Learnings from the Away Day 2018

3 October 2018
Hannah Steele

Author: Hannah Steele

I help to design experiences that elevate the way people live.

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Last month, the whole Spotless team went on our annual away day where we spent 3 days out of the studio to learn, up-skill and get to know each other a bit better outside of work.

The idea of the away day is for us to all reflect on the past year and acknowledge our successes but also to iron out some issues we have come across along the way, so that we go into 2018/19 with focus and alignment. The Spotless team is now 21 strong and growing, so it is no secret that we have had a couple of growing pains but also lots of new energy and ideas injected into the team. The beauty of getting away and out the studio is that we can disconnect from the usual day to day, from the client work and email notifications to share our opinions in a new, “neutral” space.

This was my first away day, yet I decided to take on the planning alongside our Project Manager, Manisha and Operations Manager, Nour. I’d like to say a big thank you my fellow work queens, as I soon realised the amount of planning and research goes into making an event like this successful.

Location

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This year we headed to Somerset to a stunning country house in the quaint village of Oakhill. The house not only had enough bedrooms and beds for us all, which believe me is difficult to find, but it came with a games room, BBQ, hot tub and even a hidden passageway.

This year’s theme

Spotless have hosted 3 annual off-sites so far, with the last 2 focusing on our shift from User-Centred Research and Design to a Service Design offering. This year was a little bit different since we have grown as company, not just hiring new talented people, but adding new skills and capabilities. So, we felt it was important to analyse our expert skills all the way from specialist research to business design and organisational change. This would help us communicate what Service Design means to Spotless and not only decide what we want to be famous for, but also what we don’t.

I may have had ownership of the agenda for the event, but that didn’t mean that the whole event was controlled by me or my own motivations. It was important that we had crowdsourced the topics with the rest of the team. It was my role to look at the most popular workshop and talk ideas and to make sure they fit within our wider business mission (see below).

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This year we looked at delivering insight later on in the design process, where our Business Designer, Tsukasa Tanimoto, ran a session on how to qualitatively prioritise concepts with stakeholders against key project KPIs. Signe Bek, recently promoted to Service Designer, inspired us to further our innovation efforts by teaching a methodical process to design for speculative futures. Myself, alongside Lead Consultant Billy Kennedy, led a session on how we can empower each other in the team and share our learnings more across projects and industries. While Caroline Butler, a fellow Service Designer and Andy Walker, Head of Client Services, facilitated a session on how to truly understand our clients needs when they aren’t even sure what they need. Last but not least, Ben Logan, our Director, facilitated a session to share and discuss the Spotless vision for the next 3 years, and I can tell you it is exciting stuff!

Stay tuned for a further look at the these sessions individually, coming to “Spotless Says” very soon!

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The fun stuff

But it wasn’t all work, we made sure that we built in some time for fun activities so that we could let off steam, have a few drinks and learn what we are all like outside of the studio. We each had prepared 5 slides about ourselves to tell our colleagues a few unknowns. As cheesy as it sounds, it was pretty insightful as we learn we have animal lovers, passionate bakers, comedians and even a past secret agent amongst us. We also took full advantage of the BBQ, went out for a pub dinner and nominated each other for the annual Spotless awards.

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5 key takeaways from running such an event

  1. Celebrate our successes

An off-site is great to step back from the daily madness of an agency and look of what we have achieved since last year and celebrate our successes. In my opinion, this industry doesn’t do this enough! I’m sure I speak for most of the team when I say we left the away day with the feeling of achievement and determination to make the next year bigger and better!

2. Plan less, more nothing

It can be easy to think that for an off-site you must squeeze in as much work into the agenda as possible to make the day(s) count, but it can be those breaks and unplanned moments and conversations that can benefit the team the best.

3. Flexible timekeeping

It is important as a facilitator to be directive and keep to the planned agenda, and I admit it was difficult keeping 20 people in one conversation and within the time limits. There should be some flexibility within the agenda but, it is important to respect the amount of work each person has put into their own session. A key change for next year will be adding a board for unasked questions and ideas to share during the breaks or the event wrap-up.

4. Delegate more

Crowdsourcing the topics was a successful way to get team members involved however, I feel that next year it would be helpful to ask further questions to the team and understand people’s motivations and how they want to be involved. This can help surface those who want to run a session, help with planning (fingers crossed) or those that what to learn specific skills. You can’t please everyone when planning these events, but it is important that everyone is heard.

5. Encourage experimentation

We had great fun during the speculative futures workshop and I’d like to encourage more experimental sessions next year. This is our chance to try our new methods and even embrace failure. This type of attitude to the away day will keep us thinking fresh and our offering as an agency ahead of the curve.

Thanks for reading. What have you learnt from running or attending company off-sites?

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