Bowie, The Shard, Gaucho – all in a day’s work

The DBA’s John Scarrott looks at how creative recruitment consultancy Become organises away-days.

The Shard

Source: © The View from The Shard

The Shard

Taking the team out of the office can be a great way to get outside the business and lay plans for the future. I spoke with Sue Pilgrim, managing director of Become, a recruitment consultancy with offices in London, Manchester, Sydney and Melbourne (with Hong Kong due in the first half of 2014) and asked her about  how and why they run their team strategy days.

Sue took over as MD of Become back in 2008. The business had been very owner-centric and Sue’s aim was to broaden ownership by sharing information and including the team in setting the route to the goals for the business. Introducing the strategy away day was key to helping achieve this and something Sue had done before in previous roles.

What form does the day take?

‘It’s important to get the right mix of activities through the day. We kick off with a communal breakfast, before an event focused around design or creativity. The key is to do something to get everyone energised, participating and thinking outside the norm.  This year it was the David Bowie exhibition at the V&A but we’ve also done things at the Design Museum and even had a treasure hunt.

Next we have a working lunch. This is the three hours of the day where we work but restricting this element to a short period of time is key. This means the energy and quality of participation is high. It concentrates the minds. This year we split into groups to examine questions around clients, freelancers and social media. Each team then fed back to the whole group, giving everyone the chance to participate. We also brought in external speakers to present to the team on the creative sector, which helps to give a broader perspective to the day.

I finish off with a half-year results update, but I keep this short and topline. People don’t want a lengthy ramble from the MD, it’s about having the team establish the way to achieve the goals for the business that works for them.

Then it’s time for a well-deserved drink – the timing and pacing of the day is really important. This year we headed up to the Shard for views over London and then on to a private room at Gaucho for dinner. It’s a long day so we usually hold it on a Friday and notify our clients well in advance.’

How does the day impact on the business and the team?

‘The levels of engagement from the team are already high. They are talented and capable people so the challenge is staying ahead of expectations and keeping everyone stretched. The impact of the day is vital in this regard. It reminds everyone of how what they do fits into the bigger picture and how their ideas can be included into the overall strategy.’

How do you keep momentum going?

‘It’s really important to remind people that just because an idea hasn’t been implemented immediately it doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen. To keep the momentum going, we also have a meeting in January to reflect and share information on how the year finished and our plans for the coming year. In my experience I found January is better than December for this, as people tend to be deservedly tired towards the end of the year, having worked hard throughout and what is discussed anyway may be lost over the Christmas holiday period.”

We also have a monthly bulletin called ‘Suesround’ – a digest of what’s happening across the offices, highlighting successes, business updates, welcoming new people and other activities of interest to everyone. It acts as a thread to link the initiatives we’re working on and a great way to keep all offices up to date on what’s happening across the group.’

Any other tips?

‘Get the date for the day in the diary but don’t feel the need to provide too much information in advance as you want fresh ideas on the day. However the more complex the event the more logistical information you may need to supply ahead of the day. The first time you do an away day teams may feel some nervous apprehension about the day or not having contact with their clients for a day. At Become we experience a genuine sense of excitement about the day. Our people have high expectations and ambitions and this day and the activity that comes from it is a key way to help people feel motivated, engaged and most importantly valued for their contribution to the business.’

John Scarrott is membership director at the Design Business Association. His DBA blog, Conversations With, is here.

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