The Global technology team held their first summit in 4 years at Waterval Country lodge in Tulbagh, South Africa between the 3rd and 7th of October. Not only was this the first time since the pandemic that the team was able to get together, but this was the first time more than 40% of the team members were meeting in person.
At the beginning of the year, we set out to understand what travel would look like for the team in this new world of remote working and new health and safety considerations. We surveyed the team to find out what their needs were. Was it an opportunity for them to visit one of our regional Dimagi offices? or was it to get an opportunity to meet their manager in person? Or to meet the rest of their team in person. We received an overwhelming response on the need to meet the entire team in person, which put into motion the plan to have an in-person summit.
Planning an in-person summit for over fifty people was a mammoth task. There were so many things to take into consideration and obstacles to overcome. This included booking over forty flights, finding ways to keep all costs within budget, ensuring that the summit is inclusive and everyone who needs a travel visa will be able to get a visa and most important ensuring that we safeguarded the team’s health and safety. With the help of a very enthusiastic and efficient planning committee all pieces were put into place and the countdown to the summit began. There was excitement amongst the team within the weeks leading up to the summit. For most team members this was the first time they were travelling internationally and to Africa. Each team member was paired with a travel buddy so they could have someone to reach out to especially during those long layovers.
The team faced a setback after one of the flights was cancelled the day it was scheduled to depart. However, this did not dampen the team’s spirit, but the team displayed innumerable support for each other. All hands were on deck trying to help each other find alternative flights, rearranging ground transportation and booking hotel accommodations. This spirit continued throughout the summit with team members staying up late into the night so they could welcome other team members who had to arrive later due to the flight cancellation. Once the team started arriving at Waterval, seeing each other in person for the first time was not like meeting strangers but like seeing family members or friends that you had not seen for a long time. The fact that all our team meetings have always had a camera on policy really helped, as everyone looked familiar!
The goals of the summit were to get as many of the team involved as possible (virtual and in person), connect the team across different business divisions and gain a mutual understanding as a tech team. These goals filtered through all the sessions and activities during the summit. The summit started off with a welcome address from our Senior Director of Engineering Andrea King. The team participated in a helium pole team building exercise which evaluated the team’s communication, collaboration, and task ownership skills. The team not only learnt a great deal from this exercise but also shared plenty of laughs together. Our CTO Clayton Sims presented a year in review session which was a fantastic way of not only letting the team know what we had achieved as a tech team across divisions during the year, but also helped the team celebrate wins. We also spent time going through our guiding principles and what these mean to us, as well as discussing if there were any changes that we wanted to make.
The session on listening and being heard, helped the team to think about how they are communicating with each other. We also had team members hosting lightning talks which ranged from subjects such as recycling, tarot for techies, walking while working, to highlighting a day in their lives. This was a good opportunity for the team to not only get to know each other but also learn from each other while sharing a bit of laughs.
The team also enjoyed drumming as a team building activity, which displayed the team’s various musical abilities, we have rhythm!
Waterval was the perfect venue for outdoor activities, and as such the team spent some time building rafts as a team building exercise. There was lots of cheering and screams as the rafts were assessed in the water, some fell into the water while others successfully managed to steer their rafts around the pond. The team’s design and innovation skills were put to the test as they built systems to be able to lift a large rock half a metre above the ground and to be able to drop the rock on command. This exercise helped the team to learn to collaborate, and to take time on design and idea iteration stages before implementation.
Team building activities at Waterval
We took time to discuss Agile processes at Dimagi and did a retrospective on our retrospectives. There were lots of new insights and knowledge gained that the team is excited to pursue further. As a tech team we love to learn and are continuously seeking ways to increase our knowledge, so we spent time discussing the way we share knowledge and how we can improve on this going forward. The team spent some time discussing our developer recruitment process and how the process can be streamlined. We are excited to see some of the ideas from this session being implemented in the future. We also discussed our code review process and how we create design documentation. The team also looked at ways in which we can reframe our non-programming roles.
Although we learnt a lot and produced wonderful ideas that we can implement in the future, the highlight of the summit was how the team focused on getting to know each other better. We spent a lot of time around the fire each night, telling stories and sharing meals and drinks together. During the day we went on scenic walks to the waterfall while our resident DJ, Biyeun kept us entertained each evening.
Quality team bonding time
We played games and learnt a new dance thanks to our very own professional dancer Manish! It was a wonderful week that seemed to end too quickly. The summit ended off on a high with a braai at our Cape Town Dimagi office and some of the team taking time out to explore Cape Town together, especially the beautiful penguins at Boulders beach!
Remote work is great, and we are doing a great job at it, but we did not realise how much we had longed and desired to give each other real physical hugs. We also realised that people’s personalities do not really filter through on video calls. We learnt that we have great presenters, storytellers, comedians, poets, dancers, and musicians on the team. We also realised that the team has numerous survival skills in their tool kit and will survive in the great outdoors!. The summit achieved what it set out to achieve as the team has drawn closer to each other and we can already see this in our interactions and team meetings. Although summits can be a challenge to plan, costly and take time away from our everyday work, they are valuable and important for the team’s well-being. In the words of our very own Norman Hooper, At Dimagi we build great products and at Summit we build Dimagi!