Retreats for a close-knit company culture

Rotunda is a fully remote team with a remarkably close-knit company culture. From thoughtful onboarding practices to weekly breakout meetings, it takes continuous effort to build trust and form meaningful relationships across countless zip codes and two continents. But of all the practices we have adopted to bring our remote team together, the annual all-hands Rotunda retreat stands out as the most important, or, at least, the most fun.

When we tell people about Rotunda retreats we are often met with an expression of disbelief and bewilderment. You guys went where? What was the schedule? Like many things at Rotunda, our retreats evolved organically, and we didn't realize how out of the box they were until we got some outside perspective. But it’s clear that we have stumbled upon a unique approach to company retreats that bring us closer together as coworkers and friends and make us a stronger team.

Here are some pointed ideas, gathered from years of experience, on how to make your next company retreat more meaningful, fun, and effective.

Location, Location, Location

Choose a location that people are unlikely to explore on their own, and that is big enough for a full week's worth of exploration but also small enough so that people cross paths naturally when they are out and about. At Rotunda, we’ve had retreats in out-of-the-way places, including Sayulita and Tulum (Mexico), Tamarindo (Costa Rica) and San Jose Del Sur (Nicaragua). We've found that retreats are most effective when they feel less like a work trip and more like a destination work-cation. Travel helps people grow personally and professionally, and giving employees the opportunity to be together while exploring a new place and culture can encourage unexpected opportunities for bonding and team building.

Make It a Family Affair

One of the most pleasant surprises for new employees at Rotunda is learning that they are encouraged to bring family members to company retreats — including kids. We’ve learned that a family-friendly retreat makes it easier for an employee to go on a week-long work trip, and more importantly, it helps employees get to know their coworkers more deeply by learning more about their lives outside of work. Instead of orchestrated team-building exercises, allow employees and their family members to spontaneously share lunch or after-work activities. Watching one co-worker play with another co-worker's kids does wonders for building mutual trust and appreciation.

Relax, Enjoy, and Eat

While it’s helpful to plan a group outing that capitalizes on local attractions, make sure to schedule time for people to do things that interest them. Consider allowing employees to start their workday an hour later than usual, or take an afternoon to explore their surroundings. For example, in Tamarindo, a few people went surfing in the mornings before work, and we set aside an afternoon to go to the beach together, where we got to know each other’s families and enjoyed an epic ocean sunset.

Also, don’t forget to leverage the power of sharing meals to bring people together. Treat your whole team and their family members to a family-style group dinner at a local restaurant. Consider finding a retreat location that includes a communal kitchen where people will naturally gather and show off their cooking abilities to the benefit of everyone.

Work Ground-level, Think High-level

It’s tempting to pack each day with meetings to take advantage of everyone being in one place, but overscheduling meetings quickly becomes counterproductive. Instead, if you allow people to continue doing their regular work, you may be pleasantly surprised at the results. Sharing a makeshift, communal workspace naturally builds a deeper cross-functional understanding of company operations. For example, developers overhear sales people talking to clients, and management can overhear the day-to-day challenges faced by their team members.

However, a retreat does create favorable conditions for high-level strategic thinking, which would be silly not to leverage. At Rotunda, we schedule two full-team meetings, one to discuss high-level strategy, and the other to allow employees to voice feedback and offer suggestions on what we should start, stop, and keep doing in the next year. Having these meetings outside of a regular office environment has prompted employees to share ideas that may have otherwise felt too radical. However, since our last meeting we’ve implemented many of the ideas with great benefit to our clients and the company.

Swimming Pools and Feng Shui

Now, for the most valuable tip in this post: Over the years, we’ve discovered that having a swimming pool right in the middle of the retreat location works wonders for team building. A pool provides a fun focal point, giving people a space to take a break for a short game of volleyball or gather for an informal evening hang-out. Also, look for a retreat location that includes a variety of casual communal spaces for people to gather, like a lounge, a large living room, or a deck with a firepit. These spaces make it easy for people who might not work together day in and day out to break down social barriers and bond on their own terms.

In summary, Rotunda company retreats are designed to let people just enjoy being together, which enables everyone — from front-line sales reps to back-end developers — to feel more connected and work more effectively as a team. They are also just fun, and fun is good.

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