The chance for in-person time is precious for a remote team. It had been over a year — 392 days to be precise — since saw each other at our last retreat in Hawaii.
From Thailand to South Africa, Iceland to Australia, each of our company retreats has looked a little different.
Our team of 75 around the world has just returned from our most recent retreat in Madrid, Spain, where a central theme for our People team was cultivating a retreat full of bonding and team-building.
As the People team planned and approached this retreat, the 8th in Buffer’s history, we knew we had to make each moment count – while at the same time, leaving room for people to breathe.
Here is how we approached this retreat and some of the team activities we included that helped us make the most of our time together in Madrid.
Setting the tone: Working smarter, not harder
As a remote team, we have a variety of work styles and personalities, and we acknowledge that our in-person retreats can be overwhelming at times (while wholly fulfilling as well!). Before the retreat began, we set the tone in by sending out a message to the whole team about the overall feeling we wanted to have while we were together. Here’s a piece of that message:
For this retreat, we’ll take inspiration from the more relaxed pace of the Spanish lifestyle to remember a key value of Buffer: Live smarter, not harder.
To be more explicit, you are invited to lean into serendipity, wellness and team connection over powering through a task.
We had 26 people who had never been on a Buffer retreat before. The whole team was familiar with the feeling of FOMO (fear of missing out) and thus wanting to be a part of every possible activity or gathering during the retreat. By setting the tone from the beginning that teammates have “permission” to not take part in everything, we feel this created more breathing room.
Collaborative sessions: Visioning and gratitude
To kick off our time together at the coworking space we’d be in for the week, Campus Madrid, Joel hosted a visioning session with a short agenda that left lots of time for group discussion and exploration.
The week wrapped up with a similar sort of session that began as an All-Hands and turned into a group-wide gratitude sharing (with the assistance Campus’s handy Catchbox microphone). This helped us end on a reflective and thankful note.
Working together: What’s your personality type?
During a trip to San Francisco for the Tech Inclusion conference, we spotted a cool activity that Lever, a recruiting software, does as it onboards new teammates: A personality test to help the team work more productively together.
For our retreat, we decided to create our own activity around personality tests: plotting out where we all were, personality-wise, on one big page.
We took our avatars and printed them (via Moo.com) onto square business cards:
And together as a group, we all took a personality test called 16Personalities, which takes concepts from Carl Jung and the Myers-Briggs test (here’s a bit more on that). We took the tests together in real-time and then taped them to a large poster board. (We were sure to include our teammates who couldn’t be at the retreat as well by having them fill out the test in advance.)
It was a fascinating exercise! Quickly, we saw some trends emerge.
Here is our team mapped out by each of the 16 personality types of our test – you can learn more about each here.
We were blown away to see so many of our teammates in similar categories. We’re excited to further explore how we can use this information to work better together!
Learning about each other: What is “Buffer Jeopardy”?
A little while before the retreat in one of our impromptu chats, our very own Engineering Architect, Dan, hosted a discussion around TV game shows. That, plus his matching suit top sparked the idea that he might make a wonderful game show host.
We had been collecting interesting facts on our Buffer teammates to use in fun new ways. Initially, they were used as a quiz, in a section of our weekly internal newsletter. Then we thought, what about an in-person game show?
Dan served as our very own Alex Trebek, host of Jeopardy, for our custom game of Buffer Jeopardy!
We used the Jeopardy App to create the game template (and used the paid version to avoid ads and to control privacy settings.)
We included a mix of team facts, values, and company stats to deepen the knowledge about our team and also bring a greater focus back on our company values. The deeper goal behind this activity was to find a way to engage the team, bond the teams together, and share some laughs.
In addition to hosting, Dan also created a Buffer Buzzer app (now open source on Github!) on his flight from New York from Madrid. We split the team up into 10 groups, and the app let each person buzz in when they knew an answer.
This game happened to fall right after lunchtime, which can sometimes be a danger zone with the threat of food-induced sleepiness. Luckily, with the ability to buzz in the palm of their hands and the level of engagement required (some really hard Qs, some easier ones), things were really high-energy game for the whole team!
We gave special prizes to the top two teams, and had quite a blast discovering new fun facts (like who on the team once won a prize for being able to fill four popcorn bags at once!) and getting caught up in the game itself!
Want to play Buffer Jeopardy too? Here is the link!
Keeping it traditional: Team dinners, Buffer Fun Fund
We were sure to include plenty of traditions that are synonymous with Buffer retreats. One of which is having a dinner for the whole team in the middle of the week and passing around a fisheye lens camera to take outrageous and adorable selfies:
Another team dinner tradition that originated early in our retreat history is switching seats for dessert. We typically jump one or two spots to the right or left and this allows you to start whole new conversations with a new group of friends at the table.
We include one rest day closer to the end of the week, this year it was the Thursday. This a tradition we started in Iceland as a way to build in a little more down time and team bonding. Buffer provides a stipend for each team member (we call it the “Buffer Fun Fund” or BFF) to use for a variety of activities. This time around, we had options such as a flamenco show, go-karting, bubble soccer, and a trip to the Arabian baths.
Our bubble soccer group produced a ton of amazing gifs and, thankfully, no injuries!
Providing a variety of activities— and the opportunity to bond in smaller groups — allows for more flexibility on the planning side and has been well-received by the team. We even have some folks who choose to do their own activities on this day or take the day to recover by themselves.
Getting Involved with the Local Startup Community
Our retreat week would not have been nearly so smooth or productive without the help of our generous coworking hosts, Campus Madrid. We spent all week taking over their auditorium. They truly went above and beyond in so many aspects, and helped us host a variety of events for their community as well!
Here are some recordings of those events if you’re keen to check them out:
Overall, the week had a good balance of team bonding and team collaboration time, and we can’t wait to see each other in person again. ❤️