We just wrapped up our latest EventMobi company retreat — this time to Iceland — previously to Costa Rica and before that to the middle of Canada’s Wilderness — and returned to the standard suite of questions “You fly the whole company on a trip?”, “And you pay for it?”, “Why?”.
People are genuinely curious as to how we justify this as a business expense but for us it’s become a no-brainer with the sheer amount of value it ends up providing. Although not directly tangible, we feel the change in attitude and the progress it breeds day-to-day when we return from these retreats.
So how did all of this start? Our very first retreat started as a way for us (founders) to get out of the office and not have another wasted summer sitting inside behind our computer screens. We desperately wanted a get away but were still in early stage hustle mode and didn’t want to lose momentum. And then brilliance hit…
If we can’t take vacation, what if we just got away to the outdoors and worked in a nicer environment?
And so we started planning. Our team had grown from 6/7 to 12 in a few weeks, and this became a good opportunity to onboard our new team. Better yet, we could also use this as an opportunity to strategize together on how we can survive as a bootstrapped company in the upcoming year. This lead to planning a series of talks, and very quickly we had our finalized schedule of what was becoming a “corporate retreat” rather than a simple “change of work environment”.
We set up a mandate to justify and running our retreats. Primarily we wanted to:
- Give thanks to everyone for all of their hard work over the past year
- Create an avenue through which we could hear everyone’s feedback on the company direction / strategy and to help fine-tune it together
- Allow our team to really get to know each other better (when you live with someone even for a few days, you bond on a whole other level)
These are important for the respective reasons:
- A unique experience (instead of providing a small bonus) not only helps with loyalty and retention but can also be useful for recruitment. Plus who doesn’t want an extra paid for week of vacation at work?
- Each and every person in the company has insight from their day to day on what is and isn’t working. We would be stupid not to include that insight into our future strategy.
- When co-workers become friends and are comfortable with each other, collaboration and ease of communication shoots through the roof.
We kept this mandate constant across all of our retreats, but even so the theme and meetings we scheduled for each trip has been completely different.
Cottaging in Canada
The theme for our first retreat was all about survival. We really wanted everyones focus on figuring out how we can survive as a bootstrapped company in the upcoming year. What features did we need in our products, what wasn’t scaling with our operations team, what sales tactics were we not accounting for? Even for our new team-members who didn’t have any answers, they picked up our culture and processes extremely quickly and we were able to reiterate their importance on our team in accomplishing this mission.
Surfing in Costa Rica
By the time our second retreat came around, we had already cemented ourselves as a leader in our market and had some spectacular growth to show for it. To keep with our momentum, the theme for our second trip was about feeding growth. We decided that with everything we gained from the initial retreat, it was worthwhile to provide some unique experiences for our team and took 24 people out to Costa Rica for an awesome week in a small surfing village. We paid for the flights, had a local chef cater for us as well and employed a local guide to take us around and negotiate group rates for activities and excursions.
Venturing in Iceland
Heading into our third retreat was not easy. Preparing to take a team of almost 50 overseas takes considerable planning and a healthy cash reserve. We knew it was going to be costly, but we were also having a ton of growing pains as the team grew from 24 to 50 in just over a year. Our biggest gap with this trip was to figure out how to better collaboration across our growing teams.
To keep EventMobi fully operational during this trip we actually split the company into two cross-functional groups (i.e. mixed bag, we did not keep the teams together). The first group kept the operations running while the other was in Iceland, we all then met up for a weekend in the back-country of Iceland and then swapped places and repeated for the second group.
We structured our meetings with more focus, and set up teams to ready presentations that would help us accomplish this mission. With the help of a 3rd party incentive trip agency — Moniker Partners, we paid for most meals, the flights, and accommodations in one of the coolest hostels in Iceland, if not the world.
Is it worth it?
Absolutely. It may get more and more difficult each time, and we may have to change how we do this in the coming years if our growth keeps up, but the sheer value of taking your whole team (not just an isolate incentive trip for higher-ups in the business) changes the company in a way that you can feel. You don’t have to go on extravagant trips but seriously considering getting your team away from the day-to-day and get them involved in strategic thinking. I promise you, you will see results and your team will be internally motivated with a renewed understanding and a fresh perspective.