Nozbe Reunion — why, where and how to organize a company retreat?

In a „No Office” company like Nozbe, we don’t see each other all that much in person. That’s why a few years ago we started all-company meetings. We wanted to spend some quality time together, recharge batteries, get to know the people hidden behind their avatars… and basically connect on a different level. Now, that we did a few of these, I’d like to share a few tips on how to prepare and run a successful “company retreat.”

How often do we organize this?

Twice a year — we always have a spring and a fall reunion. We believe that a semi-annual model is just the right balance of time in the home office vs time with your team.

The choice of spring and fall is deliberate. In summer people want to take vacation time with their families and in winter it’s cold… and usually the fall and spring is a slow time for tourism, so hotels are empty and quiet and can offer us not only great rates but also comfortable stay…

How long does a Nozbe Reunion last?

We typically arrive on a Monday for a late lunch and leave on a Saturday after breakfast. This way we dedicate the entire workweek for a reunion and leave the weekend to relax after an intensive week. I’ll dive deeper into our schedule for the reunion a little bit later, so read on.

Who goes to the meeting?

We’ve tried several models. When our team was around 10 or so people, we’d also invite significant others but now that we’re more than double that, we realized this model doesn’t scale — and not only because of additional costs and logistics, but also for other reasons.

First off, we have a fairly young team, so not everyone has a significant other… and when they do, some have small children, so it’d be really hard to either take them with or leave them behind… for an entire week.

The second argument is that when you’re on your own there, you kind of have to interact with the rest of the team… and you don’t need to worry about your significant other. You can focus on connecting with the rest of the group.

*My friend Michael Hyatt disagrees and highlights the importance of bringing the “other half” along, but our experience is different. We feel like we “click” better as a team when we can leave our day-to-day and just focus on our team dynamics for a week.**

Apart from the core team we also have regular contractors. We don’t invite them to the reunions. Maybe we should revise the policy at some point though…

Work at the reunion

Where do we organize our reunions?

Every time we organize a meeting, we vote on a location… and now, which of these do we take under consideration?

Somewhere not too far away…

Going off to a tropical island would sound really cool for a reunion and maybe we’d do it some time… but as our core team is mainly based in Poland, we usually choose a place in our home country as our destination. We choose a different city/town for each reunion

Limiting our choice to our country makes the whole logistics easier. We’ve got fast trains reaching many parts of Poland, so most of the team can move quickly and arrive at the reunion without a long trek.

What’s the schedule for a “Nozbe Reunion”?

Monday…

We dedicate Monday morning to travel to our reunion destination and meet around 3 pm for a late lunch in the hotel.

After the lunch, there’s my presentation. As the CEO of the company, I’m doing a “state of the union” presentation where I summarize what happened in the last half a year, talk about our future, the direction of the company and what we’re expecting to achieve and talk about at this particular reunion.

In the evening, we usually go out for a light dinner with snacks and beer.

Tuesday to Friday

  • 8–9 in the morning is breakfast time
  • 9–1 pm is about presentations, discussions and alternatively some team-building attractions.
  • At 1 pm we usually have a nice lunch in the hotel.
  • 2–3 pm is “alone time” — a week with the entire team can be demanding so it’s time for each of us to relax, maybe have a nap or siesta… or whatever
  • 3–7 pm is another “presentations” time — we gather in the conference room and keep talking about things, brainstorming and sharing ideas…
  • 7 pm is dinner time and after that, we usually go out for a drink and have some “team integration” games or other group activities — something to glue our team together.

Saturday morning

Time to say goodbye. After the breakfast, everyone leaves for home.

Important notes on the schedule:

  • Schedule alone time — make sure people can retreat a little and not interact with each other all of the time.
  • Plan presentations before the reunion — it’s important to have all the presentations lined up and that people prepare them before — this way we can spread them evenly all over the week for maximum team engagement.
  • Allow for not only company-related presentations but also passion-related — our team consists of 26 people from 26 different places with 26 different stories — we realized that we also need presentations about different passions — this way we can learn a lot from each other!
  • Schedule discussions one day in advance — apart from scheduling presentations, we should be also scheduling discussions so that people can prepare mentally for each and every day. It’s always a good productivity practice to prepare each day the day before… and we should be doing that also on a reunion.
  • Add margin — some time for 1–1 talks and group work — we’ve learned this the hard way — don’t try to squeeze every minute out of the reunion — give people room to breathe and an hour or 30 minutes here and there for 1–1 talks or spontaneous discussions in smaller groups.
  • Put and modify schedule as a shared project in Nozbe — again a good practice — put the schedule and update it in a shared project with the entire team. This way you’re avoiding all the questions like: “what do we do now?”, “when do we do this or that?”
  • Leave some time for support — we always announce on our blog that we’re going to have a reunion and we explain to our Nozbe customers that in that week, they’ll have to wait a little longer for our response… but anyway there should be time for the support team to catch up on emails.
  • Organize sports/integration before — as we’re a group of 26, we have to organize everything earlier to make sure the venues that offer activities are ready for us. One additional tip — make sure not to schedule physically demanding things for Friday — we’re all very tired by then! On our last reunion we were driving go-carts on a Friday and it was really hard…

Presentation

Food — what do we eat? Where?

Just like with everything, food has to be organized well in advance and again, after many trials and errors I think we’ve come up with a great system:

Breakfast and lunch in the hotel

  • Both breakfast and lunch always take place in the hotel. This way our day is very predictable and we don’t waste time “searching for food”.
  • We’ve got lunch menu for the entire week prepared and agreed upon ahead of time before the reunion.

Dinner outside if possible

Dinner is a different story — we prefer to go out for the dinner and explore some cool local restaurants. Again, as a big group, we’re reserving everything in advance. We ask some local people for advice and check Yelp ratings to make sure we choose some nice places.

Hotel — what makes our stay great?

Here’s how we go about choosing a hotel for our reunion. First off, we:

Negotiate a rate with a few hotels in the same vicinity

Yes, we ask a few hotels in the area for their rates, explain what we need and get detailed quotes. This way we can compare the prices and, based on hotel ratings and opinions on the internet, figure out the best value for money. The location is also important.

Conference room as big as possible

We spend most of our time in the conference room and we’ve had them big and small over the years… and it’s obvious that bigger is definitely better. In a spacious conference room the discussions are easier and we can talk 1–1 or in smaller groups.

Room standard doesn’t really matter

As long as we get decent and clean rooms, their standard doesn’t matter all that much. We’ve had fancier hotel rooms and standard ones… and we figured we don’t need much of luxury because we only go to our hotel rooms when we go to sleep — we spend most of our time outside of them! We usually go for the twin rooms as this way people are more integrated (of course we keep it gender specific.)

Allow for margin — if somebody doesn’t like the room, change it

We need to make sure the hotel has a few spare rooms and is not booked solid when we’re coming. This way, if one of the rooms assigned to our team is too small or has some problems, the hotel is flexible enough to change it for something better.

Plan a reunion way in advance

To wrap it all up, let’s discuss some additional tips and tricks:

Announce the dates quickly

Right after our last reunion is done, we already schedule the dates of the next one and make them non-negotiable. This way nobody from our team can say that they’ve got something else coming up. This also prevents potential collisions with vacation time.

Tick-tock schedule

After recent reunions we’re trying to adapt a tick-tock schedule, meaning to spend one reunion in the center of an interesting city… and another in nature, in a hotel away from everything else.

Finances — the company pays for everything

That’s the secret. We set apart a separate budget for each reunion so that the company can pay for it all — the accommodation, the food, the drinks, the travel, everything. The employees can basically arrive at the reunion without cash as everything will be paid for.

Gadgets

Gadgets — additional gifts for the team

It’s become our tradition to have a specially designed t-shirt as a souvenir from each reunion. Apart from the t-shirt, we try to get something special for the team:

  • power bank,
  • travel bottle with water filter,
  • travel coffee mug,
  • traditional tea mug,
  • and many different things…

Many companies offer gadgets with company logos on them but recently we decided to approach this the other way round — to find a product we like and try to buy it in bulk and add the company logo later.

This is how we get our reunions done!

As you can see, each reunion is a logistical challenge but it’s well worth it. And there is a certain art and science to making it a success. Hope you enjoyed our take-aways from organizing reunions and consider some of these things when getting your team ready for a retreat.

To sum it up, here are a few clips from our past reunions:

Wrocław, Fall 2017

Toruń, Spring 2017

Spring of 2016, Sopot

Fall of 2015, Łódź:

Michael
Nozbe founder and CEO. He records a weekly podcast, writes on this blog, and publishes books to help modern knowledge workers get more done and have a more organized (and passionate) life.