This October, the Editing department, along with three Community Liaisons, and two members of TPG (Team Practices Group) to facilitate, got together face-to-face in Seattle, WA. We spent 4 days together, gathering at the SAM (the Seattle Art Museum) earlier in the week and SPL (the Seattle Public Library) at the end. Our objectives for the meeting were to build relationships within the department, build consensus on how to approach department-wide challenges, and achieve alignment on the strategic direction of the department.
One of the key takeaways was the high value of periodic face-to-face interaction. Especially for newer members of the department, getting to know their peers and the work they do was identified as especially helpful for quickly building valuable relationships. Another benefit was support for a strategy for next fiscal year that will focus our resources in two parts, with a portion on users we’re already serving well, and another portion on those we are not.
The agenda was designed to balance structured and unstructured time. I was especially impressed with the way our facilitators dynamically adapted each exercise based on real-time feedback as well as how well everyone did at be present and listening closely to each other. On Thursday, a portion of the group optionally visited EMP (the Experience Music Project) museum while others chose to continue hacking.
During structured time, we put away our laptops as the facilitators led us through discussions and activities. We used a variety of formats, with the common thread being our aim to listen to a diverse set of viewpoints. It became clear early-on that the face-to-face format was especially useful for brainstorming and divergent thinking, and that following up on-wiki with discussion of the topics covered was the preferred way to converge on specific solutions.
Some of the topics that we covered during structured discussions included: how to make room for new work, how to define our audiences, how to bring out products to mobile devices, and what’s the next step for the future of on-wiki communication. We also had an unconference where additional topics were discussed in smaller groups, and a demo session where people were able to share their recent work and get feedback from their peers.
In our retrospective at the end of the last day, we collected a lot of excellent feedback about what went well and what to do differently next time. Many people expressed feeling like they were truly part of the department for the first time. There was also much discussion about how to manage the various polarities inherent in an event like this: the ratio of structured and unstructured time, of working and social time, the start and end times, etc. A post-event survey was also sent out to capture additional feedback that may have been difficult to share in a face-to-face setting. A retrospective with travel and admin was held as well, where they were able to provide valuable advice on how to make future offsites easier to plan and execute. A final content retrospective will be held later this month, and the organizing group will continue completing action items from all of these meetings.