Table XI Blog

retreat

April 20, 2011No Comments

S’more about Strategy

As part of oPoster explaining Peter Skillman’s “Marshmallow Challenge.”ur recent retreat to Kohler Spa in Wisconsin, we took on Peter Skillman’s “Marshmallow Challenge.”

Here’s the gist: In eighteen minutes, teams of three to four must build a freestanding structure out of twenty pieces of spaghetti, one yard of string, and one yard of tape. The structure needs to support the weight of one marshmallow without collapsing, and the tallest successful design wins.

TED Talks has a great video that further explains the challenge and the ideology behind it.

So, how did we do? Out of four teams, only one, fielding players Greg Baugues, Matt Lineen, and Micah Gates, managed to build a standing structure. We consider ourselves pretty smart, capable people, so why the poor results? We realized that, in building these structures, we tended to overthink our designs in an attempt to find the “perfect” solution, rather than experimenting and making adjustments as needed. It got us wondering how we could keep expanding the iterative methodologies we use to achieve even better outcomes for our clients.

Here are some other exchanges that made us look at things a little differently:

“That ugly structure wouldn’t meet the client’s needs.”
“Sure it would. The client’s needs were to win the challenge.”

"If we’d only had five more minutes, our structure would have won.”
"Well, yeah, and if we had Lincoln Logs instead of spaghetti...but those weren't the constraints."

Interestingly, when one team was granted five more minutes, their structure still wouldn’t stand. This called attention to how difficult estimation can sometimes be.

The challenge was a fun one that yielded some great discussion, and we recommend others give it a go. You may just learn, like we did, that sometimes the pursuit of one perfect solution can lead to no solution at all, while answers that are adaptable, fluid, and "good enough" can give rise to very strong results.

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April 13, 2011No Comments

Destination: Kohler

Part of the Table Xi team sitting around a table during their weekend in Kohler, Wisconsin.

Last spring, our weeklong trip to Costa Rica proved enormously valuable, but with the hustle and bustle around here lately, it wasn't feasible for all of us to leave the country for that amount of time again. Instead, over the last weekend in February we traveled to Kohler, Wisconsin, and the eponymous spa located there.

Home of the original Kohler factory, the town gets its name from the kitchen and bath fixture company, and was founded to provide a community for the factory’s workers. We stayed at the American Club, which began as a boarding house where workers could live and learn English. It has since been transformed into what Conde Nast’s Traveler describes as the fifth best resort spa in North America.

Within the walls of the American Club’s impressive and old school boardroom, we conducted various corporate planning and reflection sessions. Activities included strategy talks for 2011, a post-game analysis of 2010’s growth, a transparent view into the company’s finances, and a few team building exercises.

Outside of the organized activities, we were able to relax in style. Some of the weekend's best chats about Table XI came while soaking in the hot tub or lounging in the hotel's solarium. Many significant others were also able to come along and join in on the pampering.

Incidentally, one of the benefits of staying at a resort built by a bathroom furnisher is that most of the guest rooms are equipped with the best showers we’ve ever seen. Rainfall showerheads, benches, horizontal jets blasting water from the walls…. Some of us managed to take six showers in 48 hours. Not environmentally enlightened, perhaps, but nobody’s perfect.

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June 11, 2010No Comments

Work and Fun in the Costa Rican Sun

 

Table Xi employees swimming in Costa RicaA benefit of running a Web consultancy is that you can ostensibly do it anywhere there's an Internet connection. In the spirit of Table XI's "work hard, play hard" mentality, we recently took our twelve staffers (plus five significant others) to Costa Rica for a week of rejuvenation, strategic planning, team building, and corporate reflection.

February 27-March 6 saw us zip-lining through rainforests, surfing, and hooking fish in the deep sea (well, attempting to, anyway). But the week wasn't all sunset cruises and spa treatments: We also used the time to have those conversations that never seem to materialize amid ringing phones and nonstop emails.

We spent two full days on strategic planning and development, reviewing projects, assessing new technology and infrastructure needs, and discussing ways to improve processes. We took the time to thoroughly examine and make transparent the company's financials, allowing every employee to see where dollars were coming in and going out, how their time contributed to our continued growth, and how unconventional programs like our in-house meals are actually making us money.

Our trip was also the perfect opportunity to launch an activity we're calling "Pet Projects." One of our company's greatest assets is its collection of big brains, and it is a future goal to produce our own content in addition to the work we do with our clients. To that end, we developed and vetted staffer-generated concepts that included everything from Web sites to iPhone games and applications. This exercise in rapid prototyping and evaluation resulted in some pretty fun work that we're excited to explore further, and which you may be hearing more about in the months to come.

Of course, no week would be complete without an excellent meal concocted by our very own Ellen Brast, who cooked a delicious red snapper dinner on our final night. As if all that weren't enough, we also found our new mascot, Bert, an eight-year-old green parrot that loves to eat, goof off, and play with computers. Appropriate, no?

We recognize that not every company has the means to take its employees on such a trip, and we count ourselves lucky that we were able to do so. It may seem like an unconventional--some might say crazy--expenditure, but our Costa Rican adventure gave us opportunities to focus on Table XI's long-term goals, prove our company culture, and grow closer as coworkers and team members. We came back refreshed and excited to dive into 2010.

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