FYI Blog

Avalon Dispatch 05.07.2024

The Avalon retreat has wrapped! In this week’s dispatch, Allison Porter shares our retreat strategy, event highlights, and lots of gratitude for everyone who made this @AvalonFYI gathering a success. Read all about it here:

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Dear friends,

Today, I write to you from the glow of a successful Avalon retreat. I thought it would be nice to share details in this week’s email. I sometimes receive questions about our approach to in-person events, and I hope Avalon’s practices can benefit your organization. We’ve identified a format that works well for us, and I’m happy to share it.

For this retreat, we gathered the entire team in Annapolis for 3 days of learning and connection. Avalon employs around 70 people, and we had nearly 100% participation. Though we don’t mandate attendance, it is strongly encouraged and an opportunity I ask all managers to embrace and promote among their teams.

The vision for this event was set by COO Kerri Kerr, and it supports Avalon’s 2024 themes of collaboration and belonging. Kerri selected speakers and activities that would deepen our understanding of these concepts, while also leaving downtime for rest and open time for spontaneous connection. It was a balanced strategy and beautifully executed. Thank you, Kerri!

On Tuesday, Jenny Phillips of JLP Strategy led our opening session. She designed an engaging training that incorporated personal reflection, conversation, and all-staff sharing—complete with fun music and a big game of rock, paper, scissors. Through these activities, we learned how our individuality provides a foundation for authentic, meaningful connection with colleagues. And we learned how our connections supercharge Avalon’s mission. By the end of the session, the walls were papered with colorful post-it notes that told a rich and inclusive story of our team:

An array of post-its on a white wall door with different things written on them.

On Wednesday, Beth Ridley of Ridley Consulting Group led us in trainings on belonging at work. I love her perspective that DEI is a continual conversation across all aspects of our company. Beth taught us to strive for 4 C’s in our DEI efforts: Comfort (psychological safety), Connection to the work and one another, valuing the Contributions of all, and Commitment to ongoing work. In addition, she outlined a spectrum of belonging that ranges from tolerance to proactive inclusivity. To support the latter, she recommends self-awareness, curiosity, and listening to understand, especially when we don’t agree. This was a great day of learning that will enhance our culture moving forward.

On Thursday, our own David Wolkin, senior director of copywriting, led the closing session. He seated us in two concentric circles, facing one another for multiple rounds of conversation. Our first prompt was, “It’s April 2025, and it’s been a great year for me at Avalon. Why?” Then, we rotated partners and asked, “It’s April 2025, and it’s been a great year for me and Avalon. Why?” Not only did this get us thinking about individual and collaborative goals, but it also put us in conversation with different colleagues. This helped us both learn about a range of goals across the company and take inspiration from one another. Very cool!

Between these events, we dedicated windows of time to small team meetings. Without exception, team leaders planned these thoughtfully and took full advantage of in-person collaboration. I was so impressed to see their agendas and to hear about each team’s fresh creativity and engagement.

And we had a ton of fun! We shared all-staff meals, including a lively opening lunch and a fun night of dinner and yard games at my house. On Tuesday, there was an optional tour of the U.S. Naval Academy. On Wednesday, we gathered on a dockside patio to watch the Annapolis Yacht Club’s weekly sailing race. And all week, it was a delight to see pairs and small groups walking around Annapolis, meeting for unscheduled meals, and just hanging out.

At every stage, retreat logistics are no small feat. I’m so grateful to Avalon’s marketing and operations manager Mollie Bensen for organizing everything within our budget. Thank you also to Ken’s Creative Kitchen, who catered dinner at my house, to our photographer, Lisa Banting Photography, to Historic Annapolis for meeting space, to our staff volunteers, and to everyone at the Annapolis Waterfront Hotel. Last but not least, thank you to Avalon spouses and families for supporting us from home, so everyone could make the trip!

I can’t overstate the goodwill that came from this gathering—or how strongly I feel our retreats benefit both Avalon and our clients. I hope this recap inspires ideas and supports similar planning for your organization. And I look forward to the next time we will all gather as an industry. Will I see you at Bridge this summer?!

Take care,
Allison signature gray

Allison Porter headshot

Allison Porter, President
Avalon Consulting Group