JournalOct 2015

Team retreat: Rethinking our social purpose in Croatia

Anyone who’s familiar with the game Two Truths, One Lie can start taking a guess as to which of the following statements are true or false:

  1. Remote teams benefit hugely from going on team retreats
  2. Hanno has gone on 4 team retreats
  3. Post-its aren’t practical for remote teams

Let’s start by looking at the first one…

1. Remote teams benefit hugely from going on team retreats: TRUTH

One of the obvious aspects of remote teams is that they don’t see each other in person. Physical interactions are replaced with virtual ones, using video conferencing tools such as Skype, Google Hangouts, Zoom, etc. But even with these online meetups, some interactions are better in real life, especially when it comes to getting to know each other as people rather than a face on a screen. And we’re not the only ones to say so.

Spending a lot of time together on a trip reveals behaviours and casual conversations that wouldn’t normally be present in a typical work-related call. Many times it’s the small things, like knowing that someone isn’t a morning person or finding out that someone is really attached to their cat, that help to build empathy or connect over a common passion (cat lovers, unite!). Ultimately, these moments for face to face bonding are an opportunity to get a feel of the company’s culture and experience unforgettable moments together that will go down in team history. And let’s face it, they’re also just plain fun.

2. Hanno has gone on 4 team retreats: TRUTH

When I joined Hanno earlier this year, I was lucky to accompany the team on their third team retreat in Buenos Aires. Previously, the team had already done two retreats, in Kuala Lumpur and Valencia.

You’d think that after three team trips, the team would have figured out an easy selection process for choosing destinations, but it’s still not the case. Our most recent trip took even more planning than usual, with top destinations boomeranging between Iceland, Turkey, Hungary, Portugal, Italy, Croatia, Morocco… and even Bromley.

The winner was Croatia and we ended up staying in Dubrovnik (tight competition with Bromley, I know, but more than half the team was swayed when they found out Game of Thrones was partly filmed in Dubrovnik). The hassle of getting everybody together was worth the fantastic coastal views, good food, and a boat trip that ended up getting us drenched and bumped by stormy waves.

Our two wannabe producers, Sergei and Arnas, scouting the GoT film locations for the future series…

Post-its aren’t practical for remote teams: LIE

Ever since Hanno started using post-its, we realised how useful and easy they are for visualising our ideas effectively and clustering them quickly. I still remember the first time I brought post-its to my usual coworking space in London and introduced them to Matt: it was love at first sight. Although he was familiar with them already, he hadn’t fully experienced using them in a design process. They provided a simple way of making sense out of all the ideas we had collected and gave some sort of structure that was understandable at a glance.

Some may think that although post-its are very effective, remote teams can’t make use of them to collaborate virtually. But thanks to tools like Mural that isn’t a problem any more: post-its can come to life on screens too. In fact, they’re so effective that we’ve integrated them as an essential part of our design process, whether they’re on paper or in digital form.

Defining Hanno’s why, how and what

Just as we did on our previous trips, we wanted to go on a team retreat with a purpose—not only to spend some quality time exploring islands and cultural heritage while we got to know each other better, but also to build something great together. Our plan was to use design thinking to develop side projects that would maximise social good. To do so, we had to get a greater sense of clarity of who we are and what our purpose is as a company.

Why does Hanno exist?

To inspire us, we kicked off our discussion with Simon Sinek’s powerful talk on the golden circle. Most of us had heard it already, but it always amazes me to re-watch and remember how brilliantly simple the concept is, yet how many companies seem to fail in knowing why they exist in the first place.

At Hanno, our intent has evolved since we first started out and we felt that the time had come to redefine it in a clearer way so that everyone in the team and the outside world could be aware of it. Although we all seemed to have a relatively homogenous view on our purpose, narrowing it down to a single belief that communicated everything we wanted to say was a lot more complex.

We first had to get a deeper understanding of why we do what we do, so we began by sharing our personal stories of why we started working as designers, long before joining Hanno. Using that as a starting point, we then explained our motivations for wanting to be part of Hanno and what we were hoping to achieve.

After spending a couple of days talking, ideating, clustering, reformulating, understanding and reflecting on why, how and what we do—while covering walls, mirrors, fridges and windows with rainbows of post-it notes—we eventually managed to outline the core of our purpose. In a nutshell:

We believe design has the power to solve some of the greatest challenges facing humanity.

Wrapping up our purpose with a stunning backdrop as a bonus

We also spent time identifying some of the many challenges the world is currently facing (such as wars, poverty, overconsumption, and climate change) and narrowed these down to the ones we wished to focus on addressing as a team: not only from a practical point of view and sense of urgency, but also from a personal choice. We finally came to the conclusion that:

Our mission is to find brilliant, socially motivated organisations that want to take on major problems related to the environment, education and health care and help them grow.

One could argue that some of these problems are more critical than others, and we definitely don’t contest that. But we also believe that being personally passionate about one cause over another will affect our involvement as well as the solution for the better. Although the three areas of focus we chose are still broad on their own, they’re giving us an initial direction that we previously didn’t have and couldn’t justify.

Where do we go from here?

This is just the beginning of a new, yet familiar venture. Our goals are the same, but instead of being slightly blurry in some areas, they are now crystal clear for everyone on the team and the rest of the world. Ideally we’d love to have more and more organisations and companies wanting to work with us to help them achieve their own missions, especially if they’re aligned with ours. We’re also aware though that this won’t happen overnight and it will take team effort and time to make it happen.

In the meantime, we’re proud to say that we already managed to choose our destination for team retreat #5 (*hint: it’s known as the “pearl of the Indian Ocean”).

“Never settle” lives on. Dubrovnik, 2015
Posted by
Laïla von Alvensleben

Laïla was a designer at Hanno from 2015-2018, helping us implement ways to work more effectively as a distributed team.