Team building in the French countryside: Takeaways from our May 2024 retreat

As a remote-first startup, getting offline and meeting in real life is essential to our success. That’s why, twice a year, we get together in a new location to co-work, share meals, participate in activities, and most importantly, make memories. 
Deidre Olsen
June 11, 2024

As a remote-first startup, getting offline and meeting in real life is essential to our success. That’s why, twice a year, we get together in a new location to co-work, share meals, participate in activities, and most importantly, make memories. 

This time, colleagues from the Netherlands, Germany, Turkey, Romania, and Belgium—new joiners and long-time members—came together to connect in person. Over five days, we established rapport and built lasting connections.

As people are distributed across countries and time zones, our retreats are one of the few opportunities we get to be in the same place at the same time. This allows us to transcend our Zoom avatars and get to know each other beyond titles, tenure, and hierarchy.

Revelling in the perfect retreat atmosphere

We journeyed to Atelier Blanchefosse, an artist space in the Grand Est region of northeastern France. Nestled near the ruins of a 12th-century Cistercian abbey, the one-hectare location, once home to a former mayor, was especially magical.

The idyllic rural landscape had farms filled with cows, horses, goats, and sheep. With the sound of birdsong and buzzing insects, this was the perfect backdrop for our time away. The secluded property was fully equipped with communal dining and living areas, a dance studio, a garden, and a grey cat named Els. 

It can be tough to find the right setting and accommodations for a large group. So, we were intentional in seeking out a specific atmosphere. The relaxed, nurturing environment helped us pursue our goal of bonding, unwinding, and resetting. There was room for everyone to enjoy time alone and together. 

Fostering team camaraderie through face-to-face interactions

Over the past couple of years, our team has grown in size and changed in composition. Online, it isn’t always possible to understand gestures and body language, which help contextualize the nuances and idiosyncrasies of our colleagues. Being physically present together twice a year makes all the difference.

Through face-to-face interactions, we get the chance to see people fully embodied and fleshed out. Spending meaningful, concentrated time with each other fosters team camaraderie. It brings people closer together and offers the chance for new hires and longstanding employees alike to break down barriers and build up trust.

All of this was felt during the 16personalities workshop, led by Laura. Before the retreat, everyone completed a short survey to determine their personality type. Through various activities, we learned about our similarities and differences and how these dynamics affect our morale, problem-solving skills, decision-making, creative thinking, and group collaboration.

We split into groups based on specific traits, whether introverted or extroverted, intuitive or observant, feeling or thinking. It was fascinating to find that we were, for the most part, evenly distributed. However, our team is more on the prospecting side than the judging side, which was a compelling takeaway.

Building relationships by collaborating on shared meals

If the kitchen is the heart of the home, food is a love language. Ahead of the retreat, everyone was paired up to cook either breakfast, lunch, or dinner. This provided people with purpose both in anticipation of and during our time together. Folks could collaborate on a meal and get to know each other better in the process.

People got creative in showing off their personal identity, background, or favorite dish. We had pancakes, summer rolls, salads, soups, grilled cheese sandwiches, and even freshly baked croissants, pain au chocolat, and bread from a local bakery. 

Pim prepared several dishes, including spaghetti with red sauce and two pasta options—one with roasted tomato and mascarpone sauce and another with Italian Ragu sauce. Joshua brought his pizza oven. With the help of Youri, they spent an afternoon making dough from scratch. On Saturday, the team gathered at a picnic table to savor custom, gourmet pizzas fresh from the oven. 

While the majority of our meals together were spent on-site, we made sure to relish an evening out. We devoured a multi-course meal at Logis Auberge de l'Abbaye, a fine-dining restaurant in the nearby town of Signy-l'Abbaye. 

Brainstorming about the future of shifting commerce for good

Bob led a brainstorming session that took us beyond our professional roles to envision the future of commerce. We were divided into groups and presented with questions and scenarios that had us contemplate what it might look like and what role we might play in shaping it.

To kick things off, our team started to consider tomorrow’s recurring commerce platform and strategy. By 2030, we conceptualized what our timeline and impact might be. From here, we were presented with different trigger questions, including, “What if money were not an object and you had unlimited resources?” “What if you had to make this real in one year, instead of six?” and “What if subscriptions no longer existed?”

As each group came up with its own set of principles, overlapping themes began to emerge. Overwhelmingly, our team wants to make a positive impact through recurring commerce. This requires orchestrating the flow of goods and optimizing the supply chain to limit the movement of products and logistics.

In the future, recurring commerce might be driven by the true-price principle. In essence, this means that people will pay for the actual price of a product. When this happens, the entire supply chain is compensated equally and resources become more expensive. As purchasing becomes less possible, consumption does too. 

There was interest in pushing forward local resourcing, production, delivery, and consumption of products. As well, we discussed playing a significant role in retail, namely making it possible to purchase multiple products directly from a brand. 

Creating instant connections and lasting bonds

From the first to the last day of the retreat, relationships grew and flourished. It was a sight to behold, witnessing how seamlessly people made instant connections upon meeting in real life. Everyone got to know each other at their own pace and in their own time. 

We sang karaoke in multiple languages, with “Atemlos durch die Nacht” by Helene Fischer being a fan favorite. We went outdoor go-karting at a local racetrack. We played 30 Seconds, a game that involves describing and guessing five names of places and things within a timeframe. 

Outside of these highlights, we lounged on cozy chairs, benches, and couches, chatting, laughing, and eating. As well, we enjoyed taking strolls through the beautiful countryside and taking in the sights and sounds. At the end of the retreat, we left feeling energized, motivated, and inspired.

If you’re looking to host a retreat in the future, here are some tips we gathered to help make it a success:

  1. Choose the right location: Select a setting that offers both communal and private spaces in an environment that fosters relaxation and connection.
  2. Plan engaging activities: Include a mix of structured workshops and free time for informal interactions.
  3. Collaborate on meals: Cooking together can be a fun bonding experience and allows everyone to contribute to the success of the retreat.
  4. Encourage participation: Ensure everyone is involved in some way, whether through leading a workshop, cooking a meal, or planning an activity.
  5. Create opportunities for personal interaction: Design activities that allow team members to get to know each other beyond their professional roles.
  6. Be flexible: Allow for spontaneity in the schedule to accommodate different personalities and preferences.

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