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It has been a crazy year, y’all. With three new gals in our ranks (plus three new babies!) and so much changing in our business so quickly, we were all really anxious for our third annual team retreat. With half of our team working remotely, having time together to talk shop, get gussied up for team photos, and play a round of Celebrity in our PJs could not come fast enough.

Someone recently asked us on Instagram how we plan such great team retreats. Kristin and I like to think that when we get together to plan events, our brains mesh together in the perfect chemistry under which magic just explodes everywhere :)

Our team retreat looks like it’s full of photo shoots, cupcakes, activities, and laughs — and it is! But it’s also full of big conversation, hard decisions, and a lot of baring your heart. The magic of our team retreat comes from the women around the table.

We have two priorities when we gather for our team retreat every year: to make big decisions that affect the future of our company together, and to spend time in person so that our team is stronger than any obstacle we might face.

We’re not going to sugarcoat it, y’all — this time is hard work. Sometimes tears are shed, sometimes we disagree, and sometimes we walk away from a conversation with eye-opening revelations and no answers. But these are the conversations that bring us closer and make us better in business. These are the conversations we have in order for us all to feel represented, supported, and unified. We all have a huge stake in the work we do because we believe it in, and there is no traditional hierarchy where executive decisions are made. That means there are nine of us around the table fighting to do the best work possible. To us, that’s where the magic happens.

Since we love these women so much, and since team retreats are hard work, we like to surprise everyone with fun gifts and activities!

Each gal received a monogrammed luggage tag from Dixieland Monogram in the mail with a team retreat invitation and packing list (and a retreat playlist, which I do declare is awesome).

After arriving at the Carolina Inn, everyone received a personalized Kate Spade journal for all of their retreat notes, plus a monogrammed Kate Spade water tumbler. Swoozies supplied both of these sweet items, plus surprised us with retreat snacks!

Then, we broke up our work days with a hand-lettering class with All She Wrote Notes! We are the biggest fans of Maghon’s hand lettering classes, and she is the most hilarious Southern woman you’ll meet. We had a blast learning letter forms from her, and then (in true stylist fashion) taking a bunch of pictures of all of our favorite pieces.

We wrapped up the day with a delicious dinner at the Inn’s restaurant, Crossroads. This is my favorite part of our retreats. With no agenda to stick to, and the sweet tea pouring, we tend to talk the most candidly about our jobs, our brides, and how we want to improve every bit of the experience for y’all. (If you follow swmag on SnapChat, you know this is also the time when we bust out our piano ballads.) Then, it was back to our hotel rooms for game night and more SnapChat shenanigans in our soft new Lake Pajamas :)

On the last day of our retreat, we dug even further into action steps, but not before gifting everyone a Southern pineapple print from Thimblepress and a round of Southern Weddings Office Jeopardy!

We broke up the day with BLT lunches at a favorite local spot called Merritt’s, followed by a cupcake decorating class with Randi of Sugar Euphoria. I wasn’t exactly a natural at cupcake decorating like Kristin and Amber are, but the good part is that you get to eat your mistakes and start over!

Finally, we said goodbye to our remote gals who were flying back home early the next morning, and sent everyone off with SW team tanks! Can y’all believe we’ve never had team tees? Ashley at Miller Monograms combined SW’s two favorite things (seersucker and and monograms) to make these tanks for us. Kristin says she feels like a superhero with the SW emblem on her back!

We’re excited for y’all to see the fruits of our time together — things like deciding on more storytelling, more conversation with you, more in-person time with you, and more content that will help you plan meaningful married lives.

nicoleyang Written with love by Nicole
  1. avatar Lisa Hays reply

    Sounds like a great way to do business and have some fun. I love your website and am dreaming about being mother of the bride and of the groom in the not too distant future. When that happens, I will lead those kids of mine straight to you!

  2. avatar Kyla Fetzner reply

    It looks like y’all had a wonderful time with lots of southern goodness and meaningful activities sprinkled in! :)

  3. avatar Skylar Caitlin reply

    Y’all are seriously team retreat goals!! What kind of structure for your discussion works best in creating a productive retreat?

    • avatar Nicole reply

      That’s so sweet, Skylar! We usually have a list of questions we want answered or decisions that we want to be made. Otherwise, it’s a really open conversation, with a bit of moderation to make sure we’re staying on topic and on time :)

  4. avatar Kristin reply

    This makes my heart soar! So much good + hard work (and a lot of laughs) packed into those three days!!!

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Ever since our First Annual Southern Weddings Team Retreat last August, all of the SW gals have been looking forward to our next one. Getting the entire team together is a rare occurrence with Marissa and Kristin working remotely, but the chance to spend quality time together focusing on how we can best serve our amazing readers and each other has become crucial. We love that team retreats are now a part of our office culture and we soak up every minute of strategizing, learning, and, indeed, late night slumber party heart-to-hearts.

Our three days together are invaluable, so Kristin and I spent the two months prior assembling a schedule for the team to make sure all areas of our work together would be covered. It was jam-packed full of goodness, but here are the pared down highlights:

The fun started on Sunday with all of us getting gussied up for our annual team photo shoot! We were lucky enough to have Katelyn James drive down from Richmond to shoot with us, 140 Salon on site for some Southern blow-outs, and Lula Makeup on hand to work her magic. Unlike past years, the weather was breezy and beautiful! Not a drop of sweat threatened our hair or makeup, we’re happy to report.

Working with the women at Southern Weddings is truly a privilege and Kristin and I can’t begin to explain how grateful we are to spend our days with them! We knew that this retreat was much more than just strategizing for the business portion of Southern Weddings. It was a time for us to feel pride in the South, reflect on all that we’ve accomplished as a team, and show each other love and gratitude. We worked with some amazing vendors to surprise the gals with goodies along the way, including a Dixieland Monogram clipboard and a gorgeous robe from The Bride’s Maids Shop waiting in their rooms after dinner. So after some Southern fare and frozen yogurt on Chapel Hill’s famous Franklin Street, we headed back to our retreat headquarters at the Carolina Inn, hopped into our robes, and gathered in Emily, Lisa’s and Morgan’s room for a pajama party.

The next morning, we dove into work for what I dubbed, “Big Ideas Day!” But first things first. In order to get us all in the proper frame of mind for a day full of big ideas, we wrote the Southern Weddings anthem — a musical rendition of our company mission set to the tune of Sweet Home Alabama! I’m dying for us to make a music video, so y’all stay tuned.

After warming up our vocal cords, we shared the results of the StrengthsFinder quiz we took a few days prior, and discussed how each of our strengths impacts our company as a whole. It was so much fun seeing everyone’s results and understanding how they can help us work together even better! We each came away from the conversation with a defined purpose: Lisa and Emily inspire connections between all of us, all of you readers, and the ideas we share. Morgan and I cultivate trust for Southern Weddings by providing consistent messaging and visual cues. Marissa and Kristin fuel relationships by reaching out to our partners and generating the funds we need to continue our work. Lara defines our direction and provides the momentum needed to do all of this!

After lunch at the Carolina Inn Crossroads Restaurant, some of the SW gals had the opportunity to lead their own mini-session. We love learning from each other, and have discovered that each of us brings special skills or knowledge to the team that makes us better at what we do. Morgan’s session was by far the most interactive and creative! She gave us a lesson in watercoloring, and we each got to try our hand at painting peaches. Emily passed down her top six lessons she’s learned during her past six years at SW, and Lisa shared her writing and editing tips.

As our paintings dried, we discussed what we imagined our company would look like in 5 years. How did each of us view our future? What projects or goals did we have in mind? What would make Southern Weddings a place we could continue to love and grow in?

All of this talk about our big ideas and overarching concepts ended with Kristin teaching the team how to dance the Carolina Shag! As you can see, Emily picked it up like a pro, and I slowed Marissa down with my two left feet.

The last day of our retreat (dubbed “Action Items Day!”) had plenty of surprises. One of my favorites was a round of The Newlywed Game between department partners (Emily + Lisa, Marissa + Kristin, me + Morgan), officiated by Lara. We answered questions like, “What is your partner’s favorite Southern food?” and “Is you partner more likely to channel Dolly Parton or Taylor Swift at karaoke night?” Emily and Lisa won the game, with Marissa and Kristin trailing by one point!

The big ideas we came up with the day before wouldn’t see the light of day without a proper plan of action, and one thing we wanted to improve from last year’s retreat was taking on more than we could handle. We’re still a small team, and while we’d like to do everything, we’ve learned to focus on doing what we can do better.

Over a delicious lunch of BLTs and Cheerwine at Merritt’s, we discussed how to best use our newly renovated office space, how to make Kristin and Marissa feel more involved in our office culture (always a challenge when you work remotely!), and how we can improve our workflow.

With full bellies, we returned to the Carolina Inn for another round of mini-sessions! Kristin shared her secrets for striking up conversations with strangers, Marissa taught us Advertising 101, and I shared some background on the Southern Weddings Style Guide, why it’s important, and how to propose creative ideas.

Kristin and I planned some fun work breaks throughout the retreat, but nothing will top our afternoon tea at the Carolina Inn. It was the perfect cover for Lisa’s surprise bridal shower!! We have boundless amounts of love for Lisa and her beau, Dave, so we’re saving a full recap of her shower for another post, but here’s a little peek from Julia Wade to hold you over!

A look at our conference table mid-retreat! We’re so thankful for The Mason Bar Company for keeping us hydrated, May Designs for supplying our journals (which are now filled to the brim with notes!), and Thimblepress for providing the beautiful state flower prints that remind us of our love for the South and the importance of growing in love.

Returning to work after the bridal shower was challenging, but we had some exciting things ahead of us. The rest of the afternoon was spent flushing out ideas from the day before and then opening up the conversation for any other topics that were on our minds. We ended the retreat with an old activity borrowed from the Making Things Happen Conference. Each of us randomly picked another SW gal’s name from a hat, and then wrote an encouraging note to her. I’m saving the letters to mail out in the coming weeks and love the idea that the gals will be surprised with a thoughtful letter!

Despite all of the excitement over the past three days, my favorite part of the retreat was the very end — a casual team dinner at a favorite local eatery where we encouraged, praised, and celebrated everyone (a concept from the book “How Full is Your Bucket?“). Throughout the retreat, we had been writing “drops,” or small notes of general positivity, to share with each other at the end. Reading them aloud over dinner was a reminder of how special our time together is, and how lucky we are to work together. Until next year!

nicoleyang Written with love by Nicole
  1. avatar Kristina reply

    What a lovely recap Nicole! It is so inspiring to see and read about how excited you are to work for Southern Weddings. Makes reading the blog/magazine so much more fun for us readers too. And I wish I was there to hear Kristin’s secrets about how to approach a stranger. Definitely an area where I could use some inspiration too ;-)

  2. avatar Nancy reply

    I love you all!!! Where do I apply ;)
    Your retreats make me want to do soemthing like this for my team.

  3. avatar Ashlee reply

    What a great recap, Nicole!

  4. avatar Julie reply

    I love how you intentionally encourage each other! Ya’ll have such a positive work environment; I think many workplaces could take lessons from you!

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As the Southern Weddings team has grown (from three ladies in 2009 to seven ladies in 2014!), we’ve realized the importance of carving out intentional time to be and think and dream together. Our team is small but mighty, and when we’re all on the same wavelength we are better for each other and, most importantly, better for y’all. So this year, we extended Marissa and Kristin’s “team photo visit” by a few days and spent the time dreaming, strategizing, and, yes, having a whole heap of fun together at Fearrington Village.

Lara did a masterful job packing our three days together full of eye-opening sessions, insightful discussion, and straight-up fun. A few of the highlights:

Before the retreat, we were each asked to choose an “item of note” to share, and then we discussed them to open one of our sessions. To give you a few examples, Lisa chose a UT commencement address, I chose this TED talk, and Lara chose this podcast by Andy Stanley. This was a great way to get everyone engaged even before we got started.

We got to room together! We intentionally paired up with someone besides our usual partner in crime (usual partners in crime = Marissa + Kristin, Lisa + Emily, and Morgan + Nicole). Instead, Kristin and I roomed together, Lisa and Nicole were together, and Lara and Morgan were together. (We gave Marissa and Emerson their own room!) This was an invaluable way to carry the conversation out of the boardroom and ensure some deep bonding.

One of our first sessions was about thinking big. What would make Southern Weddings a successful company in each of our eyes in five years? 25 years? Why would we each continue to work here over the long term?

We interspersed huge questions like those with more practical sessions, like swapping tips on great phone, email, and conversational skills; how to efficiently handle email; tips for better instagram photos; and how best to approach a subjective disagreement (something that happens often, and that you must be comfortable with, when working in an office of seven opinionated and design-minded individuals!).

Invigorating business and mission sessions were broken up by pure fun, including Irish dancing lessons from yours truly, tea time, conversation starters, and a bouquet competition! It was so fun to see y’all guess whose bouquet was whose on instagram. Can you guess below?

For our final session, we split up into groups of two or three (Emily + Lara, Nicole + Lisa, and Marissa, Krisin, and Morgan) and had a deep + brief brainstorm about the three ideas sparked during the retreat that we felt MOST needed to be implemented. Let me just say, the excitement was high in the room when we came back together to present to each other!

In fact, I think we’re still riding a bit of a high from the experience – but one that’s cooled into a ferocious desire to do what we do better, smarter, and with even greater love. We can’t WAIT to share what’s coming down the pipeline with y’all over the next few weeks and months, starting with Volume 7 of the magazine!!! (In case you haven’t done so yet, be sure to place your pre-order today!) And as always, we are so grateful to y’all for encouraging us, believing in us, and being excited right alongside us. Big SW hugs all around!

P.S. Our amazing stay at Fearrington deserves its own post – more details and photos coming soon!

emily Written with love by Emily
1 Comment
  1. avatar Kyla Fetzner reply

    It sounds like y’all had such a productive, fun, and refreshing time together! I love that you keep the heart and mission of SW at the center of all that you do :)

Southern Weddings reserves the right to delete comments which contain profanity or personal attacks or seek to promote a business unrelated to the post.  And remember: a good attitude is like kudzu – it spreads.  We love hearing your kind thoughts!

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