Couples retreat

It’s a pleasant morning in Singapore as my wife and I head out the front door.

The taxi is waiting as we walk past our neighbour, Shelly, having breakfast on her patio. She smiles and waves. “Good luck, you two!”

Carla and I wave back as we climb into the cab.

Clearly intrigued, Shelly cranes her neck to watch us leave. She’s still waving with her coffee as we drive off for our annual retreat.

We don’t normally make a big deal out of these, but Carla had mentioned to Shelly what we were up to. For our neighbour, this raised many questions. She’d heard of retreats, but why us? What’s involved? Does this mean there’s trouble in paradise?

My wife laughed and explained to her that we’ve been doing this for years and that sometimes our retreats are simply a coffee meeting where we set our direction and goals together. We do this as a couple to guide our relationship and we do it as parents to raise our children. I’m fortunate that I also get to do this with my Mawer team members during our annual research team retreat. In each case, they are retreats with a common purpose—to improve everyone’s chances for success.

Consider for a moment that corporations spend millions of dollars on coaching, leadership, and developing better communication among their people. Why do they do it? To build trust, collaborate, and create shared goals—all of which serve to increase productivity. Just as excellent management teams are as efficient as possible with their companies’ financial capital, they also want to get the most out of their people. But that investment is all for naught unless the participants recognize the value in coming together to openly discuss what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, and how to do it better.

To make the investment worthwhile, it’s important for all participants to have the right mindset going in. Carol Dweck, author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, distinguishes between the idea of a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing it. They also tend to believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. But we think they’re wrong—this approach leads to stagnancy.

On the other hand, a growth mindset builds success through a conscious and deliberate effort to keep improving. As Dweck puts it “in a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”

As a couple, our success with an annual retreat has been overwhelmingly positive because we share this growth mindset. Together we have developed a number of programs that have improved our relationship and our family. For example, we created a set of family values to guide our parenting and life decisions. One of our values is “do your best.” So if one of the kids isn't practicing the piano, it's not a slight against our child—it’s an opportunity to have a conversation so we can uphold the value system that we put into place. The framework, values, and ideas generated during our retreats all combine to support this very useful shorthand within the household, which everyone uses and understands.

It’s very similar to the cultural shorthand we’ve developed at Mawer. During our team retreats, we incorporate many of the same guiding principles that my wife and I practice during our couple’s retreat. These include sharing visions, learning about each other, and creating clear objectives toward a common direction.

While there’s certainly no one-size-fits-all framework when it comes to developing relationships or work culture, for those interested in pursuing their own retreat, here’s a sample format that has worked for me:

Icebreaker (10 minutes)

  • Come prepared to share your top 3 unique characteristics as a person

Personal Vision (20 minutes)

  • Write down a summary of your desired state of life 10 years into the future
  • Try to use present tense
  • Describe all the things around you that make life wonderful


Learning (15 minutes)

  • e.g., Fixed vs. Growth Mindset: watch video and share your thoughts afterwards
  • What can we learn from the two frameworks?
  • How can we use the model at home?

Brainstorm Goals (15 minutes)

  • Establish both short-term and long-term goals
  • Pick out the common long-term goals from each vision
  • Brainstorm what needs to be done in the next 12 months to move forward

Post your comment


  • Sheldon 29/03/2017 8:07pm (11 months ago)

    Gravatar for Sheldon

    Hi Paul, thanks for sharing the story and the inspiration. I personally have a great respect for Mawer. Even though I have not personally been at Mawer, I can sense the culture from this blog, other communication, and even the job postings. The team have been communicating a lot about the similarities between investment and different aspects of personal life. For example, there is one blog talking about being the CEO for yourself. In this blog, you described how your family value guides your decision-making when it comes family issues, which I believe is similar to the idea that how investment philosophy guides investment decision. With that being said, I'm interested to know how your current investment philosophy (or maybe even your family value if you don’t mind) is formed and how it has been evolved over the course of your life? I'm looking forward to your reply.

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