How 6 small agencies are getting creative with team building this summer

Ah, summer. It’s the season of office shorts, lax Fridays and … trust falls. The agency retreat is an opportunity for teams to regroup and strengthen bonds before clients come calling. And they’re not just for the big guys: The smaller agencies are disrupting summer, too. From hackathons to group runs, agencies of all sizes are getting increasingly innovative with ideas intended to break the ice and keep employees engaged and driven.

Here’s how agencies are team building this summer:

Two employees on their hiking expedition
Two Digital Surgeons on a hike (we’d have preferred day drinking)

Digital Surgeons’ slot machine
Two months ago, this New Haven-based agency came up with a novel way to ensure that employees that don’t always work together still end up having meaningful interactions. The agency created a digital slot machine called “Better People Experiences,” whose algorithm randomly matches two employees and also generates a social activity for them to do together — like going day-drinking together or hiking. These random moments are simply ways to connect people across functions, to create deeper bonds and encourage team-building. The slot machine has been spun every two weeks this summer and is so popular that it might become a permanent feature at the agency.

“Culture is super important to us, but we realized that as we were scaling, certain people weren’t working with each other at all,” said Pete Sena, founder and chief creative officer at Digital Surgeons. “The slot machine is a way to try to fix that through randomized experiences that only two people share, on our dime and time.”

G7’s comedy bus tour
Nashville-based entertainment agency G7 does regular team outings but wanted to get a little closer to its roots this summer. So it took its employees on a “Nash Trash” tour, a comedian-guided bus tour that explores the music highlights around Nashville, including backstage tidbits about the legendary stars who have performed there. It was a win-win, getting everyone more acquainted with their space and helping to break the ice between its employees too.

“AT G7, we believe strongly in spending time getting to know your teammates out of the traditional work environment and put a large focus on creating experiences that bring everyone together,” said Peter Brown, vp at G7.

Ready State’s annual run to Sausalito
This 3-year-old agency had its first annual run last year, from its office in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood to the quaint little town of Sausalito across the Golden Gate Bridge. The nearly 10-mile slog was scenic and brought employees closer together, spending a day of non-work activity together. But it was a tad much for everyone, so when the agency does a repeat this August, people can also bike or even take a cab to Sausalito to join in part or all of the activities after the run.

“Running is as much a group activity as a solitary individual activity,” said Steve Wong, co-founder and CMO at Ready State. “It’s also a metaphor for agency life: Everyone has the same destination, but they have different means to get there, just like everyone has different approaches in an agency setting.”

Mono’s communal vacation
Mono’s “Mid-Summer Dream” started six years ago, when the creative agency decided to close its offices for the entire week of July 4th. The Shakespeare-inspired policy is intended to be designated time to enjoy soul-enriching pursuits. Upon their return, the employees spend a day sharing their experiences and pictures of their trips with the whole agency.

“We learn about one another’s hobbies, we get engaged, we jump out of planes, and we discover we’re from the same hometown,” said Michael Hart, founder and managing creative director at Mono. “This time away from work and therefore away from one another works to bring us all together.”

Giant Spoon at a previous retreat
Giant Spoon at a previous retreat

Giant Spoon’s camping trip to Utah
From fishing to “glamping,” Giant Spoon has tried and tested several team-building activities in the past. This August, its employees are headed to the world’s largest log cabin, Timber Moose in Heber City, Utah. There, they will participate in a bunch of group activities, from hiking to kayaking and even cooking. They will also hold several brainstorming sessions, which in the past has led to ideas like its agency Snapchat channel, used as a forum to pitch clients.

“As an agency still in startup mode, Giant Spoon wants to empower its staff from the bottom up,” said Jon Haber, co-founder at Giant Spoon.

GoKart Labs’s hackathon
The agency world is as competitive as it is creative. To foster that spirit, GoKart Labs runs its own version of a hackathon called “600 minutes,” where employees invent, design and build new businesses from scratch. Throughout the day, they generate ideas, build functioning products and pitch each business to a panel of judges. The idea for this innovative exercise was born from their drive to rapidly invent, build and test new ideas in the world. It improves their client work, giving the team a sense of urgency and exploration to bring new creative product ideas to the table for partners and also brings them closer together.

This year, the company split into five teams, each creating a unique brand, product and go-to-market strategy for their business. One team built a collaboration app for kid creators. Another team came up with an idea for a service that seamlessly “breaks up” with your cable company for you.

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