Traditionally, the goal of this week is to work together across regions, set strategic direction, and run productive internal sprints. This year was a little different.
After a year and a half of pandemic and purely digital meetings, rapid company growth, an increased number of employees working fully remotely, our teams needed to get to know each other. So we shifted the goal of this summer office edition: the goal was to bond with colleagues and strengthen our internal networks.
Here are our key learnings and takeaways from one week in the Italian mountains.
but first a little teaser video...
There’s a common personality trait of every Boi’er
Company growth sometimes comes at the expense of maintaining a strong company culture and hiring the right people. Because of our focus on hiring for cultural fit, we have managed to overcome this challenge, and there seems to be a common theme about your average BOI’er: they are good-hearted people with no ego and a genuine interest in each other.
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner turned out to be one of the preferred (and unintended) team-building activities, that allowed people to chat and get to know each other in a non-engineered way. Throughout the week, people shuffled around as they pleased, and no table constellation was ever the same. A testament to the genuine interest we show in each other.
Lowering the barrier for collaboration
The verdict is out: real-life beats any type of digital bonding and meeting.
As a global firm, our people are based all over the world. As we grow, it naturally gets more difficult to know each individual in the company; not only knowing them personally, but knowing what they do in the company and what their strengths are. Asking someone for help or input, whom you’ve never met before, can be challenging, and can be a barrier for collaboration.
But we want to leverage our global network of employees, to strengthen our culture and challenge our way of working. Having a yearly dedicated week, where we bring our globetrotters together gives us the opportunity to strengthen our internal networks and facilitate collaboration.
Seeing each other in person and having non-work-related chats helps to establish a relationship, which lowers the barrier for collaboration and communication in the ‘normal’ digital setting when working with teams that are based in different parts of the world.
Connecting with non-attending people was difficult
Of course not everyone could attend this week in the European mountains. Be it for COVID-19 related restrictions or other planning challenges. We tried to include the missing BOI’ers by calling them in on Zoom for certain meetings and workshops. We also tried to have them physically present by having cardboard cutouts of their faces!
But mixing a very physical setting with a virtual one was challenging. Next year, we will try harder to include the ones that unfortunately won’t make it.
Raising the bar for team building
Instead of the classic team-building and get-to-know-each-other activities, Board of Innovation raised the bar for team bonding during our summer office. According to our teams, these alternative and slightly more extreme activities created great bonding across global teams through shared experiences. Whether it’s saving your colleague from falling off a raft, doing COVID self-tests together, or curing your hangover with a morning rave.
Here’s an outtake of some of the things we did:
No, this was not meant as a bonding experience as much as a safety measure. But it turned out that collectively performing COVID-19 self-tests every other day was an odd shared experience, that we likely won’t forget (and will be telling our grandkids about).
A full week, and countless COVID tests later, and we were all still negative.
We woke up our ravers with an early morning sirene, to get them straight out of bed, and straight back on the dancefloor. We hosted a 9am morning rave, with our favorite tunes, to kickstart our Tuesday.
Canyoning, hiking, rafting
We fed our BOI’ers’ adventurous spirits by offering them the choice to go canyoning, hiking or rafting, or hang back at the hotel and take a swim in the river. No accidents or injuries occurred, but we did have to drag back a colleague who fell off the raft. Talk about life savers.
Biking and wine tasting
A stay in the famous wine region of Piedmont wouldn’t be complete without a bike ride through the fields, and a wine tasting at a local winery. Paired with great Italian charcuterie and cheeses of course!
What we talk about when we’re all together
No topics were put on the agenda ahead of Summer Office, to allow for flexibility and self-steering. The informal setup resulted in many important, and sometimes sensitive, topics being brought up in easy conversations.
Some conversations began with a work topic, and ended in fun chats. And some fun chats, ended up being productive and important work conversations. Some themes were recurring throughout the week, and throughout various conversations.
- What are our core values? And how do we relate to them?
- The benefits and challenges of a global, diverse agency
- How to leverage each other’s strengths
Core values and culture
At Board of Innovation, our core values are important to us and we use them as our guiding light for strategic decisions as well as hiring the right innovation talent. Assessing these values, and assessing ourselves against those values, is important to keep them authentic and relevant.
We took the opportunity to openly discuss and assess our values in a culture and value workshop. The physical workshop opened up for more honest conversations, critical views, and diverse opinions than when hosted virtually. More importantly, it sparked some necessary decisions and discussions that we will continue to work on.
Besides our core values, creating a diverse and inclusive global agency is an important part of our culture. So when we’re all together, it’s often a topic that pops up. Both in business related chats and as private conversations.
Diversity is a powerful element for us, being a strategy and business design agency; having a diverse workforce unlocks our innovation capabilities, as we’re met with different insights and points of view. Our focus on open communication and idea- and knowledge sharing helps us to challenge ourselves and our way of working, enabling us to better innovate and design for others than our peers.
We still have a lot to learn on creating an inclusive and diverse workplace and culture, balancing opinions and views from nearly 30 different nationalities. Especially as we continue to grow.
How to leverage each other strengths
During Summer Office, we hosted an unconference – an, unlike traditional conferences, participant-driven meeting where all participants decide on the agenda, discussion topics, and workshops. Facilitated by Kevin, we pitched and voted on the topics and split into groups to discuss.
While the topics discussed were very different, there was a common theme among them; how do we leverage each other’s strengths?
We come from various backgrounds and have developed specific skill sets that we want to harness. This theme sparked many conversations and opened up for better collaboration across the circles (teams) and regions. We’re already seeing the impact of this, with more projects and knowledge sharing, and a lower barrier for cross-circle work.
Next year: what will we change?
After getting back to real work, following a post-summer-office withdrawal, we sat down to evaluate the week, to find out what we can do better for next year.
- Put in time for individual teams’ team-building: within our various teams, people work remotely from lots of different locations. And while the focus on general company bonding was very successful, there was a need to have more individual team bonding, where smaller teams could do non-work activities.
- Strategy day: testament to the accountability and involvement that are common traits within any BOI’er, our teams are keen to be involved in setting the strategy and direction of Board of Innovation. Next year, we will organize a strategy day to get all of our noses pointed in the same direction.
- More structured working blocks: a learning from previous summer offices was that we tried to do too much, with too little time. So this time, we planned fewer specific working blocks, and promoted more self-steering. Next year, we’ll try to strike the right balance!
Summer office 2021 was definitely a success, and we are already looking forward to next year. A whole week, with the whole global team, focused on uplevelling ourselves as a company. Hopefully with just as much limoncello and Aperol Spritz as this year.
Do you want to join the next one? Check out our job openings and apply to join the team!