We just gathered 300 people for our first company offsite in four years – here’s what I learned

Steve Phillips

Zappi just returned home from our sixth Zappi Days Away (ZDA) in Sunny Beach, Bulgaria. We spent an incredible week charting our company’s course for the future,  learning from and catching up with colleagues we’d formerly only known as squares on Zoom. 

As you can imagine, it’s been a while since our entire company was together in-person – four years feels like a long time to not see each other. 

We’ve grown a lot since then, nearly doubling our headcount to over 300 employees across 5 continents and 13 countries. In many cases, our people had worked together for years without ever meeting in person.

Needless to say, for me, it was surreal.  After a week of constant learning, it only seems necessary to share some of my own.

Create alignment, not projects

Bringing together diverse perspectives and individual goals is what creates shared purpose and takes an idea from concept to reality.

Zappi has a bold vision for the future. We want to make digitized market research accessible to every creator in the enterprise, so they can optimize their work with feedback in every step of their creative process. Our conversations through the week were focused on the ideas that will get us there. 

Rather than focus on shipping products or in hackathons, we spent time weighing and debating the concepts and ideas that will provide the most value. By setting the tone early in establishing our end goal, we have allowed teams from across the company to collaborate and fill in the spaces on how we’ll get there.

Build empathy and trust through shared experiences

Our job at ZDA was more than to deliver a vision for our company; it was to create trust and build empathy that enables our people to understand each other and work better together. Whether you’ve been with Zappi for 10 years or 10 minutes, it was essential to build camaraderie on neutral footing. 

After all, nobody builds bonds in lectures. 

So we organized early outings to break the ice through shared experiences fit for everybody. From hikes up the Bulgarian coast to paintballing to yoga, we stripped the concept of work from the equation in the earliest days of ZDA and focused on our people.  

These experiences and relationships set the foundation for the meaningful conversations had through every day of the week.

Build structure, but leave room for community

300 people, together at one time, can be sensory overload. It was important to us that we created structure around each day – both work and team-building activities – but also, that we provided down time for humans to connect on their terms. 

A community under constant influence can’t flourish.

We brought our entire team together each morning to touch on key pillars of how we’ll execute our strategy, then designed the day to build on those conversations in-function, and across departments. 

In the time between, our people met colleagues with whom they otherwise wouldn’t interact day-to-day – or just take some down time to work, nap, or enjoy the beach and quiet.

Speak a lot, but listen more

One of our oldest ideals – and one I’ve long been fond of – is “strong opinions, loosely held.” For me, this concept prepares us to both advocate for your position, but empathize with the other side of the conversation. 

I spent much of the week sharing –  charting our vision, debating product, introducing our values – but I spent even more time dropping in on conversations to hear our people’s perspectives on the future. 

From our earliest employees to our newest, we listened to our people, their thoughts and ideas. On our final full day together, we facilitated a company-wide pre-mortem on our vision, where we opened up the conversation about what could keep us from our mission.

Because, much like our mission of arming creators with consumer insights to do their jobs better, we need constant feedback from everyone to make our company all that it can be.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the people that made our event a reality: our planning,  operations and people teams, and the countless other individuals that pitched in to make the event a success. 

Without you, none of this would have been possible. You all make me incredibly #zappitobehere.