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Crystallize Retreat 2022

How do you build a remote team? Why company retreat is the best way to do it? What happened and what lessons did we learn last week at Crystallize 2022 retreat?

Crystallize Retreat 2022

Team building is a lot more challenging in a remote setup when you have a worldwide distributed team as we do. When you come to think of it there are no Monday morning all-hands meetings, no coffee break chit-chats, no grab-a-bite code reviews, late-hour brainstorming sessions, and after-work drinks.

So how do you build a team as a remote company? Two words, company retreats.

Full disclosure.

Companies tend to use posts like this one to promote company culture and attract new hires and there will be traces of that without a doubt (check open positions at Crystallize here). This post however is about the kick we got from last week’s retreat and what we did to make it work.

Prologue: React Norway + Retreat

By now you probably know we are the organizers of React Norway and React New York (scheduled for September 9th, call for speakers open now) conferences. This year React Norway was planned for Jun 24th and with pretty much everyone on our team involved in it we decided to prolong our team stay in Norway for our first ever Crystallize meetup.

The conference was a success (we already bragged about it in this post here) but also a beginning of building a team thanks to everyone's involvement. You know the IKEA effect, i.e. how people tend to value an object more if they make (or assemble) it themselves (source)? Well, it is real in building ties and connections as well.

Not intentionally running React Norway helped us at that😎 It started at the conference room and ended on the roof terrace of Farris Bad Hotel.

What Did Retreat Mean for Us as a Company?

Instead of talking about what we did, how we did it, and how much fun we had doing it (what happens in Norway stays in Norway), I wanted to reflect on what did the retreat mean for us as a company. 

We got to know the team on a more personal level and discover/show each other hidden skills and hidden talents. Exactly. On retreats, you get to know the people you work with in a different, more personal way. Up until now, I did not know we have a couple of runners on the team. No vegetarians (for now at least). The sales guy is hooked on Coca-Cola, while the CEO has a metal band and we could easily make a Crystallize band as well. We have a French guy that’s not that into red wine while the main backend guy lives in the woods when he's not online. The most Norwegian dude comes from New Zealand, and apparently, our illustrator likes cheese a lot.

We had a conversation about serious stuff in less serious circumstances. It was not all fun and games. We had dedicated times for serious business talks, general and in teams. This allowed us to brainstorm and plan our next moves together.

We got to have everyone on the same page with company goals. Working remotely within a team be it dev, marketing, sales, or business team can cause tunnel vision for many i.e. the inability to see and be aware of the company goals. The talks we had made sure we all are aware of the bigger picture (for us that’s worldwide domination in headless eCommerce 😁).

We got to improve communication across the teams. Lost in translation happens a lot in remote teams. Devs and marketing don’t speak the same language. And not everybody is able to express themselves through Slack messages. Getting to know the team in person and expressing 4 Ls (liked, learned, lacked, longed for) helped with that.

We got to work on team spirit. The activities we took together all required teamwork. Some, however, require little to no management showing us we might already have a team on our hands. I am still amazed by how both the food and the cleanup were essentially self-organized without friction.

Tips on Organizing Company Retreat

A single person in the right position can move mountains. We are lucky to have Aina, she moved mountains for us and kept all the reins when we planned the conference and the retreat. No easy task.

In general, there are three major tasks you need to address in detail: budget, scheduling, and logistics. Everything falls into these three.

We don’t have a magic wand copy/paste tool to offer or a fancy template to share that you can use but we can share a couple of takeaways from our company retreat planning that might help you out:

  • Plan in advance.
  • Set ground rules.
  • Make sure the team is included in the process of choosing activities.
  • Make sure the location fits the company's culture.
  • Schedule everything but allow for freeform.
  • Food and logistics need extra planning.
  • Plan workshops and talks alongside fun activities.
  • Task team leaders (management) to run workshops and talks.
  • Make the 4Ls meeting (liked, learned, lacked, longed for) mandatory. You will learn a lot about the team from it.
  • Allow time for individual teams and one-on-one talks as well.
  • Make sure everyone on the team has at least one task.
  • Have at least one meal per day together.
  • (you should, we did not) Run a survey, get feedback on what worked and what did not, and include it next time.

Keep in mind that organizing a company retreat is equal parts exhausting (while doing it) and exhilarating (when you are finally done).

We Have a Team On Our Hands

Remote work is not without drawbacks and challenges. Building bonds between team members is one of them. Company retreat helps with that but it is not a silver bullet. Finding the right spot between business and fun is the hardest part.

It’s the quotes like this one:

The best summer camp ever! Feeling motivated to build the best product with the best team. Lots of bests. Looking forward to next time!

that makes it all worthwhile. Some things are just better done in-person😁

Have you checked our careers page? We really could use some help to make our next company retreat even better.