This January we had another of our team get-togethers, where everyone in the company traveled to a small village in the middle of Portugal for a week together - Loural. It’s our second full week retreat, and even if it was fun, it was different from the last one.
Admittedly, it was a bit less exciting, even if quite nice. We already knew the place well and we are now used to spend a lot of time together. Even if at first glance this might feel like a symptom that something is wrong, it actually hints that the Whitesmith family is maturing.
As in any other relationship, most of us have been working together for more than one year, so the honeymoon period is over and there are fewer surprises. On the other hand, people self-organized way better than last time regarding everyday-living-together tasks. If you will, it’s like Christmas, where every year you have the same people, eating the same recipes and it could seem boring at first glance, but every member of the family pitches in their own personal way and there is that comfortable and familiar feeling in the air. There weren’t any relevant arguments or divergences, which is an achievement on its own when we get a small group of humans living and working in the same place for seven full days. So I think we should be happy for the family.
WORK, WORK, WORK
The work period of the week felt a bit too much like work. Most of the team was working hard on their day jobs, which didn’t leave as much energy to actually be together as last time. In part, we need to be aware that since our last retreat in Loural, the company and people matured a lot. We have improved in terms of pace, discipline, and focus, and that work ethic is welcomed, but makes a difference on our flow as a group. On the other hand, people should work at a sustainable pace and still have plenty of time to spend not working. In this case, however, the lack of a structured schedule prevented people from joining together at the same time for this or that activity. There was just too much friction involved in getting everyone together for an activity, even if people were willing and, in some cases, tried to self-organize, many others were too focused to do it.
So next time we should have at least a bit more structure to ensure that on the work part of the week people keep schedules relatively similar that allow us to spend time together doing something and having fun. We should also create incentives for everyone to spend a bit of time per day taking care of mind (reading, listening to music, meditating) and body (exercise!), as those are some good habits that most of us already practice, the get-together should help grow them as habits instead of suppressing them.
Like our last retreat, we also had an hackathon but that moment deserves its own blog post, so let's skip to the fun part.
From Friday evening to Sunday, the schedule was free of work and hacking, dedicated to having fun together. We had some activities which were crazy fun, like our own Whitesmith-meme-filled board game which took more than 4h to finish.
We also had a fun cooking spree where a small team led by knowledgeable chefs made 26 francesinhas (a traditional Portuguese dish which takes quite some time to do) for the entire team. And even if cooking might look like having nothing to do with our work, the state of flow and cooperation there on the last stride was pretty close to the definition of awesome for any product team. So we should really value any sort of collaboration under pressure, as it helps to manage time, be pragmatic and discover and optimize the natural process or pipeline on any project.
On the less positive side, we had a bit of the same scheduling problem here. As we left the schedule to be self-organized, a la bar camp, we actually had less team-wide activities than we could of. Next time, we should add a bit more structure to ensure we do a couple more activities that get the entire team together and reflect our own culture and personality, as well as our board game does.
The next retreat should be in about 6 months (summer \o/), mostly because it’s a clear plus to grow ties with the people who are less frequently at the office.
To ensure this goes better, we will define now a minimal structure/responsibilities:
- 1 person to ensure we have a nice place to do it and ensure all the logistic is sorted out;
- 1 person to organize the activities;
- 1 cook master, who should be officially on part-time or even full-time vacations considering the overhead;
- Myself to handle the hackathon.
These people are not supposed to organize everything on their own. In fact, they shouldn’t. Instead, they should ensure things get done in whatever balance between self-organization and more direct coordination as they see fit.
Finally, to avoid hurting our consulting work so much on Mondays, we should optimize to go on Sunday so that we don’t waste the Monday morning on traveling and logistics. Obviously, Sunday is personal time, so people are free to join on Monday if they prefer, but we at least give the option and incentive.
Everything is on track for the next hackathon and I can't wait for it!