Innovation rarely happens in a vacuum. It usually starts with an individual brave enough to contribute an idea and a team inspired enough to make it great. This blog provides a forum for all Centrons to contribute ideas, make suggestions, ask questions and inspire others. There are no boundaries. To participate, all you need is the desire to build great products.

Design Retreat: Building a Stronger Team

Whether building a sense of unity through the Toxic Bucket Challenge, laughing during a game of Midnight Bocce, or sharing life stories during the “Lifeline” exercise, our design team took full advantage of Camp Wandawega—and discovered a thing or two about each other in the process.

As mentioned in my first post, we spent a good amount of time working during our stay at Camp Wandawega. And though some activities had to be cancelled for the sake of pressing deadlines, we still managed to have a great deal of fun.

Billed as a “summer camp for adults,” Camp Wandawega provided ample opportunities for individuals to play bocce, shoot archery and go boating or fishing on the lake during their free time.

Togetherness was a common theme at Camp Wandawega
Togetherness was a common theme at Camp Wandawega.

For many, these activities became the highlight of the trip. In addition, more structured team-building sessions allowed the team to work together toward a common goal, learn more about each other and, ultimately, forge stronger relationships.

Managing Toxic Waste

During the Toxic Bucket Challenge, teams had to evenly distribute an assortment of different sized balls from one main bucket to three additional buckets using only duct tape, rope, and bungee cords. While this may initially sound easy, keep in mind that each team also had to avoid a large circumference of “toxic space” surrounding the buckets. Moreover, the buckets themselves were said to emit “cones of toxicity,” meaning that if any team member found herself in the path of an overturned bucket, she would be eliminated from the game.

Two teams were formed and each team was expected to solve the problem in a different way. And if the description of the activity sounds intricate, the procedures the teams designed to solve the problem were even more so! With such limited supplies, a great deal of ingenuity and creativity was needed to complete the task.

Because each team would compete against the clock (the lowest time would win), brainstorms were conducted prior to the start of the activity. The teams debated several ideas before deciding on the most efficient approach. Then the fun began:

  • Ropes were duct taped together.
  • Bungee cords were hooked and secured.
  • Buckets were tipped over.
  • Individuals were exposed to imaginary, but noxious fumes.

While the clock was running, both teams faced the reality that their ideas, though perfect in theory, could not be executed properly. As a result, each team was forced to improvise their approach on-the-fly.

Designers taking on the Toxic Bucket Challenge.
Designers taking on the Toxic Bucket Challenge.

One team moved each ball into each respective bucket with graceful choreography. By contrast, the other team simply tipped all the buckets over and attempted to sweep the balls safely into place. Given the need for improvisation and speed, the teams had to practice their communication while adapting to unforeseen constraints. It was a great learning opportunity. In the end, all toxic waste was contained and nobody remembers who won.

Hitting Bullseyes, Among Other Activities

As a team of software designers, we are constantly connected to technology. But at Camp Wandawega, there were plenty of opportunities to disconnect from our myriad devices. We were fortunate enough to have the entire camp to ourselves during our stay, which meant that we had our pick of activities at any given time.

Several designers used the opportunity to practice their archery skills—some bullseyes were even made! Others rowed their way out into the tranquility of Lake Wandawega. Some team members even succeeded at catching fish from the pier, even if they were too small to be eaten for dinner.

Designer Jess Palo shooting an arrow on target.
Designer Jess Palo shooting an arrow on target.

Individuals had freedom to wander through the camp at will, though it’s interesting to note that people were seldom alone. Self-seclusion was an option, but the team tended toward togetherness. It was great to see.

Sharing Highs and Lows

Being vulnerable in front of co-workers is not easy. Being open with them about the high and (sometimes devastatingly) low points of your life is harder still. Nonetheless, during the “Lifeline” exercise all fifteen members of the design team bravely shared their life stories. At times, story-tellers were greeted with stunned silence. During other, more lighthearted moments, cacophonous laughter rang through the forest.

As a company, Centro attributes much of its success to the strength of the relationships between its employees. By taking part in the Lifeline exercise we were actively cultivating these relationships in the hopes of developing a better, stronger and more collaborative team.

Team members were given an unlimited amount of time to share their lifelines. Many of us were surprised with how candid and vulnerable everyone was in sharing the joys and sorrows of their lives. What was initially perceived as a short and simple activity instead turned into a profound demonstration of trust and intimacy.

During the Lifeline Exercise team members bravely shared their life stories
During the Lifeline Exercise team members bravely shared their stories.

For over three hours we sat together and learned about the paths we each took to arrive at that very moment. We found parallels in our experiences. And by recognizing aspects of ourselves in the lives of our peers, we were able to forge the bonds that lay out the foundation of a stronger design team.