This year we made a decision to take our core team out of the office for three days to achieve a few things:

  1. Acknowledge all the hard work and achievement over the last 12 months
  2. Spend some quality time team bonding
  3. Create our strategy for the year, including goal setting and project planning

As a business it is always a huge investment to stop work, invest in the practicals such as accommodation, or team activity, etc, and take time out from the day to day. But as we found, if you get this right, the benefits and business growth outweigh the investment tenfold.

Not only is this true for a three-day retreat, but a half day activity, full day activity or whatever is achievable.

Why take it out of the office

Although we have our meeting and team time rhythm in place to continue to develop our team and design our strategy, there is something powerful about taking it all out of the office.

A new environment can spark a new perspective. Rather than looking at the same whiteboard, sitting in the same room, drinking tea from the same cup, having team drinks at the same pub; we found that changing your environment has a profound and positive psychological effect.

For me, this is certainly true. If I need a break or a holiday, going to a new environment is necessary and almost has an immediate effect in refreshing me. So why wouldn’t this be true for the team and business I am shaping?

We also wanted to let our team know that they were worth the investment. We did this by renting a beautiful place, ensuring we had good food and by not making it all about work!

Spending time team bonding meant that there was a fierce board game, quality beach time and down time with no agenda just to spend with each other.

The effects of this seemingly ‘unproductive time’ can sometimes be hard to measure but observing the way we treated each other and trusted each other after this ‘downtime’ was worth every sacrifice. The sign of some effective team building and team bonding!

Ongoing lesson: we now take our team time (where we can), strategy days and major discussions out of the office. This doesn’t always have to include the whole team, often just those involved in decision making. We find that we can reach a new insight or conclusion far more effectively and efficiently through this approach.

Benefits of no pressure time limits

The distractions are real. We are constantly battling for time and space to give to our team, strategy and new ideas. They so easily get disrupted or interrupted by the everyday happenings within the business.

Actually giving ourselves significant time and space to unpack what we really want to achieve was a genius move for us. Reflecting back, intuitively we know that this needed to happen, but it was surprising how quickly we resolved our strategy and goal setting by taking away the time pressure to make these big decisions. At the end of each session, if we had not reached a conclusion we parked the discussion, took a break and revisited it.

Bookending these discussion with fun team bonding activities kicked in the endorphins and gave everyone a new spark to dig deep with renewed energy.

Ongoing lesson: For us the ongoing lesson is to be brave enough to carve time out in the calendar and unapologetically protect it in order to have team time or the big business and strategy conversations. This is the hardest thing for us to do, especially as we pivot and respond to opportunities that rapidly present themselves. The truth is that they will still be there tomorrow.

Getting team buy in

As we set our yearly goals as founders the next challenge was communicating the vision to our team. We were strategic enough to set our key performance indicators against each goal to make sure we understood what it meant to achieve them but left the ‘how’ to unpack with our team.

After communicating the yearly vision to the team we then gave time and space to listen to any feedback, stress test the reality of achieving them and to instil a sense of ownership within the whole team.

The how came next. Project planning, time lining major tasks, assigning responsibility and cross checking our approach was key. If, as founders, we missed this opportunity to build it out with our team we wouldn’t have owned it collectively or worked as hard post retreat to get it done.

The trust that intuitively came from team bonding time spent with each other certainly made this a smoother and easier exercise. Knowing that we genuinely liked each other enough to spend time together meant that challenging thoughts or perspectives within this exercise was well received.

Ongoing lesson: Although we can set the vision, goals and direction for the company, we won’t be able to achieve any of them without the team. Working out the ‘how’ and relying on our team to stress test viability is something we need to continue to do.

What has happened since?

There have been some major ups and downs, but the team came away with renewed energy and focus. Despite the challenges, two months later we’re rapidly hitting our yearly goals and against some goals, well before time. I guess it is time for another retreat!

Giovanna Shakhovskoy

Author Giovanna Shakhovskoy

The ‘all-rounder’, Giovanna has fingers in many pies, but thrives in managing people, working in experience design and supporting production. Giovanna is the person to talk to about partnerships and big ideas!

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