Retreat as an innovation boost for your company
November 19, 2018

If you take a look at some of the retreats that we organized for our clients, you could be under the impression that retreats are all fun and games.

However, for remote companies that rarely get to have their employees in a single location, it’s a unique opportunity to get some work done together and unleash creativity and productivity.

According to Joel Gascoigne of Buffer, having the entire team co-located for short periods of time can unleash creative energy, which allows his team to get an insane amount of work done on retreats.

As a result of retreats, Buffer was able to release new products such as a Buffer for Business or their upgraded iOS app.

“At our last retreat in Pattaya, Thailand, we built most of Buffer for Business and launched it just a week later. In Cape Town, we launched Buffer for iOS 7, opened up our equity formula to the public.”

Combine your retreat with a hackathon

We put together four examples of the companies which combined a retreat with a hackathon.

#1 Avocode: Retreat as a mini startup accelerator

Avocode spent 10 days with us in Lisbon and crafted their whole retreat as a mini startup accelerator. They divided 20 people into different teams on the first day, and had them working on specific projects.

The last day of the retreat was “Demo Day”, and each team presented their projects to the rest of the team.

They had limited time, but the competitiveness between the teams and the new environment drove their innovation, and their results are one of the perfect showcases of company retreats.

#2 Mynd: 12 new product features in 3 days

Another company who ran a successful hackathon is Mynd. Hailing from California, their team of 32 gathered in Barcelona for 10 days.

For 3 days, they ran a hackathon and developed 12 new product features. The key design elements were prepared beforehand, which allowed them to move quickly and work without designers.

#3 Mattermost: Finding balance between a hackathon and a team-building

We recently hosted a team retreat in Lisbon for communication software company Mattermost. They’re a perfect example of how a company can leverage a team retreat as both an innovation boost and an epic team-building experience.

In the video, Corey Hulen, Mattermost CTO explains:

  • Why they decided to organise their retreat in Lisbon
  • What they were up to during their 5 day retreat: building a product roadmap, organising a “work café”, hosting a hackathon and enjoying some fun team building activities

#4 Invision: Hackathon in a fisherman village

With coworkers located around the world, Invision flew their team to the beautiful coastal fishing village of Ericeira, to come together, hack on ideas and boost team morale while enjoying some stand up paddle surfing and incredible seafood meals.

During their 1-day hackathon, the Invision team built new product features and few internal communication tools.

Innovate with a Design Sprint

The premise of a “design sprint” is to choose one problem and at at the end of a 5-day designated “sprint” you have a variety of viable solutions.

Seems simple right?

The concept is far from new, and it hails from the book Design Sprint by Jake Knapp. Simply put, the team chooses a problem and at the end of a five-day sprint, there’s a variety of solutions to choose from.

If you want to learn more about design sprints, there’s a great interview with the book author that you can check out. Moreover, Adobe has a great guide for running design sprints as well.

This is exactly what Typeform did, during their five-day design sprint when they came up with the app integration with MailChimp. They split up the days as following:

  • Day 1 – Map
  • Day 2 – Sketch
  • Day 3 – Decide
  • Day 4 – Prototype
  • Day 5 – Test

Design sprints have proven to be an invaluable source of creativity and one of the best ways to organize a retreat.

Gamestorming

Since we started hosting team retreats, the guys from Automattic (the company behind WordPress) are quickly becoming regulars and we’ve learnt a lot about the way they run retreats.

We asked one of their team leaders and “workation” experts, Davide Casali, for some tips on how to make the most of a company retreat.

According to Davide, Gamestorming is a must-read for everyone interested in more successful team collaboaration.

It’s chock full of games that aim to generate new ideas and strategies, while also encouraging team members to communicate more efficiently.

Here are a couple of examples of WordPress’s favorite games & exercises:

  • Create team road maps: Each member of the team uses stickers to design a road map of things they are going to work on in the coming months. Afterwards, these road maps are combined to create a single map, which will guide the group towards their goal.
  • Be more efficient: Each member of the team takes several post-it notes and writes down both the good and bad things they experienced while working on their previous projects. Together the post-its create two piles, comprised of pros and cons. The team then tries to come up with ideas of how they can make the good things even better, while also trying to improve the bad ones for future projects.

As you can see, retreats can be a lot of fun, but at the same time, they can be excellent opportunities for teams to get some amazing work done in a short time frame or improve their existing processes.