Startup Retreats for a Remote Team
Part One: Why Retreat?
“Helping people get to the next chapter of their lives.”
The seven of us cheered this new mantra as we held our copper Moscow Mule mugs high in the air. After spending three days bonding and brainstorming in an aquarium style conference room, we came up with a purpose that is bigger than building software. We came up with a purpose that defines who we are as people – as a team. Our purpose for building NextChapter.
Now that the Inaugural NextChapter Retreat has come to an end and I’ve had time to reflect, I would love to share highlights and tips for making your company retreat a rousing success in a three-part series I’m calling “Startup Retreats for a Remote Team”.
The Story Behind the Retreat
NextChapter has always been a remote team connected by tools like Slack, Google Hangouts, Trello and other collaborative resources. We have weekly meetings where the seven of us get together on a video conference call and talk about upcoming goals and celebrate recent successes. We all work during the same time in different timezones and make an effort to relax on the weekends to avoid startup burnout. After working remotely together for two years, we decided it was time to all meet face-to-face. The plan for the NextChapter Retreat is to gather the whole company together once a year in a different city. Since 2016 is our first year, we wanted to make it easy and bring the team together to meet at the Columbus Ohio Headquarters. With three of our seven team members coming from different parts of Serbia, they all worked together to get their visas and coordinated their flights and accommodations to travel together.
Goals for the Retreat
Being a distributed team has it’s perks but nothing beats connecting in real life. Away from the computer screens, we had the opportunity to truly get to know one another. We took this time to learn about each other’s passions, hear their stories and find out who they really are behind the job.
Not only was this a growing experience for the company, but also a growing experience for ourselves. When you focus on greatness for the business, it pushes you to find the greatness in yourself. We did several activities that taught us a little more about the people we are and the strengths we have to contribute to the team. I’ll touch more on this in a bit.
I wanted to take this time to focus on product planning for NextChapter. We just launched a major feature prior to the retreat so it was the perfect opportunity to discuss all the features we have on deck and prioritize them based on importance and excitement. This drill ended up being a large part of our in-office NextChapter Team Day. In addition to product planning, it was important to create an avenue to hear feedback on the company’s direction and strategy.
Articulate our Purpose
Before the retreat, I realized that we should have a purpose for the company bigger than building software for lawyers. With our Pledge 1% model, the customers we serve, the clients they serve, we should have a purpose we can align our goals and products with. I came up with an exercise to help us define our purpose and in doing so, we found out a lot about how everyone views the company and our values.
The secret to living is giving. A large part of our culture is to give back so for some of our time together, we wanted to find a cause in which we could volunteer our time, as a group and make a difference.
Planning the Retreat
With this being the first time we’d all met in person, I knew we needed to plan a few extra activities. I began planning about four months in advance -- booking flights and Airbnb stays, reserving tables at restaurants, buying tickets for events, etc.
I made a special agenda for NextChapter Team Day and arranged a full day of photo and video production. We also had a day of volunteering for a local foodbank and we worked on a project that would help us find out more about ourselves and the people we want to become. The schedule was packed.
In Part Two, I will break down the Team Day agenda and in Part Three, I will share the projects that helped us grow together and separately as we got more excited about the future of our company.