A panoramic view of the Smoky mountains

2018 Team Retreat to Gatlinburg, TN

A recap of our annual team retreat

I’ve written previously about just how important I think team retreats are for companies like ours and 2018 was no exception. I think it’s important to spend a few days together as often as possible. Our retreats are about 70% R&R/catching up and 30% working on the company. This year, we gathered in Gatlinburg, TN at the Gatlinburg Mansion, set among the peaks of the Smoky Mountains. It was strikingly beautiful:

A panoramic view of the Smoky mountains

Below is a recap of this year’s retreat – it was a good one.

Day One

Most of us arrived at the Knoxville airport by midday Thursday. We grabbed our rental cars and made for the mountains. A few of us had some time to kill so we grabbed some BBQ and watched some locals demonstrate glass blowing at the Pretentious Glass Company. It was cool as hell.

A glass blower in Knoxville, TN

As with other team retreats, we opted to prepare all of our own meals. For me, there is something really personal and special about breaking bread together, and I love that this tradition continues year after year. Dinner on our first night did not disappoint. Chefs Katie and Ryan filled our bellies with two impressive dishes: Katie prepared mussels and shrimp scampi, while Ryan made pizzas in his Uuni oven, personal dough recipe included.

Mussels chilling in a bowl
A homemade pizza by Ryan Hagerty
Ryan Hagerty with his Uuni oven
Sunset over the Smoky Mountains

We caught up, imbibed a bit more over dessert prepared by Christopher, and watched the sunset over the Smokies. A solid first day.

Day Two

We kicked off day two with our annual Chromatic State of the Union presentation where we leaders recount the year’s accomplishments and milestones and set the vision for the year ahead. We cover the nitty gritty on financials and other statistics that not everyone is privy to on a day to day basis to give everyone a transparent look into how the company is performing.

Dave Look and Mark Dorison presenting the 2018 Chromatic State of the Union
Katie High presenting at the 2018

This year, we cast a vision that embraces the change that our industry is undergoing (read: JavaScript) and set some plans in motion with that change in mind. More to come on this in a future post, but we’re working on an official R&D program to kick the tires on some emerging technologies and allow team members to push forward existing side projects, like jsonmonger.

Lunch on day two was provided by yours truly with Adam as my sous chef. I make a mean carne asada, which served as the centerpiece to this year’s Mexican lunch buffet. The lack of leftovers spoke volumes to me.

Chris Free grilling carne asada
Two steak tacos alongside a cutting board of chopped carne asada

After lunch, we tried a new exercise we learned about from Clockwork, by Mike Michalowicz called "The Queen Bee Role". In this exercise, the goal is to collectively identify what the most important job/activity is at the company; the activity that should be protected at all costs, much like the queen bee. Everyone on the team wrote down on post-it notes all of the jobs they could think of that make Chromatic tick. We then, over much teeth mashing and hearty debate, whittled the list down to a single job, the QBR. I won’t share what we decided lest our competition steal our secret sauce...but I will say that the exercise was eye-opening. Some people loved it, others not so much.

After the QBR exercise, we piled into the rentals and headed into Pigeon Forge, where we broke into two teams and tried to escape from the rooms at Trapped. It was fun as hell to work together solving puzzles and problems under stress. It’s rare for us to be doing this while in the same room. I thought it was a great time, despite getting stuck in our room.

We headed back to the house so that Larry, Clare and Kim could prep the evening’s cuisine: Momofuku's Bo Ssam, Steak, Teriyaki Chicken, and vegetarian Gimbap, Dak Bulgogi Chicken, Rice, Spring Rolls, Kimchi, and a side salad w/starfruit. The meal did something I didn’t think possible: it topped Larry’s previous retreat dinners. I’m still dreaming about the sauces (Ssamjang sauce, ginger-scallion sauce, ssam sauce) with all of that tender meat.

Momofuku's Bo Ssam, Steak, Teriyaki Chicken, and vegetarian Gimbap, Dak Bulgogi Chicken, Rice, Spring Rolls, Kimchi, and a side salad w/starfruit

That evening we started our team lightning talks over adult beverages. We gathered around the fire and began sharing. Mark taught us about the different kinds of trucks through his daughter’s favorite musical YouTube channel. Dave put his Eagle Scout skills to use by teaching us how to tie useful knots. Katie High regaled us with tales of how to make your own wine and even brought samples to try. I shared my journey with giving up caffeine and benefits therein with the help of emoji. Adam capped the night off with some tips on dealing with lumber in the workshop without cutting your finger off.

Day Three

Low clouds blanketing the Smoky Mountains

After a hearty breakfast and watching the clouds burn off over the mountains, we kicked the day off with a Start, Stop, Continue exercise. We uncovered all kinds of things that the team would like to...you guessed it, start, stop or continue. Some standouts were adding an R&D program (tentatively called Chromatic Labs), considering a 4-day work week, changing our all hands team calls and continuing our team retreats. That last one was resounding.

Adam made us a delicious squash soup for lunch, which we devoured before heading on a short hike. The scenery was beautiful and the conversations flowed while we trekked across streams and up the foothills. The mountain air was crisp and refreshing; quite perfect I must say.

Märt Matsoo, Kim Sarabia, and Clare Ming cross a stream in the Smoky Mountains.
A stream crosses the hiking trail in the Smoky Mountains
Chromatic team atop a peak in the Smokies

We made our way back to the house to relax a bit before dinner. Some folks hit the hot tub, others grabbed a nap, others (me) grabbed a beer. Dave and Alfonso prepped a dinner of butter chicken and baked root vegetables, simple but oh so good. We capped the night off with the last of the lightning talks. Christopher shared some of the odd jobs he’s had over the years and some of the crazy characters he’s met along the way. Clare talked about the origins, benefits and how to make Kombucha. She even brought SCOBYs for us to share so we could make our own! Kim introduced us to "StormPilot" and the term “shipping” while making a strong case for breaking down social norms in pop culture. Larry capped the lightning talks off with one that was over a year in the making: a data exploration of twice weekly team calls. Some of the stats were really surprising.

Before bed, we indulged in a smorgasbord of ice cream and Christopher’s homemade desserts. We even had a blind taste test to see if we could identify Ben & Jerry’s flavors.

Day Four

Our last morning we divvied up the leftover food and beer amongst those that drove down, while the rest of us finished cleaning and packing. We said our goodbyes and parted ways to head back to each of our homes across the U.S. and Europe.

Our team retreats continue to be my favorite Chromatic event of the year. I’m continually impressed the humans on this team and the respect and care they show for one another. These weekends underscore that time and time again. I’m quite proud to help run a company whose culture prioritizes transparency, teamwork and honest feedback. I can’t wait to start planning next year’s trip.

The 2018 Chromatic team from a balcony in the Smoky mountains

Related Articles