A head of school from New York City hired us to lead a retreat for twelve members of the administrative team of a school whose leadership she had just assumed. The head’s goals were to gain greater interdivisional consistency and increase execution of school wide initiatives.
As a group, we drove from the city to an inn in Connecticut for a winter weekend. A light snow began to fall as we pulled into our accommodations. After dinner, during our initial presentation to the group, the lights went out. The innkeepers stoked the fire and we continued the presentation by firelight – a good challenge for us to communicate clearly without the usual use of power points and other standard visual tools.
After the presentation, we had a conversation with the head about whether we should cancel the rest of our program and send everyone back to the city in the morning. Having run several schools in her career, she knew that it was important to take the time to build team cohesion and formulate an agenda for the year to come, so we agreed to continue as planned. We turned to classic board games and charades to pass the time. Fortuitously, switching to a more informal atmosphere led to team bonding moments that we had not anticipated. The newer members of the team were able to express themselves in ways that might not have been possible in a normal conference room, and their veteran colleagues revealed new sides of their personalities as well.
The evening had bonded the group in such unexpected, positive ways. Over the course of the next 24 hours (all without power), we built on the connections that had been made the first evening.. Creative quick thinking turned what initially looked to be a disaster into an opportunity to learn how each functional area of the team would be able to work together in the upcoming year.