July 21, 2015

How to run a mindful Staff Retreat.

I can’t believe our elephant journal staff retreat is already over! This week flew by. We had such a good time getting to know each other, learning valuable dharma lessons from some of the best Buddhist mentors around, celebrating Waylon’s 41st birthday, eating yummy local organic food and strengthening our elephant bond. The residue of this retreat will no doubt strengthen our team for many months to come. We all agreed that elephant isn’t just a job, it’s a lifestyle, and we’re all psyched to be a part of its ecology. May we be of benefit and have a fun time doing so! Thanks to everyone who made this week possible: @adventure_lodge @oskarblues @emmapies_kitchen @daspretzels @hapasushi @boulderbooks @waylonlewis @elephantjournal #FrankBerliner #DavidSanford #DanHessey and many more! #elephantboulder #elephantbirthdayweek #boulderadventure

A photo posted by Waylon Lewis & Friends (@walkthetalkshow) on


How to get 20 people together for a week without wanting to kill one another…

…we all think we want Peace on Earth. But often we can’t even do the dishes, date, or make it through a staff retreat without getting irritated.

We just ran our first staff retreat ever. No…that’s not right. We’ve held staff retreats before. Some of them go well. Some of them…nearly result in Elephant imploding, with ripples for months. But that’s okay: we have to learn from our mistakes.

So: we just did our first staff retreat ever where we got lots done and didn’t want to cry or kill each other or collapse in burnout by the end of the week.

How did we achieve this victory over the forces of Lord of the Flies?

Here’s a few lessons.

Instead of me doing everything right and then burning out and yelling at everyone for not caring as much as I do…
I delegated scheduling and coordinating authority. I let go of my responsibilities to two folks I trust, but still kept in touch with them.

“Touch and go” is something I was taught in the Buddhist tradition I grew up in, and have adapted to our (hopefully) mindful work environment.

We have a few helpful mindfulness slogans here at elephant:

1. Maintain a sense of humor & a healthy disrespect for the rules laid down around you.
2. Touch in as employee, communicate—then go out & do as an independent-minded entrepreneur.
3. Drive all blames into one instead of pushing blame around—but don’t flagellate yourself, either.
4. Begin and end everything with a bow that reminds us of mutual respect and mission: to be of benefit to all sentient beings, not just the bottom line.

I also invited in three fun, deeply caring Buddhist mentors of mine: Dan Hessey (a senior teacher in Shambhala Buddhism), Frank Berliner (a 13-year columnist with elephant and my meditation instructor for many years) and David Sanford (a business coach). All three have known me, and my mom, since I was a little boy. I chose them however, because all three are inspired by newbies, by non-Buddhists: they are as accessible as they are deeply rooted (a rare combo) in the teachings of Buddhism.

  • You can check out their mindful business teachings from our week here and here (the videos are unedited…so enjoy!)

We also took care to make our Retreat Week schedule as full of nothing as it was full of things. So while we had meetings, trainings, seminars…we also had hikes, meals, work sessions with no agenda, outdoor movie night and nights off. The magic of humans actually connecting happens in the transitions, not just in the planned activities. Folks need down-time, even if they’re still working—not just social activities. On the other hand, folks need social activities and exercise, not just meetings and work.

So: if you want to get a group of people together to learn and accomplish something, fill the schedule with a little nothing (exercise and unplanned activities and nights off). Communicate in order to delegate. Bring in mentors. Be willing to let go of one’s schedule. Listen as much and as fully as you talk. And begin and end things properly, fully. Don’t be afraid to lead or make things formal—with a sense of humor.

These mindfulness tips are as useful on a camping trip, or Thanksgiving with the in-laws, as they are for a staff retreat. May they be of some benefit!

Yours in the Vision of an Enlightened Society,

Waylon Lewis
Editor-in-Chief: elephant journal; host: Walk the Talk Show

Readership: 23 million readers a month!
Follow: @waylonlewis on instagram.
elephantjournal.com, Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis

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