A couple of weeks ago, we took some time out of client work to come together as a team, with two of our remote developers travelling down to the Bristol office to spend a few days perfecting our processes and getting to know one another a little better.

“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.”

– Michael Jordan

The plan was that over the two days, we would spend some time discussing our processes to see if we could improve the way we worked together on a project. To ensure we didn’t go off-track, we’d done some preparations beforehand and had a solid plan in place to outline what we’d be covering.

Image of a Pomodoro timer and a worksheet entitled Elephant Carpaccio

Elephant Carpaccio?!

We started on the Wednesday by taking part in an Elephant Carpaccio exercise. It was a new technique to all of us – developed by Alistair Cockburn, one of the writers for Agile development methodology, it’s a strategy that involves taking use cases and creating user stories from them. Once you’ve got those, you then slice them up into small increments to make development more manageable.

This was particularly applicable to the developers and project managers. Using this technique, they were able to see how creating more precise cards or tasks could benefit a project as you’re aware of exactly what needs to be done in great detail. One of the main ideas we took from it was that having iterations and demos to showcase the various stages of a project was a good way to manage client expectations.

Image of people at work discussing things

Squad goals

After we had completed the exercise, we spent the rest of the day going through the project management and development processes. Through much discussion, the team came to some good conclusions about how to improve the workflow in a way that would maximise productivity and make better use of communication throughout a project.

The experience was a very positive one. It was surprising how productive we were on the first day – more so than was expected. Lots of good decisions were made and we felt that we moved forward with a new strategy of how to proceed in streamlining our working practices. This was also an opportunity for new starters to ask questions, to learn how the business works and to see first-hand how everyone ticks. Being a company that advocates remote working, it can be hard for those who work away to see the day to day of office life. These few days offered time and space to strengthen those relationships and find direction. Most importantly, it gave everyone a sense of pride that they are part of a good team.

Image of the signage for Puzzlair - a Bristol based escape room adventure

Beating the Escape Room

Thursday was a somewhat more lighthearted day. After a couple of hours discussing the direction of the company and establishing new business objectives, we went along to the Puzzlair 4D escape rooms where we took part in some team building exercises.

Image of people from CookiesHQ - Nathalie, Gemma, Denis, Harry

Having split into two groups, Team 1 (comprised of Nathalie, Gemma, Denis and Harry) were locked into an actual prison van which they had to use nothing but their wits to escape. Being trapped in tiny cells was a bit scary for some, but with good communication and lots of laughs, it was also a thrilling experience. Gemma mused that she would be a “rubbish criminal” and that Nathalie must be a secret mastermind!

Image of people from CookiesHQ - Nic, Rob, Jess

Team 2 (Nic, Rob and myself) took part in an investigation to find a double agent in our ‘spy ring’ who’d stolen the agent list and had to discover their identity before we would be let out of our game. As we progressed through the game, we stayed pretty calm and left no stone unturned, methodically checking everything at least twice for clues. The lady running the room commented that we even seemed a bit chilled!

Overall, it was a rewarding experience – a chance for us to work together on something that wasn’t a client project, was a bit of fun and also allowed us to see one another in a stressful situation outside of a work environment, working through it as a group. Despite some trepidation beforehand, the Escape Rooms are definitely something we would go back and do again.

To end the afternoon, we went for lunch at Bocabar at the Paintworks. With a chance to reflect on the two days, we had a little time just to chill out in each other’s company, which was a good way to finish our team experiment.

What we got out of it

Obviously, it can be quite a daunting task to take a couple of days out of client projects to work. Not that it isn’t important; quite the contrary. Taking the time to improve collaboration and communication within your team, as well as looking at ways to increase productivity, is something that should be done on the regular and will ultimately have a positive impact for your clients.

That said, nothing exploded! Everything went smoothly and having discussed it with clients before the day, they all seemed happy that we were trying to enhance our services through this personal development time.

Our take aways, from the first day in particular, were:

  • It’s a great opportunity to give and receive feedback – something which everyone always needs to practise. Giving can be hard, receiving it even harder! (blog post on this coming soon)
  • We need to make sure that everyone feels involved in the development process. Everybody should have a chance to workshop their role.
  • Improving the onboarding process for new starters, or even newcomers to a project, by making our plan a bit more well-documented can only be of benefit.
  • Stepping back from client work for a short amount of time helps to see problems in a different light and find new solutions that we might not have been able to grasp previously.
  • We should do this more often! It gave us time to improve how we work individually and as a team, which in turn benefits out clients and makes us a more cohesive group.

The whole team thought the two days we took out to work on ourselves and our processes was a highly positive experience. It’s good to keep an eye on how things are running and communicate about them with one another, especially if we want to stay on top of our game. What are your favourite ways of levelling up your team? We’d love to hear your thoughts – why not leave a comment below or Tweet us @TheCookiesHQ?