Minerva Winds Up in Chicago

A photo of the Chicago skyline.

As a fully remote team, our calendars are regularly filled with meetings and our inboxes boom with notifications. We are agile communicators through and through. Rarely, though, do we block our calendars off for 48 hours, silence the notifications, and connect by tapping each other on the shoulder rather than messaging over Teams. That is until we have an in-person retreat! That means we pack our bags twice a year and wind up in a beautiful city to reflect on our work and plan for the future.  

This fall, our Business Operations Associate Crystal and I welcomed the team to our Windy City home: Chicago!   

Over the course of two days, we discussed how to put our principles into action; explained Minerva’s unique value to our clients and the field of communications; practiced having difficult and kind conversations amid conflict; and more. We also had the chance to learn from friends in the Chicagoland area. Clothilde Ewing of The Chicago Community Trust and Lauren Janus of PhīlaEngaged Giving shared their own journeys into philanthropy and helped us expand our thinking about communications in the sector.  

Elise, Sara, Dori, Clothilde, Kayla, Falisha, Caroline, Joy, Gaby, and Crystal smile in front of a colorful background wall.
Thank you to Clothilde for enlightening us about the ways The Chicago Community Trust is working to build a Chicago region where equity is central. We’re also happy you shared your journey in the communications field and path to becoming a children’s book author! 
Sara, Dori, Kayla, Joy, Lauren, Caroline, Gaby, Elise, Crystal, and Falisha smile in front of a whiteboard that reads "Minerva Retreat! Welcome Lauren!"
Thank you to Lauren for making time to share your journey into philanthropic advising and how Phīla Engaged Giving is pushing individual donors to engage in more thoughtful and equitable giving.  

Our takeaways  

We often challenge ourselves to shape the world we want to live in, and that’s exactly what we did throughout our retreat. We shared ideas, discussed our concerns and our hopes, and allowed ourselves to imagine a Minerva that better served our clients and our team.  

So, what ideas blew us away? 

Shaping the way Minerva works 

During our retreat, we shared our intentions to re-establish internal teams—what we call 10% teams—to push the organization forward, so Minerva can operate in alignment with its values. These teams are meant to dedicate 10% of their time to a focus area that will benefit Minerva’s culture, work, and clients. Kayla, a senior associate, explains further, “There is so much more that goes into a well-working Minerva than just client work. If we can better distribute admin roles among the team and make sure teams have clear goals and leadership, I believe it will help immensely in getting everyone involved in building the Minerva we want to work in and making sure everyone feels seen and valued for their hard work.” 

Crystal is excited about the way these teams—focused on areas like innovation and hiring and recruitment—can be used as an “innovative tool to better shape beliefs around efficiency, values, operations, and work-life balance.”  

Elise, Minerva’s director and one of the leads for our innovation team, is prepared to start the new year right with a potential new work-week schedule. She shares, “Piloting this new schedule aligns with Minerva’s culture, and fits into every facet of our principles, especially when it comes to making time for ourselves and building the world that we want to live in. Furthermore, the pilot will allow us to see what works, where we need to adjust, and how we can create a work-life balance for all Minerva employees to better serve our clients.” 

Sara, Minerva’s partner and vice president, is equally enthusiastic about rethinking our work structure. She continues, “It is fun to explore different ways of working and valuing our efforts that could lead to more joy, ease, pleasure, creativity, and—here’s the kicker—even better work.” This included a discussion around our billing structure. Our capitalistic system equates time with money—but Minerva asks, what if we were paid for the value of our labor rather than the time it takes us to deliver a product? We’ll be taking this question into 2024. 

Caroline and Dori look at a piece of paper that Dori is writing on
Dori and Caroline working through scenarios during our “clear and kind communication” session. 

Aligning our words with our values 

When we say, “we value communicating with kindness,” we mean that clear, respectful, and honest communication is a standard for how we work—with each other and with others. At retreat, Senior Associate Dori led us through an exercise to practice clear and kind conversations in the workplace, particularly in moments of conflict which inevitably arise. “Stewarding relationships requires a lot of intentional work.” Dori continues, “As a next step, I would like to explore what other practices we can implement to nurture and strengthen relationships with each other and our clients.” 

Minerva understands that flexibility is crucial to the success of our partnerships. We are skilled at the art of pivoting—we are committed to our client’s success, even if the path there changes as we’re traveling along it. Yet, we are not immune to burnout. We provide our best support when we, too, feel supported. Falisha, our intern this fall, reminds us, “We are best able to stay true to and practice our core principles when we set clear boundaries about what’s possible and why we work the way we do.” Minerva is working to always bring our best to our clients, and that means working within our capacity and moving with real life ambition. 

As communicators, we understand the power of words and we challenge ourselves to consider the meaning and impact of the language we use—whether we’re talking about our values, our goals, or our work with clients. “During the retreat, we explored what we mean by making time for ourselves, or what we mean when we say we work with social impact organizations. I found it refreshing and heartening to think about how to best live our values as a team—and recognizing these values are something we practice rather than an end goal we reach,” reflects Caroline, our associate.  

When we are clear about our work and our values, we can hold ourselves accountable. Joy, Minerva’s founding partner and president, explains, “Just saying we partner with clients who are working to have ‘social impact’ doesn’t say much. Defining this would help us be clearer with potential clients, partners, and employees. It would also allow us to measure Minerva’s impact on the world and guide our work.” 

Dori, Kayla, Elise, Falisha, Sara, Joy, Gaby, Caroline, and Crystal pose with mini golf clubs in front of a painted wall with constellations.
Minerva works hard and plays harder. Mini golf brought out the best and most competitive parts of us, and it was a blast!

Minerva can pour into our clients and our work when we prioritize pouring into ourselves. We look forward to seeing these aspirations and plans come alive in 2024, and to gathering once again—this time in the hometown of another special team member! Stay tuned. 

About The Author

Gaby España

Gaby España

Senior Associate

Gaby puts people first, whether as an educator, researcher, or, now, as a senior associate at Minerva Strategies. In their various roles, Gaby learned clear communication is not only kind, but powerful. When our message is easy to understand and meets the needs of our audience, we empower people and encourage change! Learn more about Gaby.