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→ Behind the scenes of our annual team retreat

A week in the mountains armed with skis, post-it notes and a fully stocked fridge – a winning combination for our annual team retreat. Strategising on key projects and team building, paired with winter sports and fondue was just the tonic to set us up for a successful year ahead.

My name is Chloe, Spark Works’ newest member of the team – joining as Lead Designer and first of the London office. Coming from a vast and varied design background, I have worked with a number of companies and in all kinds of industries. Working for Spark Works appealed to me on a number of levels – from what I had seen so far, the sky was the limit. Not only for the company but on a personal level – it felt like I could really make a difference and bring my skills to the table whilst helping to progress the UK offering. Soon after finding out I had been successful, I was asked to join the team retreat in Saas Fee. Excited to meet my new team in the Alps but also slightly apprehensive about hitting the slopes, as I had never skied before! I set off at 5am on the 9th March from London Luton Airport and arrived in the alps by lunchtime.

Upon arrival we dived straight into a team strategy session led by Linda, focussing on our individual traits and characteristics. This exercise stemmed from an excerpt from Harvard Business Review entitled ‘Managing Oneself’, encouraging us to unpick our own personalities and describe them to our peers. At first this was a challenge – as the article references, people tend to know more about where their weaknesses lie than their strengths. Each of us put thought into where our personal strengths lie, how we perform best, what our values are and how we can contribute to the team. We presented these to the team and received feedback straight away. As a newbie to the Spark team, I found this valuable on a number of levels: It forced me out of my comfort zone by summarising my behaviours, plus it was a great ice-breaker to begin with and to get to know the team whilst establishing where everyone’s strengths lie. I now have a better understanding of how individuals work and how we can collaborate. The feedback aspect of this exercise was one of the highlights for me – to see people’s reaction to encouraging words and praise was really motivating and highlighted what a strong team ethic there is at Spark Works.

This week was the ideal opportunity to work on strategies for collaborative projects and for this year’s retreat, the website was the main point of focus. We spent time re-working the structure of the site and in this process, we addressed what was important to us in terms of defining values and hierarchy of information. Brainstorms and discussions were particularly important to me – as a designer who will be developing the styling and interface of the site. I was able to gauge opinions on what people liked, what they didn’t like and what elements were of particular importance. Although this session was centred around the theme of the website, it was valuable for each of us to have input into a collaborative project and to put our ideas and visions across.

Day-to-day, life is busy and it can be easy to overlook the need to look within and reflect collaboratively as a team. Not forgetting the need to socialise and make friendships out of the work environment. But ultimately, this is what much of our retreat was designed to do – immerse ourselves within the team and to take away the demands of daily life. Of course, it helped having the beautiful backdrop of the mountains!

We made the most of our surroundings, taking part in various winter activities. We sledged and some of us skied (albeit of varying abilities). Every aspect of this week added value to our foundations as a team unit. But by taking ourselves out of our normal environments we were able to spend quality time together and align our perspectives going forwards. We left Saas Fee feeling motivated to push boundaries and excited about the future. Little did we know then, that this would be our last trip anywhere for a while… But it makes me feel that little bit luckier that I got to experience it.

So back to London for me, bringing fresh ideas, ways of working and excited to get started on new projects – particularly the new website that I discussed in-depth with the team. After a week of brainstorming, working and collaborating, now it’s just a case of carrying on that momentum into 2020 and putting the ideas into practice. I look forward to my next trip to Zurich to visit the rest of the team!

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