How we ran our first team retreat

We just wrapped up our first Versett Camp. Here are a few things we learned along the way.

Design sprint session at V// Camp.

At some point or another, most of us have been a part of company retreat or strategic planning session. But here is the problem — most of them suck. Hours in boardrooms, slide after slide of keynote decks, and for some reason, a trust fall exercise.

At Versett, our team is spread across multiple offices, so getting everyone in the same place during the year is a big priority for us.

When we looked at doing a retreat, we wanted to make something better — to remove all of the fluff and dedicate a time to collaborate together.

After our first go around we learned a lot, built some things and even made our logo out of pinecones. Here are a few of the things that stood out.

1. Create a space for collaboration

Early on in the process we decided to go offsite. After some deliberating, we chose a lodge in the mountain town of Banff, Canada. We chose the venue because they had a big open space with lots of natural light and room to collaborate. Intuitively, we knew getting out of the office would help shift the context from our daily project work to a more collaborative environment, but we were surprised at how much of an impact it had. Be sure to inquire if your venue has robust enough wifi to host your group — this is always an issue.

Max Ritt and Matthew Famularo jotting down notes.

2. Create an agenda and stick with it

With everyone in the same room, it can be tempting to blow past allotted timelines for each topic of discussion. We found it helpful to mandate hard deadlines to keep things moving along. Any topics that needed more time were moved to a breakout session after the retreat. Keeping things on track helped retain focus and creative energy.

3. Get active

Spending eight hours in a conference room can have a significant impact on creative and strategic thinking. Focus starts to lag and productivity takes a nosedive. After our morning sessions, we scheduled a team hike to get some fresh air. It’s surprising how a change of scenery can re-energize your group.

A little fresh air can go a long way.

4. Build things together

We’re big believers in learning by doing, so we designed Day 2 to be solely focused on building products together. We split up into teams with a goal to prototype a product, app, game, or tool and demo it to the other team by the end of the day. The objective was to learn together and apply our process to things that we might not get a chance to with our client partners.

5. Design sessions around small groups

Sometimes strategic planning can devolve into lot of talking (and not a lot of doing). Rather than presenting content, we designed the sessions to be focused on questions worked through in smaller groups. This format kept everyone involved and engaged.

At Versett, we’re all about getting results for our clients, but we’re also keen on taking a good look at our own performance. After our getaway, we conducted a brief, anonymous survey internally to evaluate the success of our first retreat. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive, with our team leaving Banff feeling inspired and energized. It also gave us the opportunity to look at how to improve our sessions for next year.

Our first annual Versett Camp was a landmark event for the company, and we’re already looking forward to getting together again next year to build, plan, collaborate, and grow as a team.