Remote team retreats: Magical retreating in NOLA

As we’ve discussed previously on our blog, we instituted a new tradition of team retreats in 2019. Each team took a few days to meet up and work in person during the year at a time and location of their choosing (you can read about some of our past retreats as well, such as to Portland, DC, and Phoenix. Here’s one more trip for the record books!

Team MAGIC, or “The Magicians” (as they are known within Alley), found themselves with a rare opportunity to link their in-person retreat with the American Alliance of Museums yearly conference in New Orleans. Team Magic has worked on many museum projects and a few members of the team were speaking at the conference last year. So, instead of choosing a random city somewhere in the continental United States of America, the Magicians set their sites on the birthplace of jazz.

For the first night, the team threw themselves a party with some of their colleagues from the museum sector, hiring private chef Patti Constantin to cater an evening get-together. Duck gumbo was the culinary highlight – for those of you that aren’t aware, gumbo is the official state cuisine of Louisiana.

Afterward, some of the non-tired team members hopped over to a late-night show of the Rebirth Brass band. If you ever get the chance to go to New Orleans, go to the Maple Leaf late on Tuesday night for a Rebirth show. It will be hot, shaking, thumping, and jumping. A truly unique New Orleans experience. 

Rebirth Brass Band @ The Maple Leaf Bar

The following day, the team spent the morning deep diving into their backlog, coming up with a fleshed-out plan for a new project, creating user stories together and prioritizing a few crucial spikes first. 

In the SCRUM methodology, which Alley uses, a SPIKE is a user story or task to do more research so that a user story with good acceptance criteria can be written. 

So after working on the backlog, the team turned their attention to creating a Team Working Agreement (here is an exercise for creating one). Basically, this is a promise team members make to each other. For example, part of Magic’s working agreement was to “raise red flags early” — this was a key Kaizen the team had identified over the last year and we decided as a group to raise the profile of this commitment and add it to our working agreement. 

In the afternoon, the team adventured outside New Orleans towards the bayou for a boat cruise filled with wild hogs, a cute trash-panda (aka bayou raccoon), and gators that jumped for hotdogs – a strange, strange experience.

On the way home, we picked up a few sacks of crawfish, also known as crawdads, freshwater lobsters, mountain lobsters, mudbugs, or yabbies (thanks, Wikipedia). As a first-timer experiencing this, it was mind-expanding. Something in-between shrimp and lobster, but boiled in spices that made them incredibly addictive. Our team gathered around the kitchen table and couldn’t stop till they were all gone. 

The day was topped off with another work session focused on a client project, a walk on the streets of NOLA, and a final dinner where we got to eat gator. Surprisingly yes, it does taste like fishy chicken. Yum! 

Working at Alley has always been great. Wonderful teammates, interesting projects, and the ability to create a nice work/life balance when working remotely makes it enjoyable to be at work. But having in-person remote team retreats and time with colleagues is really the icing on the cake, not just for the work we get done in-person, but for the quality of the relationships we make. In-person bonding is important for a team’s ability to be resilient, and this retreat did just that for us. Since our New Orleans trip, the Magicians have been hard at work solving many tough problems along the way, but our ability to understand each other’s personalities and how to laugh during the stressful times has made it possible for our team to perform well even when it’s hard (and even have fun 😜).