This blog post is contributed by Tiago Boldt Sousa, Velocidi’s Product Lead, and the first employee of ShiftForward, before it was acquired by Velocidi. Tiago has spent the last eight years juggling his duties as Product Lead with a teaching position at the University of Porto, where he is also about 90% of the way toward earning a Ph.D. Homestretch man. You got this.
Team retreats are an old tradition for our team in Porto, who came from ShiftForward. We started as a small team, building something completely new without any certainty of success. The path has been challenging and liking and trusting each other has been essential for our motivation and success so far. So, investing in our relationships was a key part of how we kept the company going. We felt like as long as we enjoyed the work we were doing with the people we had, we could solve any problem together.
In fact, some of our biggest breakthroughs in product development occurred during team retreats.
As our team grew, and our company started hitting milestones like getting investor funding, signing new clients, and launching new products and ultimately getting acquired by Velocidi, our retreats also became about getting team alignment on company goals and direction.
This year’s retreat was extra special because it was the first time Velocidi’s New York team was able to join us since the acquisition. We’ve been working together remotely for almost two years now. Those two years have been filled with so much good collaboration, proud accomplishments, and some very excellent Slack banter. But you can’t beat face-to-face interaction when it comes to team bonding. And there’s no digital replacement for a three-hour game of giant Jenga.
Still, a team retreat is only a few days out of an entire year. So it’s important that we make the most of it. At Velocidi, there are a few guidelines to make each retreat a success.
How to have a damn good team retreat, Velocidi style.
1. Get out of the office
Getting out of the formal work environment is essential for the purposes of the retreat. We want people to connect on a social level, and build connections outside of their work context. We encourage people not to be on their computers. Any work that’s not urgent can wait until after the retreat.
The location of the retreat also makes a difference. Relaxing poolside, surrounded by beautiful scenery, never fails as a morale booster. This year our retreat took place on a beautiful mountainside surrounded by vineyards in the Douro region of Portugal.
2. Cook our own food
Nothing brings people together like enjoying good food. Eating together, preparing meals together, even doing dishes together afterward are fool-proof ways to foster community. Beers and the amazing Douro region wine further enhance the experience.
This year we had the pleasure of having our Korean-descendant colleagues from the NY office treating us with their cuisine. Portugal doesn’t have many Korean restaurants. Most of us had never tried Korean BBQ or Bibimbap before. If you have never tried it, go for it, and be prepared for a spicy experience.
3. Reflect and gather feedback on the past year
Inspired by the agile development methodologies, we like to take time doing the retreat to do a company-wide retrospective. The retrospective has everyone thinking about what we’ve been doing well, need to improve and should start doing at the company level. We start off the retreat by presenting the retrospective and gather feedback using post-its in a public area of the house during its whole duration. Anyone’s input is valued equally while discussing the feedback gathered right before closing the retreat, identifying how we can make them actionable to improve the company.
We also hold a number of structured discussions to address more specific questions or ideas. As we are planning the retreat, any team member can suggest a discussion topic and designate a time for it during the retreat. For example, the engineering team was able to use the time to make some decisions about changes to processes and tools. And the marketing team took the opportunity to give the engineering team a glimpse into how their work was impacting client success.
4. No such thing as too much fun
Our decision to make our retreats a concentrated time to have as much fun as possible is backed by science. A study by the University of Warwick found that employees who are happier are 12%-20% more productive.
So one of the primary goals of every team retreat is to make people happy. We play games, watch movies, go hiking, or swim in the pool. We reward and celebrate each other for our accomplishments during the year. As long as everyone is having a good time, we’re creating new bonds, and that alone makes the retreat worthwhile.
The important part about doing this is to emphasize and practice the idea that everyone’s voice matters in the company. We’ve gathered an excellent team of brilliant, capable, highly qualified people. Every single person on our team is an invaluable and irreplaceable asset to our company. And we will be most successful if every single one of them is engaged and vocal about company direction.
I would like to thank everyone that helped to prepare this retreat, as well as the whole team for putting up their personal time to be with us for almost an entire week. I’m looking forward to seeing the impact of this retreat and, obviously, already looking forward to the next one!