Retreat Yo'Self 2023

Savannah Linville Durham

Savannah Linville —

Savas team photo at OmniStudios

Every fall, our leadership team selects a destination for the Savas team to come together in person for our annual Retreat Yo’Self event. It’s one of our biannual gatherings to reflect on the past, the future, and above all: spend quality time together.  This year, we chose Nashville, in part to take on the inspiration of the name for our event (to “treat ourselves” to a location we haven’t yet gone to), and to pick a travel-friendly location (we had a record-high direct flights this year!).

Day #1: Welcome Wednesday

As with every retreat, the first day tends to primarily be a travel day. As a team of 27 spread across many different states (and countries), our arrival times always vary. Nevertheless, one by one, we all slowly started to check into the hotel, where our wonderful Director of People & Experience, Claudine, had left us welcome bags filled with Savas swag and other goodies for us to enjoy over the next couple of days.

Gift bags for the team in the hotel lobby

Later that evening, we headed over to an Airbnb for an intimate gathering. Why the Airbnb? Well, a few years ago, at one of our previous retreats, when our team was much smaller, we had spent one of the evenings cooking dinner together. It was so much fun that we wanted to do that again.

We broke the team into four groups: Side/Salad, Veggie, Main Dish, and Dessert, and got to work. Although the experience can only be described as the cliche ‘too many cooks in the kitchen,’ I’ve never had so much fun making a meal and catching up with those I’ve missed dearly.

Team in the kitchen
The team in the kitchen

Once we had all finished (more like devoured) our food, we congregated in the living room for Chris and Ben’s ‘Welcome Presentation.’ They highlighted our successes from Q3, announced our Impact Award Winners, explained more about what we would be doing during the retreat, AND shared the exciting news that Cody had been promoted to Client Strategist! (Congrats, Cody!)

Chris, Ben, and the rest of the team
Chris and Matias
The team in the living room of the Airbnb

Day #2: Throwback Thursday

The following day, we met in one of the Hotel’s conference rooms. Chris and Ben got up and made their opening remarks, expressing that we would spend our time together looking back at what we’ve done as an organization since we had last seen each other in person.  

During the morning sessions, we delved into presentations on two of our recent client projects. The first was about our collaboration with the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DREDF), highlighting our efforts in creating an inclusive and user-friendly website tailored to accommodate all users. I’m not able to say much about the next presentation due to our contractual obligations, BUT stay tuned because we can’t wait to share more about THE BIGGEST PRODUCT PROJECT IN SAVAS’ HISTORY!!

Drew presenting
Lemon presenting

Following a small break, our Project Management Director, Heather, shared her observations, thoughts, and ideas for operational and project process improvements moving forward. This was a great segway into the final presentation of the day, where Chris and Ben discussed our organization’s focus for the upcoming year: Collaborate.

After lunch, we met up at OmniSound Studios to participate in what I would consider one of the most entertaining team-building activities I’ve ever been a part of. We broke into two teams, each led by a professional singer/songwriter. For the next few hours, each group tapped into their combined creativity, which resulted in the production of TWO original songs!

Team 1 brainstorming
Team 2 singing

Day 3: Future Friday

On Friday (and sadly, our last day together), we once again met upstairs in the hotel’s conference room, where Ben introduced the third installment of our bi-annual hackathon: Hack to the Future Part III. Similar to the last hackathon, we would be gathering in six small groups to ideate, create, and present something to the rest of the team.  With the company’s future focus initiative of collaboration and communication both internally and with our clients, Ben wanted to use this time together to reconnect with Savas’ mission of being innovative and impactful. 

The assignment

“Come up with a potential organization and idea for an opportunity with them, and create some form of visual or technical potential for what that might look like. Then, wrap that up into a final ‘pitch’ to that organization on the concept and why working with us would be a worthwhile partnership.”

By the end, we hoped to have at least a couple of ideas we could either turn into a Labs™ effort (partnership/pro bono) or an initial (or future) project. 

The pitches

After four hours of hacking, we reconvened, eager to present our proposals. Some groups pitched the ideas they had outlined for specific organizations, while others had tailored a solution for a particular industry. For example, Group 5 (Matias, Ian, Lu, and Cody) had devised a plan to help Richmond Cycling Corps (RCC) expand its program outside of the metro Richmond area by designing and building an app for their upcoming tour. The tour includes driving a trailer/bus throughout Virginia to bring their program to underprivileged communities. Team 5’s proposed app will help RCC document the bike trail ride events for later access and provide resources for community leaders to bring this program to their area more permanently.

Group 5 presenting their proposal
A slide from group 5's proposal

In contrast, Group 3 (Dan, Simon, Niharika, and Ben) had pitched a web app idea/campaign built with mental health in mind, curated for the service industry. The idea is to prevent those who go out to eat from checking their phones so that they can be present and live in the moment. Group 3 went so far as to go out to eat and get input from their server to see how they felt about such an app. (Hint: they liked it.)

Simon, Niharika, and Dan eating lunch
Simon and Ben presenting

Once each group had finished presenting their proposals, we all returned to our rooms to get ready to enjoy our last night together. We met up at the quite crowded (thanks, Jonas Brothers!) Assembly Food Hall for Dinner and then walked over to the biggest arcade bar I’ve ever been to: Pins Mechanical Company. And because we weren’t ready to part ways just yet, we finished off the evening singing our hearts (and voices) out at the Cross-Eyed Critters Karaoke Bar.

Heather, Lu, and Savannah singing
The team playing giant beer pong
Jayson, Drew, and Siro

It’s not goodbye, it’s see you later

Each time I have the privilege to hang out with the team in person, it honestly never feels long enough. I’m so incredibly fortunate to work with these talented and brilliant people. And never in a million years would I have imagined they would turn into friends. Until next time. :)

Ben, Cody, and Jayson
Lemon and Chelsea
The team in front of a Nashville sign