I’ve never really been a fan of trust falls and round table icebreakers. While they’re handy for some situations, they often feel forced and, worse, tend to alienate the few shy folks you may have on your team. When tasked with organizing Help.com’s first company offsite, my mind was immediately drawn to the inevitable icebreaker template. After all, how much do I really know about my new team? Each day I’m surrounded by this growing group of incredibly talented professionals, yet, for many I only really know their name. I want to know more, but I don’t want to dance around with a shoe on my head to do it.
Organizing an event of any size can be daunting. There is no right or wrong way to approach it, but I’ve found that a few simple steps can truly ease the process.
Find a link
My first task was to find a common thread between each member of the team. Because we’re a small but growing team of 10 (now 11!), it was fairly simple to take a surface look at what we find interesting. Multiple team members are self-identified “foodies” and even run personal food blogs. It’s not hard to be passionate about food, but our team takes it to another level. They examine every moment of their dining experience from stepping into a restaurant to having the door swing behind them on their way out; it’s the whole package.
For a larger team, I would suggest approaching this more thematically. At my previous company of 300+, we would develop outing ideas by grouped interest. Activities like scavenger hunts and cruises tended to engage a large number of people but still be operationally easy to navigate.
Research is key
“Getting together around a great meal is a simple and effective way to bond with your employees in a low-key environment. You don’t need to go off to a secluded campground to have a great retreat. Just get your employees together around great food and start talking”. -- Alex Lorton, Cater2me (via Inc.com), Help.com’s October Customer Service Hero!
I already knew that I wanted our outing to involve food, but how? After doing some digging, I stumbled across a blog post about mixology courses. From there, I narrowed down my research to bars in Austin that specialize in cocktails and food, and chose my top three. Finally, I picked my top three bars and sent out emails asking if they were open doing a hands-on dinner and mixology event; we were booked at WeatherUp the next day. When researching, I recommend looking at a variety of sources, from Yelp to independent blogs.
The runaway winner of best solo photo booth.
Plan, but don’t over-plan
Organizing a small event is like managing a small team. You want to be hands-on, but not micromanage every moment. For a dinner party/ mixology class, it’s good to have an idea of how the night will unravel. What will the drink-making process look like? How spread out will the meal be?
I met with our host and chef, Kristine, multiple times over the course of two weeks to make sure our menu and decorations/layout were as desired. Despite all of that planning, as soon as the team sat down at the event, we realized we couldn’t talk to one another and quickly rearranged. The day won’t go as planned, but that’s part of the fun
At the end of the day, I would consider our first offsite a success - not just because no one got food poisoning or had a martini shaker spill all over themselves - but because we each got to know each other a little bit better. As we learned about the fine art of Old Fashioned and the timelessness of a Martini, we also learned about random connections and shared histories.
What was the best offsite you had? Let us know in the comments below or @tweetsfromhelp.