Last week my co-workers and I embarked on our company’s first ever work retreat. We’re a fairly new company, with a team of only twelve people, and we’re fortunate enough to all get along well on an average day. For our retreat, we all spent five days together at a cottage and we didn’t kill each other. We even bonded and even clocked some productive work hours.
But it could have gone differently. We could have been forced to play a string of groan-worthy icebreaker games. The only way icebreaker games actually work to bring people together is by causing people to bond over a shared sense of frustration and/or despair at being stuck in such an uncomfortable situation.
Luckily, we didn’t play those games and the general consensus was that the retreat was a success and we should totally do it again next year. The key to a successful retreat? We managed to find a good balance between productive, actionable activities and general hanging out and enjoying spending time together.
That’s because the activities we chose didn’t feel like a waste of time: they were fun and they had direct applications to our business.
Here are five work retreat activities that don’t suck. In fact, they actually kind of rock.
1. Visual Makeover
Group people into teams of two to three people and have them give a page a visual makeover. For example, you could choose a site and have each group look over a different pages on a site, looking for ways to improve the design and user experience. Group people from different departments together–even if someone isn’t a designer by vocation, they will still be able to identify parts of a UX that aren’t working.
For example, our team looked at ways to improve the design of a microbrewery site by incorporating infographics, because our site is an infographic generator. But you could ask your team to focus on any theme, or simply let them run wild with their own ideas. This activity was a great way for our team to test the limits of what we could do using our own tool, and where things could be improved.
2. Purple Cow
The Purple Cow is a concept developed by Seth Godin and it’s a marketing classic. There’s regular old boring products–brown cows–and then there’s remarkable products–purple cows. The aim of the game is to see how you can market a remarkable product in order to turn a profit.
Team people up in groups of 2-3 people, mixing up people from different departments. This will not only to encourage bonding between team members, but also allow for some fresh perspectives.
Start with brainstorming ways to market a purple cow. After the ten minute brainstorming period is over, each team will have to present their ideas in turn. But there’s a catch: you can’t repeat ideas. That means that each team will have to come up with enough ideas to cross off any duplicates and offer a unique idea. I guarantee you that a lot of the answers your team comes up with will not only be hilarious, they’ll also be clever.
Then, turn it around and in the same way, look for new ways to market a new product or service your business will be offering. When we did this activity, we ended up with a spreadsheet full of ideas for new features and strategies to promote our new product.
3. Draw Your Job
This activity we found on Greatist is a way for your team to not only gain a better understanding of each person’s individual roles, but also to identify common highlights and frustrations at your company.
Pass out some paper and ask each team member to draw their own day-to-day job. Give them five-ten minutes to do so, creating multiple drawings, if they want. After, have each team member present in turn.
While we may see our coworkers every day, we don’t always have a concrete understanding of the exact role they play in the company. This activity is especially useful if you have new team members joining you on the retreat.
4. User Onboarding Road Map
This activity will require your team to look at your site or product with fresh eyes. Pass out chart paper and markers (the more color, the better). Have teams of 2-4 people draw a road map (they can interpret this as literally as they want) of the onboarding experience for someone first using either your site.
What is the first thing their eyes would be drawn to? What is the first thing they would click? Are they given all of the information they need for a smooth onboarding experience, or are there roadblocks that make the process confusing or difficult?
After about 15 minutes, have teams circulate and look at each other’s roadmaps with markers. Let teams add in missing steps or information to other roadmaps as they see fit.
This activity helped our team identify aspects of our pricing page that could be improved and rendered more intuitive. I’m sure your team will find some concrete ways you can improve your user onboarding experience.
5. Hack Sprint
Hackathons are generally spread out over a couple of days. A hackathon sprint happens in a mere matter of hours.
Again, divide your team up into small groups of 2-4 people. When we did this activity, we paired people from different departments together, but you could also group people by department. Both approaches will yield different results.
Our team were given the very broad instructions of trying to complete a small project that they have been wanting to work on for a while. It could be anything, with the one caveat that it should be something we could use for our business. Our team managed to get some surprisingly complete projects done after three hours of highly focused work.
Remember, the key to a work retreat that everyone can get onboard with is to find a good balance between work and chill time. These activities will help your team get some solid house of productivity in so that you can spend the rest of the time bonding.
Are there any work retreat activities you would recommend?
5 Work Retreat Activities That Won’t Make You Cringe