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What I Learned at My Team Retreat ​

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​My department just wrapped up a team retreat. Our company's fiscal year end was April 30, so the objective of this retreat was to reflect on the year that just ended and also identify key strategies for the upcoming year. As much as I enjoy coming together and reconnecting as a team, I'll be the first to admit that the timing of the retreat wasn't great for me. During the last few weeks at work, I've been completely slammed, on the road, and also working long hours. With that in mind, I wasn't too excited at the thought of taking a day away from checking items off of my to-do list.

However, as I reflect back on the retreat, it was actually a very positive experience. There was much value gained from coming together as a team, particularly in getting to reconnect with team members from some of our remote offices, as well as those in my own office who have been just as busy as me.  

To set the backdrop, over the last year, my department planned for and experienced significant growth. It was a very exciting time for us, but also a very challenging time in terms of just how hectic our schedules were. Considering this, we often were so focused on completing the immediate task in front of us that we didn't always have the time that we would have liked to look ahead strategically. Further, we didn't always take the time day to day to absorb and celebrate all that we were accomplishing. As such, the retreat was a great opportunity for us to come together and reflect on all of our positive achievements, discuss some of the challenges that we faced during the prior year, identify action items to address those challenges going forward, and chat candidly about lessons learned.

One of the biggest takeaways from the retreat was mapping out what we wanted to accomplish during the upcoming year. As part of this mapping, we considered changes that had taken place during the prior year as well as anticipated changes for the upcoming year. We also considered risks to achieving our goals and what we could do to anticipate for and minimize the impact of those risks. Talking through these items as a team provided perspective that we would not have had otherwise. In addition, group brainstorming resulted in synergies that we would not have gained had we each been thinking through these items individually.

Speaking of teamwork, the collaborative aspect of the retreat also was very beneficial. Sometimes it is easy to focus on our own roles and objectives; however, we achieve our collective goals as a team. Focusing on how we work together as a team was a great reminder of how important our co-workers are to our success.

Another positive impact of coming together as a team is that it gave us all the drive we needed to push through some of the potentially tough days ahead. Work often is challenging and stressful, but I believe work also should be fun. The retreat allowed us to ensure everyone has a shared objective and is moving forward on the same path, providing great momentum to us as we go forward. Also, the retreat aided in ensuring that everyone felt a sense of camaraderie and trust; both of which are significant in helping us get through the exciting, but also challenging and stressful, situations that we may face in the days to come.

It is easy to continue business as usual, but sometimes you have to step back, think about what you've accomplished, and consider the big picture, which is what the retreat allowed us to do. The world is changing around us, which means that risks also are evolving. From an internal audit perspective, if we don't step back with our teams to collectively and strategically evaluate these changing risks and how they impact our organizations and the ways that we perform our audits, we are in jeopardy of becoming irrelevant. 

With this in mind, whether it be through a management retreat, a team meeting, or some other mechanism, I strongly encourage you to reflect on the last time your internal audit team came together to strategically plan out the future so that you can be best positioned to provide value-added internal audit services. And if your team has a retreat or other strategy session coming up, I encourage you to do your prep work, go into the session excited, and play an active role in the discussions that will shape the next phase of internal audit at your organization. I believe more can be accomplished with a positive attitude than with a negative attitude.

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