Why we believe spending a lot of money on our annual team retreat pays back

I’ve always found the idea of team building activities — motivational pep talks, silly city games, trust exercises, rope courses — unappealing. It simply doesn’t feel right, even though I love playing games. Needless to say I was very pleased to be involved in organising our annual company retreat this year.

Yannick De Pauw
Nov 22, 2016 · 5 min read
Zadar Harbor by Night

Last September we flew out our whole team to Croatia. My colleagues were pretty excited to finally figure out where we were heading. Not everyone had discovered our secret hideaway location through the teambuilding game we created in the buildup. One of them only found out at the airport. And so it happened: mission Zadar had begun. Home of the most beautiful sunset in the world, according to Alfred Hitchcock.

Andreas falling in love.

I had a small chat with our CEO, Andreas, during this lovely week. Wondering why he thinks moments like this are important to shape a (remote) team. Why we would rather keep organising our teambuilding in-house and not splash our bank account on the industry built around these events. As we do think retreats are crucial to shape our company culture, with love.

The madewithlove 2016 squad

Why do you organise a retreat?

“Next to knowledge sharing, we love taking time off to have discussions without project pressure. Other benefits? Team bonding and meeting your work buddies from all around the world, sometimes even for the first time. Hell, even some of our employees have trouble taking holidays”, Andreas points out. I also believe that simply getting away from the everyday rush of the workplace can do a world of good.

I don’t think this is good for remote companies only; most of the reasons apply to all businesses. Maybe we could go for a shorter time. (This year we spent 5 days, 7 including travelling.) We go for a full week because it makes no sense to fly people in from the other side of the world for just two days.

We had a lovely dinner in a very cosy and private setting

It must be quite the cost?

Madewithlove prides itself on transparency and quality. It surely wouldn’t surprise you finding out this experience comes with a price: around 50k in transport, accommodation and food for 20 people, combined with no-client work for a week. It’s a bit tricky, but we plan for it and take it seriously. Other companies spend this money on company cars, fancy restaurants or other frilly things you don’t need. We invest in an experience together. On the other hand, we firmly believe that when employees stop having fun at work, they are more likely to leave. So a company retreat improves staff retention. Having fun also stimulates creative thinking, which then again improves productivity.

Cheers. Drinking wines at a local farm.

Being away from home is good for the mind

Andreas never worked as an employee in a company himself, but believes teambuilding is done differently depending on where and who you work for. At madewithlove we choose to invest in going to a relaxing and warm location (Belgian summers are too short). We love exploring new cultures together while enjoying a beer at the pool or getting our dancing shoes on together. During the week abroad we are refreshing our brains and taking time to smell the roses.

We had tapas on a boat.

It’s not only party and activities though. The goal is to work hard on opportunities and challenges in the mornings. We organised our own conference where everyone had to give a solo presentation. Next to that, we discussed next year’s goals and the way we handle projects, the role of product managers, organised a hackathon and even a coding challenge. Working together towards shared goals really helps to galvanize our employees and expose hidden talents.

Discussing our workflow by the pool.

But there was room for fun.

We went sailing to a private island, took our snorkeling gear out and had a fantastic traditional dinner with a family that made us create our own wine. We chose for multiple easy activities and the availability to do more adventurous ones at an employee’s own discretion. Did I mention 8 of us went skydiving? Next year we probably want to organise this a bit tighter again, it is a hard balance. But the response from our team has been overwhelmingly positive.

Just hanging
Dimitri falling in love
Beers on a boat
Somehow a television crew found us when picking grapes. (We still dont quite know what we were actually doing there)
Delicious organic hipster food

We are made with love

Is there a way you measure happiness or the outcome of such a retreat? Not really. We look at the faces. We see happy people. Employees making fun. We don’t really have goals other than making fun with the whole group.

The management technique Andreas is using is a fairly simple one. “I try to build a company in which I would like to work myself. If you keep this in mind every day you will have a happy and motivated team.”

Sunset staring

I’m already feeling antsy for the 2017 edition and setting tongues wagging about possible next locations.

I’m Yannick De Pauw, product manager at madewithlove, and I try to put a smile on my colleagues faces, so we can achieve even greater things together.

Having studied graphic design I’ve always had a big interest in photography and pretty things. Next to playing games and Bruce Springsteen, I recently also fell in love with travelling the world.

We are madewithlove

Thoughts from inside our company

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