My team just finished up a three-day, in-person on-site retreat. It was the first time we’ve been in the same room since March and it was life-giving.
So much has changed since we last were together. During our convening in March, we were set to move into a future that would have scaled up our team and increased the reach of our work. The anticipation that captured the imaginations of our team and key stakeholders was held in tension with the uncertainty of a new global pandemic that seemed to be getting closer and closer to North America. The question was, do we launch into the future that we’d been building or do we pause to gain an understanding of how the pandemic would reshape the world and our work.
We chose the latter and, within weeks, the future that we were so close to stepping into became obsolete.
Over these months that have required physical distance from one another, we have downsized our team, pivoted our deliverables, and responded to an increase in conflict, violence, and injustice with messaging and capacity-building programs designed to move people toward rather than away from the pain. More importantly, we’ve worked hard to deepen the soul of our team and the organization, remain present to what is shifting and deepening within us, and offer space to our teammates to tend to the urgency and transformational opportunities of the pandemic. But we haven’t had the long, lingering space to reflect with one another on what it is that has shifted and deepened within us.
To begin our time together this week, we launched paddleboards and kayaks into the Deschutes River and let the current take us where it would. I’ve paddle this particular stretch of the river dozens of times in the past, yet this time was different and not just because I had my team with me. It was different because the water level had shifted. The pace of the river had diminished and previously submerged trees and large rocks were exposed. What was once familiar had become unchartered territory ready to be explored.
As I drifted, I became aware that I was paddling a completely different river with a completely different team.
Later that evening, as we reflected with one another about what the pandemic and grown and shifted in us as leaders and as an organization we recognized that we had navigated the chaos of the pandemic as a unified team from within the uncertainty of the river rather than from the safety of the shore.
The pause that we chose during the onset of the pandemic was not a retreat to safety, but a decision to allow the pandemic to grow and change us. While the world was changing, we had the opportunity to change (personally and organizationally) as well.
We concluded that, rather than waiting on the shore as observers, we had let go and become “more open to the opportunities of the current.” (Renner & D’Souza, Not Doing, Kindle Location 1752). Navigating the whitewater of the pandemic had transformed our team to be more nimble, curious, and responsive than we’d been before. We trust each other more deeply because we held on to one another through the whitewater of change.
After acknowledging and celebrating that reality, we became liberated to spend the rest of our time together this week exploring the new opportunities that the current had revealed.