Planning a Team Gathering

For those of us on remote teams, the all-hands is of utmost importance. Getting your entire team together, including remote folks, is incredibly important. Because they are so important, however, it’s vital to put thought and effort into these get togethers. Notice I didn’t say money because a lot of really great team building can be accomplished with a minimal amount of money.

First, think about the goals. I like the think about these gatherings in a few different pieces.

Ideally there is group bonding and a sense of camaraderie that comes out of the week (or few days). This may happen on a few levels, so you can think about it as team, department, and company because it’s important folks leave the week feeling energized and closer to all three of these entities.

  1. I think it’s also important that there is some sort of professional development or learning that takes place.

  2. I like for these weeks to be fun.

  3. Provide updates and increase transparency. This could happen at all levels. What needs to be clarified or worked out for your immediate team to be more effective. What’s new in the department that needs to be discussed or addressed. Finally, what inspiring company-wide message needs to be given to both inform and encourage everyone.

With these four goals, it’s time to get to planning. I’ve found it helpful to break up days into subject so that folks know what is more or less planned. So, for example, if you have 4 days, your schedule may be: Day 1: Team day Day 2: Department Day Day 3: Company Day Day 4: Learning Day

Then figure out which elements should be put on each day. Here are some options to consider. On team day, group code review, mob programming, or discussions about team process and flow could be helpful.

On department day, workshops bringing everyone to a more similar level on a technology you’re hoping to move to or even talking through patterns/best practices that the whole department will adapt would be great. Something like talking about a new department style guide, pairing practices, or doing effective code review is great. These discussions and workshops tend to take longer and be more in-depth because there are more people involved and folks may be at different levels or have a variety of opinions. Additionally, you could also have a longer fun activity that gets everyone socializing and speaking with one another.

On company day, I’ve seen day-long hackathons related to the company’s core values, a substantial company update, and some of the fun activities I mentioned on department day. You could have a fun activity on both days, one that includes more folks from different departments that your team/department might interact with and one that is only just the department. Depending on how large your company is, department day and company day may be pretty similar or they might be very different.

Finally, learning day could be an unconference broken up by lightning talks (not necessarily about tech but about anything anyone wants to speak on) or even paired or group learning that folks sign up for in advance.

On each of these days it’s important to think about the fun components as well, even if everything isn’t company sponsored. What’s going on for lunch? How about dinner? Is there a game night or some sort of optional evening activity? How are you making sure all these activities are accessible and inclusive as well. What is mandatory and what is optional?

This might seem like a lot of work but you really aren’t planning four full days of activities. And remember, some things should be passed off to individuals. The planning team should have a point person on each team that will determine what that team is doing for team day, etc.

Here are some general tips:

Set expectations with the team. If you have folks that are colocated and others coming into town, this step is even more important. How much are folks expected to participate in? What’s the expectation about daytime vs. evening events? What is or isn’t family friendly? When are the travel days for remotes?

Plan with a team. I’ve never worked at a company where a person had this sort of planning as part of their job which means folks are often trying to come up with a successful event while also accomplishing their other regular tasks. If you have a team planning with you and divvy up the responsibilities, everything will go much smoother.

Have a “master of ceremonies” or know which teammate is in charge of each planned item on the agenda. The most successful gathering I’ve planned had a shared google doc which each item written down chronologically. The document listed the name, time, location, and point person for the session, as well as a brief summary of what was needed from the point person (ie- MC lightning talks, or introduce guest speaker, etc.) and a list of any materials needed.

Put scheduled sessions in everyone’s calendars as early as possible. This helps folks plan out what their week will look like and determine what a realistic workload looks like for that week since the focus is team bonding, but oftentimes real work does need to get done as well.

Send a survey afterwards. There will always be more to improve upon as the team changes. Make sure to send out a post-gathering survey to get anonymous feedback, thoughts, and opinions.

The goal is to have everyone walk away excited about where they work, loving their team, and ready to dive back in and do awesome work.

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