I am currently bathed in light though my eyes are staring into blackness.
It is 8 a.m. on a Wednesday workday, I am sitting relaxedly, eyes lightly closed, focusing on my breath to refresh my physical and mental being before the start of a new corporate retreat day.
Around me distributed in an egg-shaped pattern of chairs are 34 other work associates each sitting relaxed – some with shoes off – and meditating like me. Additionally, a four-year old sits on the floor in the center of the ellipse of chairs, surrounded by huge coloring book pages and is coloring, staying in the lines, concentrating effortlessly, quite oblivious to the team. A man with elegantly smooth shaved head is leading the meditation, calmly speaking: “And focus just on your breath. Letting everything go. Your shoulders relax, you are effortlessly sitting like a fine string is pulling up your body…”
I am just one in this gathered tribe of high-powered, hardcore, fanatical, committed, and mind-bendingly knowledgeable, profoundly experienced Drupal coders who hellishly program, calmly breathe, intrepidly site build, mindfully meditate, take no prisoners, take time to be grateful, ruthless competitors who start all tasks with love, empathy and concern. All of us work for CivicActions and the man leading the meditation is Co-Founder & Chief Experience Officer, Aaron Pava.
This is the graceful beginning of the CivicActions seventh annual corporate retreat being held in the early days of September in a cool renovated historical warehouse complex turned hotel on the edge of the Garden District in eclectic New Orleans.
The company, the team, is starting on its 2X and Lab initiatives during the retreat and it is intended to focus the company on a common set of objectives with shared goals. This effort is in a way possibly not wholly necessary as CivicActions is an Agile company comprised of Agile teams of agile individualists that works daily in such a finely choreographed web of quality communications with constant, effortless incremental reporting and updates that it is a good bet everyone of us knows exactly where we stand, what we stand for and where we are headed. But, the extra time together as a team, if nothing else, strengthens human connections and makes time for other invaluable life instruction intended to be beneficial to each individual on the team, strengthening each one, strengthening the company, and then delivering that strength into our projects that empower the clients.
Co-helming CivicActions with Aaron is Henry Poole, Co-Founder & CEO, and he speaks next after the meditation. Henry is charismatic and deep and in his talk champions visions at all times that are much larger than even the most out-sized business objectives that could be put into a five-year plan. Henry lays out that CivicActions has no smaller goals than to change how the United States government works and further change and improve the lives of people everywhere on the planet for the better. All this accomplished through the sublime usage of open source technologies like Drupal and in all ways fostering open data and informational transparency that will ultimately allow everyone in the world to better their health, education, agriculture, and, well, anything that better use of data can transform and enhance.
So the elemental point of the CivicActions retreat is actually a big concept thing – a fostering of the bridging of the gap between humanity and technology, people and business, individuals and governments. And that is a good thing. The bigness of the concept. Because everyone here – starting with the inspiring Aaron Pava and Henry Poole – every team member shares this same concept goal. We all want to change the world for the better. The CivicActions retreat helped all of us vividly and more fully realize that this ambitious shared goal invisibly unites us even as we work daily as a fully-distributed team most commonly in touch via video conference calls.
CivicActions retreat highlights included significant discussions on topics such as: reviewing the Agile Manifesto and how to further enhance the CivicActions execution of Agile on all our projects, detailed discussion of the U.S. Digital Services Playbook, 18F Open Source Style Guide, a case study of an upcoming website for FCC, and a team input session for an upcoming corporate branding effort. Overall the CivicActions retreat was enlivened with team building happenings and events: individual introductions, motivational speaker (Tony Cooper, CEO, Market Force), partner speakers (including: GovReady, Tomorrow Partners), company dinners (vegans respected), breakout group explorations, knowledge transfers, team brainstorming, creativity inspiring games, some bar crawls, and even an amazing after hours impromptu concert.
Though after all that, what it is you really need to know about the CivicActions retreat and is in my mind’s eye and in my heart is more intangible, it’s about meeting and communing with the fine, altruistic, supremely technical committed people and the defining of what we all stand for as CivicActions that made the retreat. And made it meaningful.
In summary the 2015 CivicActions retreat showcased the people, the heart and the spirit of a fiercely innovative technology company that intends to change for the better the U.S. government and all of the people of the world we can touch.