies, and get aligned on how to implement our newly adopted strategic plan. We equally wanted, and needed, to create a space for team members to relax and have fun.
We worked hard to build connection and combat Zoom fatigue, and it seemed to work. Here’s how we did it:
- Set a clear agenda that balanced personal and professional connection: We adopted the “Know, Do, Feel” framework and thought hard about what we wanted participants to know, what we wanted them to do, and how we wanted them to feel.
- Built in active participation before and during the session: Ahead of the retreat, we sent a survey to the participants to get input and, importantly, asked for a YouTube link to their favorite song to create a playlist for breaks. We also asked everyone to prepare a 5-minute lightning talk on a non-work-related topic — hence the trumpet lesson. Not only did this ensure mass participation, it helped to bring in the personal connection and livened up the retreat.
- Took breaks to sustain momentum: The lightning talks were one way to take a break and kick up the fun factor — music and dancing galore! We also kicked off the retreat with a 10-minute meditation, began each day with an icebreaker, used breakout rooms for more intimate discussions, took notes in Padlet, and had a photo slideshow alongside the YouTube playlist for breaks.
Afterwards, we sent a post-retreat survey. It seemed we struck the right balance between important strategic conversations and laughter. The most consistent response we received was to make the retreat longer to allow more time for discussion, and participants voted to continue to do the virtual retreats on a quarterly basis.
If you’re feeling disconnected, we highly encourage you to explore a virtual convening. We would be happy to share more resources and please share any other stuff that has been helpful to you in the comments below.