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How to Optimize Your Offsite: Collaboration

Three people sitting together looking at a computer

In collaboration with Splash

5 Effective and Creative Ways to Build Culture with Your Distributed Team

The old way of hosting offsites no longer works. Booking speakers and offering drinks afterwards doesn’t cut it anymore, when remote work means you have fewer opportunities to build company culture. If you’re fully remote, that offsite might be your only in-person culture-building opportunity. In a hiring environment that favors employees, you need your company to impress. And in a remote work world, an offsite is the way to stand out.

So how do you deliver a powerful moment in IRL? How to you include both in-office workers and also remote employees? It needs to be an experience that creates a bond through shared memory and story. Up close, not on zoom. Surreal, not slideshows. The free beer? That one can stay, because we’re not monsters.

After speaking with hundreds of event managers, there’s a consensus that in order to create a memorable and effective offsite, you need to focus on two things: 

  • Collaboration - working together as a team
  • Connection - bonding professionally and personally

In this article, I'll share 5 models for facilitating collaboration to optimize your offsites. Each of these effective and creative models will include suggested activities to spark your own ideas too!

Ben Hindman, Founder & Head of Event Strategy, Splash

A group of three people on laptops laughing

1. Collaborate by Building. (Leave something Behind)

There’s nothing like working on a project that feels insurmountable, then stepping back to look at a tangible, physical object and realizing, “I just made that.” There was nothing there, and now there is something. Give your teams the tools to build things together, both at your offsites and beyond. 

In my experience, teams find it freeing and inspiring to build something that isn’t directly work-centric. Taking collaboration out of the realm of daily responsibilities makes things more fun for participants, and gives everyone a chance to lean into the task and teamwork at hand.

Examples of building-focused activities:

  • Build furniture, whether it’s to add shared culture to the office or to donate to the less fortunate.
  • Paint a mural to help foster working together and being creative too. Equally enjoyable for designers or accountants, da Vincis or Banksys.
  • Assemble a robot or drone. Hey, this one isn’t just for engineers. It’s a great opportunity to get hands on and see how your team can build things that truly come to life.

Of course, if your offsite is “get sh*t done” focused, the thing you build can be a product roadmap, a prototyped product, or a strategy deck. That works too.

Looking for a team building activity that will engage and inspire?

Browse team building activities and vendors to help foster collaboration at your next offsite.

2. Collaborate by Making. (Process is the Outcome)

Even if your team works async, that doesn’t mean you can’t be in sync too. When a group is truly working together, they finish each other’s sentences, do the right task at the right time, and hand off tasks seamlessly. Employees can work on their communication skills both personally and as a team through projects that are focused in 'making.' In this 'joint flow state', a team can achieve amazing things. 

Other event planners, facilitators, and guest experts I’ve spoken with agree. This Joint Flow State is the same hyper-collaborative vibe  in Michelin-starred kitchens and in the most swinging jazz clubs. So how do you create an environment that enables Joint Flow State?

Examples of making-focused activities:

  • Rent a music studio and show your team how to collaborate together in harmony. For folks who are less musically-inclined, there’s always Auto-Tune (or cowbell).
  • Cook a meal together, from shopping to chopping to popping bottles. Even if you never make it onto Top Chef, your team will learn a lot about navigating process together.
  • Make bouquets, including flower picking to give everyone a chance to see their input bloom into beautiful output thanks to collaboration.
Three woman around a table of food and wine

3. Collaborate by Exploring. (Venture into the Unknown)

Team building exercises don't always have to be focused on a final product. Consider exploration-focused events and experiences for your team. Exploration is inherently vulnerable because you’re moving forward without knowing the outcome.

Exploring the unknown — and this shared vulnerability — with a team creates a powerful bond. This model of fostering collaboration requires creating a plan, yet being able to improvise and adapt when you’re wrong or encounter new information. 

Exploration can be external or internal, often at least a bit of both. Either way, exploration-driven activities are particularly engaging for scientists, data analysts, and other colleagues who frequently dig into what’s possible.

Examples of exploring-focused activities:

  • Attend a workshop at a clown school, improv class, or other venture that’s about learning more about yourselves and how you can engage together, on or off the stage.
  • Participate in a scavenger hunt. Love tech? Try geocaching. Want to bond over shared interests? Themed scavenger hunts abound.
  • Try route finding in nature, like learning to navigate by using the stars, terrain and plants, or the sea. We don’t always need a map to find our way to our goals. Focus on fresh air! Most corporate teams are inside sitting at computers all day so mix it up with outdoor activities to get your team members movin'!

4. Collaborate by Giving. (Let Your Mission Drive You)

Charity work has a way of shifting perspectives, as a reminder of what really matters. It’s healthy for a team to be reminded, together, that there’s more to the world than the current project or quarterly goals. It’s humbling in a good way to join a greater cause and give back to the people and communities around us. It's also a great reminder to show your team where your company culture stands.

There are plenty of opportunities to focus on helping others while still being connected to your organization’s mission. Start with your values and mission, and let them guide you to related charitable activities. That way, you’re picking a collaboration activity that’s central to your culture yet still separate enough to be engaging and refreshing from the day-to-day of each team member’s job.

Examples of giving-focused activities:

  • Build something that can be given to those in need, such as a guitar for a local school or a home for a family in need.
  • Prepare lunch for the guests at a local shelter, either a hot meal cooked onsite if available or a packed lunch if prepared offsite.
  • Clean up a nearby park or beach, to help support your local community and nature at the same time.

5. Collaborate through Competition. (Divide, then Conquer)

While competition can seem like a divider on the surface, the endorphin boost that comes with winning something (anything!) creates a peak experience that bonds teammates together. And competing within the confines of a controlled activity creates bonds among opponents too, as we often see during the Olympics.

Team building activities that include a competitive angle often bonds smaller teams together and gives everyone something to talk about after the fact! From office trivia to department scavenger hunts, there are many creative ways you can collaborate through competition.

One of the key aspects of this model is starting out in teams to foster collaboration within each team. I recommend splitting up colleagues who share the same role or often work together cross-functionally, to help colleagues get out of their comfort zones. Then after the thrill of competition, have all teams come together again to celebrate and coalesce in their shared effort. 

Examples of competing-focused activities:

  • Host an epic video game tournament, whether it’s the latest squad-based action game or a retro game with goofy graphics that inspires nostalgia and teamwork too.
  • Fire things up with a pizza-making challenge, complete with judges, custom ingredients, and a tasty theme.
  • Get sporty with dodgeball, relay races, or kickball. You can even have a mini-Olympics with multiple events, maybe even trivia for the less athletically-gifted team members.

In the spirit of collaboration, I’ll set you up for even more success by leaving you with two questions to ponder. The answers you arrive at will help guide you to creating offsites that truly are optimized for team building.

How can you layer in deep meaning that connects the theme and journey of the offsite to the people participating? For instance, if you build a table, does it symbolize wanting everyone to have a seat at said table?

How can you build bonds through joint memories? These collective experiences, challenges, and triumphs are inherent to collaborative environments.

At the heart of any org, culture is what we make of it together. Here’s to making every offsite truly collaborative, with a focus on shared memory, shared stories, and shared ideas.

Keep an eye out for Part 2 of this How to Optimize Your Offsite series, where I’ll share proven approaches for building connections with each offsite you host.

Ready to book your company retreat?

Head to our City Guides for a deep dive in some of the best cities to host an offsite!

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