Motius Surprise Trip — How Doing Business in Oman Led to a Key Element of Our Company Culture
This is a story about how our company’s single biggest single expenditure of 2018 turned out to be plane tickets with AirBaltic for the whole team. But it’s also a story about how Motius deals with success, and the attitude we have towards our employees and their talents.
It all started four years ago. Motius was still a small startup. Like, you know, a real startup (Nowadays we call ourselves a startup in order to get cheaper tickets for conferences 🙈).
We were founded and managed by five guys who were still officially studying at TU Munich. Our 64 sqm, two-room office was located in Gate Garching. Our logo looked like this (see below). The coffee machine was also part of these two rooms, so you couldn’t make a coffee when somebody had a call going on.
Despite all this, at this time Motius already had a good community of tech talents, a strong customer base (we were already working with BMW and Fujitsu), and a second office in the Sultanate of Oman.
After a roughly nine-month sales cycle, we managed to acquire our then biggest projects in company history.
Together with an Omani innovation state department and two entrepreneurs, we were supposed to develop two exciting and unusual products: a bread baking machine for the traditional Omani khubz bread (mechanical engineering and Embedded Systems) and an eLearning / gaming solution for kids learning the Islamic prayer (game dev, gesture detection & control).
As part of the kickoff of these projects, the Team Leads and Project Owners (two of the founders) were invited to spend two weeks on-site in Oman, and we spontaneously decided that the other three founders should definitely also join for some of the business meetings.
When looking at the old pictures now I can see two things:
- Most of the time we were actually working and trying to not freeze in the super cold offices there using the best suits our moms had bought for us for prom.
- The level of commitment, loyalty, bonding, and family-feeling of our employees Jakub, Matej, Hamza, and Sascha was at a maximum level shortly before, during, and after the trip.
One year later, at the end of 2016, we decided to go to Oman once again. This time we asked the employees whether they wanted to join and organized the trip like a regular two-week vacation.
Unfortunately, as this was not backed up by a project budget and not a pure business trip, we had to ask our employees to pay their way for most of the trip. Today it’s hard to imagine that the founders and five core employees would leave the Munich office for two weeks. Even back then we had our concerns. But we had already learned that intense time together would take the whole company culture and commitment of the core team to the next level.
This is what we learned after this second trip:
(1) The destination and program itself is not that important. It doesn’t have to be a two-week vacation with quad biking, diving, snorkeling, sandboarding, and camping on the beach. It’s more about a common commitment of both management and employees to spend valuable time together in their free time.
I’m thankful to work in a company where, after sometimes stressful and hard 40+-hour weeks the team still wants to invest time in personal bonds.
(2) Once you’ve reached a certain level of trust and camaraderie between colleagues, spending time together actually increases the willingness to spend even more time together. This does not only work in regular friendships, but also amongst colleagues and across hierarchies.
(3) Celebrating success together and making sure everybody sees and understands his or her contribution is crucial. This is especially essential in a company led and mainly driven by members of Generation Y and probably contributes to the motivation schema described by Daniel H. Pink.
We took that learning and implemented other ways to celebrate success.
Here are a few of them:
- There’s a weekly progress board standup in order to celebrate success together and mention people who contributed to it.
- There are “@channel” messages in Slack where Project Owners summarize the project results and thank the dev teams for their work publicly
- In my team, every team meeting starts with the question: “What was really good this week?” This way you are aware of what the team did and achieved successfully at the start of every meeting. (In a growing company, you can be sure that there’s a lot of not so positive stuff that will come up later in the meeting anyway.)
During 2017, Motius decided to move the satellite office from Muscat to Dubai, UAE. If you want to read more about this decision and Dubai, make sure to read the blog article by our former employee Daniel, who was involved in this big step.
What would be the next destination?
At the end of that year, we decided to do another team trip, and Dubai was an obvious destination. But after considering what we learned from the last time and the current setup of the company, we implemented some changes:
- It should be a short trip.
- We needed to find enough money so that everybody could go on the trip.
- The destination should be secret in order to add more fun and excitement.
- The destination, unfortunately, can’t be Dubai because our team grew significantly in 2017 and a few of our core team members would have had problems to get a visa for the UAE. Also, the Dubai idea would have collided with the desire to reduce the length and price of the trip.
Aaaaaand the winner was: Stockholm!
This time, there were 20 Motees joining us on the trip. You can’t imagine the excitement and rumors in the office:
Where would we go? What would we do there?
After releasing the time when we would meet at the airport and when we would roughly be back, they used Skyscanner and other tools to cut it down to a shortlist of three or four cities that we would probably go. Amazing energy *.*
In summer/fall 2018 we planned our latest surprise trip
At this time, the numbers didn’t really look good, and there was a good chance that we would not achieve our annual financial goals.
But still, we looked into the budget and decided to continue with the planning, even though this time there were up to 40 people on the list for the surprise trip.
The idea was simple: if we can make the leap and achieve what we doubted we could at that time, then the surprise trip will be a big celebration and a “thank you” at the end of the year.
If not, we’ll use it as an opportunity to reflect on what we learned from the failed year… and be inspired to do better next year.
You can probably guess what happened…
The whole team came together in the last quarter, and we even slightly over-achieved our goals due to a crazy Q4. Mid-December, we met at the airport and announced the destination: it was Riga! If you want to see 36 Motees having a good time, look here:
In 2019, it will be the first time not all of the founders will know where we’re going, I included. I’m already excited to find out what the planning team will come up with.
But I do know that the spirit is gonna be amazing.