The Virtual CPA Success Show: Episode 42
We are recording live from Las Vegas at the CFO Retreat with Summit CPA staff Jody Grunden, Adam Hale, Zach Montroy, and Lillian Hocevar. In this episode we will deep dive about the importance of team retreats, costs and benefits, and why you should start organizing team retreats for your company as well.
Jamie Nau: Hello, and welcome from Las Vegas. We are doing our first live podcast today. So we have the whole team here, and we are talking about retreats again. So excited to have the group here. And I'm going to start off the podcast some bad news. So, the bad news is. This might be Jody's last podcast If he keeps winning like he did last night and while we are here. He might be retiring from Summit So I'm sure he's welcome to return eventually. I know we just did our last podcast where we talked about our director retreat. So, this is a different retreat. We're now here in Vegas with our CFO’s. So, a smaller group of team members or larger group of team members, but different topics, different stuff on the agenda. So, I'm going to start with Adam to kind of talk about the difference between the director retreat and the CFO retreat and why we're doing two different retreats are.
Adam Hale: Yeah, the biggest thing is that they're all people centric. So, we're just trying to get to know the team and do those kinds of things. So, I think that's no matter which retreat we're doing, that's one of the main things. But the directors retreat was more kind of we were dealing with high level strategy for the firm for probably. What the next two to 3 years getting a little bit more long-term, not focusing on anything super tactical over the next 12 months. And then, of course, is having a really good time. We brought the families out, so we could you get to know everybody well. So, it was more that one's, probably even more people focus, I would say. And then the directors now we're going to be talking about how we execute the next 12 months is really kind of focus.
Jamie Nau: That's the CFO, now that we're in the CFO group, we're going to talk about 12 months direct strategy and a lot of it to be back of what we did as the director of retreat allows them to commit at the director of the retreat are going to be talked about for the first time here. I think that the cool thing about this retreat. I'm going to go forward to you Zach is we're going to a lot of the people at this retreat there are a lot, but maybe two or 3 are just starting this week.
Zach Montroy: Yeah, for a couple of people their first day is today, so they will meet the team for the first time at our cocktail hour, which will be really cool and obviously just our main reason why we do things so that we can get to know each other on a personal level outside of being on Zoom all day long. I got people who have been a firm for a number of years and people who are just starting today. And this is a really good time, obviously, to catch up. We're coming up of the year. I'm not seeing many people in person, so I think this is going to be a great experience for the entire team, especially or new people. I think it is a great experience to them to start their Summit days with the team.
Jamie Nau: So, Jody, can you give me an example of a time you met a person for the first time. What it's like even working with someone for even a year and how you feel meeting that person the first time
Jody Grunden: I can kind of relate back to when I worked in the corporate world where we just met on the telephone, and you just talk to somebody. I use this example. I talked to someone on the phone for probably two years straight. I never seen that person before. And then when I met that person the first time, it was awkward because the vision I had in my head was nothing like the vision of what the person was. Completely the opposite regarding the way that we work through Zoom and through video conferencing, you can really see facial expressions eye contact, you see the eyes. The only difference is knowing how tall that person is. For instance, I met Chris for the first time, and it was as if we've known each other, even though she's only joined for a couple of weeks, it's like we knew each other. And then there was really no difference. I could like pick her out, while she was walking up. And it felt comfortable. And I think it felt very comfortable for her, too, because she picked us out in a group just sitting there at the table, eating breakfast, and she never met us at all in person. So, I think the dynamics is very similar to being in an office because again, you're on camera the entire time. So again, camera is one of the biggest things that all of you should use for virtual firms like ourselves. And it's been I say really no difference than brick and mortar companies.
Adam Hale: I don't know, the size thing kind of throws me off a little bit. So, we joke about making a picture frame and just making people stick it over their head so we can kind of focus on the face…
All: Laughing [in audible]
Jamie Nau: Yeah, height's the one that you can't tell. Every time someone I work close with that we have on the podcast, like with Lydia. I was completely surprised she's 5'11". Not close to my expectation of her height at all. Adam and Jody that got better at it. Not me. I was way, way surprised by that. So, the next question is for you Lillian. So obviously planning for a group like this is it different than planning for the director's retreat with families coming. What's the top process behind it?
Lily Hocevar: Well, the process was, for the most part, there's quite a few people who enjoy gambling and nightlife and great food in this group. We also had some from delayed retreat from 2020 that filtered into this year and needed to do some credits and everything. So, everyone was excited to have the trip happen because it got canceled in 2020. And then as far as the process goes, it's somewhat similar, but also different. I would say when you're dealing with families and a smaller number of employees, the process can be a little bit more intimate and getting to know people very specific, whereas this is a little bit more logistical and just making that sure everyone knows where to be and when and still be creative all the same. That sometimes is a little bit more challenging in the sense of those who have been to Vegas, which is a much more popular destination than Bahamas. I was thinking what haven't they done yet? And how can we put a spin on it? Different pros and cons.
Jamie Nau: I wanted to stick with the entertainment part that's going to be the interesting part of the retreat. So, let's start with meals. So, I think one of the cool things that we do is we do group dinners. Can you talk about that? I think in my opinion, Vegas is a perfect place for that. There are so many restaurants to choose from.
Lily Hocevar: Yeah, the restaurant choices overall typically is kind of based on how much money we have allotted to the budget. So that's part of it, along with possibility, making sure we're not sending people at the other end of the strip and then breaking everyone in groups. I know it's important for Jody and Adam, when you're sitting at a long table and there's 20 people sitting there those conversations look a lot different than when you're sitting at the table with six people at your table where you can really dive in and get to know someone a lot better. So, making up those groups in that sense was important. Then just trying to get to meal preferences, but also switching the group up so you don't have the same group with each other every single time. That was the most challenging part. It's like a puzzle.
Adam Hale: One of the big things there too, just making sure you have kind of a group leader. Jody and I try to make sure that we always split up. I know since we have three, we have the three of us making sure that we're never at the table together. That way, we're not monopolizing the conversation or whatever.
Jody Grunden: It gives them the opportunity to really get to know each other a lot better, because again, the group dynamics, you're just going talking about people right next to you, the two or 3 people right next to you if you're a large group. Whereas when you're in a smaller group like this, the entire table is talking to each other. And then the fact that you're mixing, and mingling people is cool, because a lot of times, even in a virtual world, you talk to the same amount of people. You may talk to 2 or 3 people daily. This way forces you to interact with people you normally don't interact with. So, I think the key there is that force interact, which is cool.
Jamie Nau: I know every retreat I've been to, there will always be that odd couple. So, you're like, wow, who would those two would get along with? So, the next topic I want to go into is still have an entertainment realm. But let's talk about one big event in terms of going to a show. I will throw this over to you Adam.
Adam Hale: Yeah. I mean, I think that's just what it's about being fun and having a good time like at the dinners. That's probably the more important part. Don't get me wrong. There's a big emphasis on what we're doing during the day. I think it's a great time for us to really focus on what we do, but the entertainment is kind of just that cap, and that's why we do it at the end, because now everybody has broken into these smaller groups that got an opportunity to know each other and have fun and kind of see where that goes. And then whenever we put that event right on the back end of the retreat, it just seems like by that time everybody knows each other. They're having a good time. It is usually just a nice send off for everybody
Jamie Nau: So, Zach, going over to you now, do you see the same energy from company to company?
Zach Montroy: I mean, I think that you just must be intentional about it. I mean, this is a huge investment in the team, in the company. We want to make sure that that investment is doing good for the team culture moving forward. I think we see this just being a pivotal turning point. We start people on the team, and we talk about retreats from 4 or 5 years ago and so, I think, that is a great team building exercise. More than that it is the investment in the relationship with one another. I think it really helps in how we interact, how we trust one another. So, I think just being intentional about what you do is obviously very important.
Jamie Nau: Yeah, we still talk about how one of our team members showed up one day with a pair of shoes that didn’t match
All: Laughing [in audible]
Jamie Nau: So, Jody, one of the things we talk about a lot in our agendas is the difference between online media and in person video. Can you talk about that?
Jody Grunden: Yeah, in reality, there's not a huge amount of difference because a lot of what we can talk about during the week, we can online. So, there's not a huge difference in the experience. But what this allows us to do is to be in the same room and kind of brainstorm together. It's a little different dynamic than I think, quite a bit different dynamic than being on call. So, I would say there's not a huge difference there, but it does allow us to do different things exact introduce different
Adam Hale: Well, I was going to say, whenever we did the DiSC profile, I think just the physical nature of it. So, you're processing what you say we're doing, but whenever you had everybody get into different corners based on questions and stuff. I mean, it just brought a different element. If you saw our scatter chart or something silly like that, people were physically kind of moving around trying to figure out where they belonged according to DiSC. That's kind of cool.
Zach Montroy: Well, and I think too we're going to do a lot of breakouts. We're going to do a lot of teaching, but we're also going to be talking about with it. How do we supply to everyone? So, we talk about values or delegation or time management, or what effective leadership will look like. We're going to talk in the group setting, but then we're going to break off and talk in groups and then come back in. There's just a little bit of that dynamic that is much easier to do when you're in person with one another and in a room. But the right people with the right people. And sometimes there's just that dynamic in the room with one another, especially when you're talking about hard topics you don't talk about every day. That just makes that a better experience.
Jody Grunden: I think the emphasis is soft skills versus the technical skills. We try to avoid technical skills as much as possible during the retreats, or maybe limit a small portion, because this is the opportunity to touch on those soft skills that we don't get to throughout the year.
Zach Montroy: And it's interesting that you say that because we actually had a retreat where we spent a lot of time talking on technical skill. I mean, I just left the room during that time
All: Laughing [in audible]
Zach Montroy: And the feedback from the team was we need and want the soft skills training at events like this, so we can do the technical on the day to day.
Adam Hale: And let’s be real, the engagement level when you're in person is a lot better, you don't have to worry about those distractions. When we're in Zoom, I think our team is heavily engaged but not the same degree you are if you're in person.
Jamie Nau: I agree.
Jody Grunden: Yeah, going back, we just won the Great Place to Work for the second year now do you think these kinds of conferences have anything to do with that?
Jamie Nau: Oh, definitely. In my role one of the things, I've seen is the fact that we haven't even had this conference for a full year. I think it affects the morale. Everyone is looking forward to it because of the energy.
Adam Hale: I would say for somebody like myself. I'm a practical person. I know number one it is a big investment. Everything that we do, we can do on Zoom. So, then you're kind of in the back of your mind thinking, is it worth it? I think the energy that you get, I mean, it carries for solid six months. I mean, it's high energy. The other six months will get you by until you do another one. And then if you're able to bundle a few in. Again, whenever we're talking about our retreat, we have a very high level one with our directors. Then we have one with our CFOs, being able to kind of mix those up, I think really carries the morale. I saw that firsthand when we had to skip because of COVID. It was a drain on the team, and it hurt us quite a bit. I mean, all things aside, I really do think that in person is a must.
Jody Grunden: Yeah, and off that, we are thinking about introducing pods.
Adam Hale: Yeah, inside of our team structure we have pods where groups of people work closely together. It would be cool to give them an opportunity for just them to meet. Again, on a team retreat, we're trying to mix people up that don't normally talk to each other. This would be intentional. Like, no, the people that do get the work together are really getting at things that they're trying to improve upon and can be a little bit more practical. So, I think it would be good for us to make sure that we put one of those in there probably some midway point after the team retreat, so that they're all getting an opportunity to kind of carry that momentum for.
Lily Hocevar: Yeah, it sounds like that's up to them because, you know, all team and stuff, you're dealing with a lot of different interests because you're working with 50 different people. And it's I don't want to call a generic because everything I do, I try and make not generic, but you're dealing with more baseline type stuff. So that planning will be very intentional.
Jamie Nau: Yeah if you look at all the pods, I could see them going to different places.
The out for sure is different based on the personalities. I think the other part about that will be the communication to the team. Let's make sure to put that on the agenda. So, giving the ability to say, okay, we know we need to spend eight hours on this will make the planning easier.
Jody Grunden: Luckily on we are a Zach on the team helping us with that. can you talk a bit about the importance of that? Of having someone in that role
Adam Hale: If you're like me and Jody, yes, that's why we have a Zach. Someone to actually show up and really help with coordination. I think it's really important that it doesn't come from management. I think, having an outside perspective and allowing people to do these things, it just it takes away a bias that we have individually or hearing things towards us completely. So definitely really appreciate Lily's ability to just leverage different benefits and think of places that we wouldn't normally even consider and coordinate that whole thing. Work with the team. She has amazing app that tells you what you do, when you're doing it. And then having her at the event. Then with Zach, you need a facilitator. You yourself don't want to be the facilitator. I mean, you might have to do the agendas and things that you want to hit on, but coming from you, from my perspective, it doesn't really go a long way, whereas with Zach, he can facilitate it. We can also be participant as opposed to being the facilitator which I think is fun.
Jody Grunden: Jamie in your perspective, do you agree with that?
Jamie Nau: Yeah, I agree 100%. I was thinking of how there was candy and food in our rooms when we were in the Bahamas. That's something the three of us would never have thought about doing. Little things that make a big difference and have that help is instrumental on site too for when things come up.
Lily Hocevar: I'm pretty meticulous. You plan something like travel, there are things that go wrong no matter how well you plan it out. I found it so much more useful being on site and able to talk to people at reservations or different things to
Jamie Nau: So, one final thought, for companies that are not distributed, are retreats different?
Zach Montroy: Yeah. I don't know that it is necessarily different. I think stepping outside of the day to day of any company is incredibly important. The best business thinkers. I mean, the data is out there. It's really important that we're going away from our normal offices, whether that be on Zoom or brick and mortar, and we're talking about the soft skills that we need to build into. And oftentimes those conversations, they just don't happen in as healthy way or as intentional when you're just sitting in the same Zoom every single day. So, I think it gives you a unique opportunity to cover topics and issues that you just don't normally talk about. I think that is the benefit of having an outside person come in is to help you think about what are your pain points? What do you need to invest in? What do you need to be talking about? And how can you use this as an opportunity to be back?
Lily Hocevar: Can I just pull a Jody and say ditto?
All: Laughing [in audible]
Lily Hocevar: Much like Zach said, you go into an office day to day it becomes very routine. I think what always becomes interesting and you can think about it even with personal travel that you've done with your family is that when you take people out of their normal environment and put them in something different, you get to learn a lot more about people and the relationship you have with certain people. For better or worst. And that's what I think ends up making experiences outside the office. Even if it's a retreat that a two hour drive away from where your headquarters are. You're still creating a different dynamic to discover and hopefully unveil the strength within your team.
Jamie Nau: I agree. Those shared experiences together are really important. So, we're getting close on time. Any final thoughts?
Adam Hale: Yeah, I think if you look back through Summit's history and Jody I think you agree, every step we've made has been people centric. So, every milestone was met with, like a particular hire or hires through the whole thing. And that's really what a team retreat is about. The people, and getting to know them. I mean, even this podcast so much better doing it this way. So, I think it's important to invest on it. Even if you are brick and mortar. figure out how to make that happen. And like I said, I was a practical dude. Kind of cheap. But I've seen the benefit and I've seen it be a game changer. Our people are our power and so more that we can do for them it has always been good dividend.
Zach Montroy: I agree. I think it's a great investment, and I just come back to that turning point. I think every time we have one of these, it's been a big turning point in the life of our company. I'm looking forward to this and looking forward to our all team retreat later this fall, because I know that they're going to be great investments in our team.
Jamie Nau: Lily, final though?
Lily Hocevar: I mean, these are just fun. I look forward to coming to these events. I think you set a caliber of what the events are going to look like, what the meetings are going to look like. I am excited for the next one.
Jody Grunden: Yeah, these retreats are reasons to get out. I was in the corporate world. People can't wait to be involved in one. It is a cool dynamic. I think that's what can build a culture. People enjoy being around the people they work with.
Jamie Nau: Absolutely. Thanks everyone for joining today.
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