Last week, 60 Burning Man staffers got together for our annual Staff Retreat, an intensive 4-day offsite gathering wherein we examine the state of Burning Man (the event itself, our organization, and the worldwide growth of our culture). We examine where we stand, where we want to be, and how to get there.
This has been an annual tradition since 1999, when the meeting consisted of a small handful of folks. And while it has taken different shapes and forms over the years, this time is used to look at the challenges we’re facing, the successes we’ve achieved, and the goals we want to shoot for. We also bring in experts to help us develop the skills we need to succeed as an organization. And let me tell you, the work is practically non-stop. The group hardly ‘retreats’ from Burning Man; in reality we collectively dive even deeper into the work we do and the roles we play.
This year there were extensive discussions around growth … what challenges come along with the growth of both the Burning Man community and the Burning Man organization, and how can we manage them? What kind of pressures are the various Burning Man departments facing as a result of this growth? How can we work better collectively to address them? What leadership skills can we bring to the table to ensure that we deal with them effectively?
The group engaged in activities to help us deliver quality feedback to our co-workers, skill-building sessions to help us make better decisions, and opportunities to evaluate how we’re measuring up against our 5-year goals (and 3-year goals, and 1-year goals). We read feedback emails from participants about this year’s event in Black Rock City and discussed strategies for making improvements.
These discussions are always rewarding, but the best work is arguably done in the evening hours after long, full days of work sessions. That’s when we’re able to connect with our fellow staffers, learn more about each other and what makes us tick, and build the bonds that allow us to work so well together … the connections which make us as much a family as we are a business.
Of course, being the Burners that we are, the evenings were peppered with impromptu bonfires, musical performances, storytelling sessions, irreverent card games, crafting, Tarot-reading, hikes, hot-tubbing, poker lessons, and just taking some precious time to enjoy each other’s company.
As intensive as each day was, the passion, dedication and brilliance that each attendee brings to the conversation is truly inspiring, and bodes well for Burning Man’s future. 2012 has been a challenging year to say the least, but the quality thinking shown at this retreat proved that we’ll be able to handle anything the future throws at us.