Reflections on a company retreat and where magic happened
The company retreat has a poor reputation; it can vary from a drink-fuelled get-away that resembles a frat house to the excruciatingly dull “death by Powerpoint” with “fun activities” which are instigated by the boss.
Company retreats don’t have to be a thing that people dread or consider a thinly disguised holiday; they can be very valuable in bringing people together and learning together.
How did Confio’s first company retreat go?
We needed to make a company retreat as Confio was founded in July 2020 at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, and owing to travel restrictions, local lockdowns, and illness, we could not meet as a company.
Twenty of the Confio team represented by 15 nationalities who live all over Europe converged for the company retreat in Malaga, some by more interesting routes than others.
Monday was the arrival day, and we all enjoyed meeting each other in person, which for many was the first time even though we had spent many hours on Zoom calls and sort of knew each other. There were informal gatherings for lunch or an afternoon drink which was needed in the unseasonal 33C heat.
Tuesday and Wednesday were two days of workshops and presentations, which were well received and gave an opportunity to have more interactive sessions than the usual video call format.
The difference between an in-person workshop or presentation is that the leader or presenter is able to “read” the room better and encourage more interaction than is possible in online versions. Is this a valid argument for full-time in-person working as opposed to remote working? While measurably better to have in-person workshops and presentations, it should be emphasized that the “normal” video workshops and presentations are good enough. Reflecting on this, there is a strong case to have a small number of in-person workshops and presentations in-person where interaction is very important and work on improving the online versions.
What was of particular value was the company strategy presentations which involved the whole company, as were the workshops, which covered subjects at a deeper level than usual.
Flying in the company for presentations and workshops clearly has some benefits, but it was not where the magic happened.
What was the magic?
One of the goals of the retreat was to get everyone together so we could meet in person and forge better connections with each other. This is very easily said and much harder to achieve; after all, we have all experienced dubious “team-building” exercises and putting go-karting, bowling, and a company walks on the agenda was not a guarantee of success.
On paper, a range of ages and nationalities who work for a software house building blockchain technologies does not necessarily have the ingredients to make a social event come to life.
What happened in the Confio retreat was magic.
There was a Telegram group created for those who didn’t have the company slack on their phones, and it immediately sprang to life. Spontaneous groups formed to meet for a drink, a walk, etc. It became apparent that the team liked spending time with each other, and there were no awkward “hey, everyone join in” moments.
The lunches and dinners allowed people to mix and talk with each other and get to know everyone better, and it was evident from the laughter and small groups that a nice atmosphere was formed from the first day that lasted all week.
A nighttime beach gathering with a Bluetooth speaker was, as one participant described, like meeting old friends and having a party.
It was not all fun and parties, there were some more serious conversations around the wider crypto landscape and discussions on software engineering, and people just talking; in short, a good mix where everyone felt included.
The magic continued after the retreat with stronger bonds having been formed, and the slack channels were busy with a chat about people looking to rent somewhere to spend a week together.
Will we organize another company retreat?! You bet we will.