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Why Your Startup Needs Team Retreats

Written by Ahva Sadeghi on June 25, 2018
7 min read

A successful startup requires a solid team willing to fully commit and dedicate a large portion of their lives to the cause. Building a business from the ground up is no easy feat, and it’s easy to feel burnt out. Team retreats are the perfect way to combine work and fun to motivate your team and walk away stronger.

Symba recently had our team retreat earlier in the month. Because we are a remote team, the purpose of this retreat was threefold: 1) get to know each other better, 2) hammer out and strengthen important aspects of our business and product, and 3) have fun.

Symba Retreat

While we went into our retreat with clear goals of what we wanted to accomplish, we walked away with so much more. We are firm believers in work hard, play hard. Everybody needs a break, and what better way to destress than to spend some time with your team, having fun and strengthening your relationships. Team retreats are also great opportunities to learn from each other and to work on the business creatively and without the pressure of your everyday life.

Here are 5 takeaways from our team retreat and why we think every startup needs (at least) one:

1. Your team is everything. Take it from the experts, like the infamous Reid Hoffman, Co-founder and Executive Chairman of LinkedIn. “No matter how brilliant your mind or strategy, if you're playing a solo game, you'll always lose out to a team.” Teams are the foundation to a startup. Each team member plays an important role in not only shaping the business culture but also ensuring the startup succeeds in whatever area their expertise is. A business may have started as an idea from one or two people but it is nothing without the whole team. Quoting CEO and Co-founder of LazyLab Sauragh Singla: “While the entrepreneur may have big dreams, it is ultimately the team, with whose help he/she can realize the goals.”

2. Take time to learn from each person. Each person from your team has a unique set of experiences and a distinct perspective. During day-to-day work routines, you might not have the opportunity to really learn from those experiences. During a team retreat, you can carve out specific times for each person to teach a topic of their expertise.

At our team retreat, each member hosted a design workshop specific to their job role. For example, Nikita Gupta, Symba’s Chief Technology Officer, taught the team how to design databases for Symba’s software. While not everybody on the team has a technical background, this workshop sparked additional conversations about the features of our product. It is essential that startup teams take time to learn from each other and understand the value that each member brings to the table. It may sometimes seem like team members are in separate silos, especially if they’re remote, but the more that they can understand about each other’s work, the more that innovation is likely.

3. Re-align your vision and refresh your goals together. Team retreats are the perfect time to sit down and re-align in terms of visions and goals. A shared and consistent vision amongst team members is critical. As Kevin Rose, partner at Google Ventures and Founder of Digg, puts it, “a team aligned behind a vision will move mountains.”

Before our retreat, we had a good idea of our why, what, and how, but during our retreat, we discussed in depth what each of our hopes and dreams for Symba were. From there, we discussed our customers, their pain points, and how our platform could mitigate these pain points. We were able to draft our unified vision and on top of that, design our Objective Key Results (OKRs) for the end of the year to push our business forward. This created clarity and common direction amongst our entire team.

4. Get inspired. At the very early stages of a startup, there might not be paychecks. Some members of the team might be working part-time as you try to get funding. So in order to keep creative juices flowing, your team needs to find ways to keep motivated, especially when things get stagnant and morale lowers.

For us, inspiration is our true source of fuel. Our collective passion and energy are what we use to keep the fire going and to sustain all of our hard work. We know that what we are doing is not easy and will take time to flourish. That’s why feeding each other inspiration and fostering an enthusiasm is essential for our startup’s ultimate success.


5. Don't Forget to Have fun. During our retreat, our team had the opportunity to bond and cultivate valuable relationships with each other. Because startups require endless hours of work, it is important to make sure you and your team enjoy working together. Take time to have fun together. Go to happy hour, try a new restaurant, celebrate a life event, have a spa day. Line up your retreat schedule with events that encourage team members to form friendships and build trust. This will strengthen the team’s foundation and working dynamics.

Retreats don’t have to be expensive. If you’re all in the same city or within driving or public transportation of each other, have someone host the team in their home. Meals can be cooked together instead of bought and also serve as a bonding experience. If you plan your retreat in advance, have everyone sacrifice a cup of coffee and pitch in $5 a week for two months before the retreat. If your team has four people, that’s $160 in the pot for however you want to spend it. Ultimately no matter where you have your team retreat, it’s important to create spaces and set up time to strengthen your relationships, learn from each other, and get inspired.


BONUS: Because we loved our retreat so much, hear directly from each team member on how we were impacted.

“Our retreat was an incredibly rewarding experience. We work great with each other remotely, but being together in the same room really solidified us as a team. In a short 48 hours, we learned from and grew with each other, not only professionally but personally and emotionally. I think it's important for startup teams to be "in it together". A startup isn't just work; it's raising an idea as a child and watching it grow up and flourish together.

During the retreat, it became apparent that the company culture we are cultivating would be open, curious, and fostering of innovation. We worked through some communication kinks, but always made sure each other's ideas were heard. It was also the perfect blend of fun and work, as we got to know each other more and hammered out important details of our company business plan, mission, and product over a lot of cheese and just a little bit of wine.

I believe in Symba and our mission to create valuable experiences and make the world a better place to work. Most of all, I believe in our team.” - Ellen Zhang, Chief Marketing Officer

“Our team retreat was well deserved and rewarding for such a small but hard-working set of women. As a remote team, the retreat was an opportunity to strengthen our relationships by growing together, understanding each other, enjoying our different personalities, and, overall, working closely and passionately to develop our startup. We were able to clearly see how each one of our different personas clicked with Symba and how we complemented each other to create a well balanced and dynamic group.

I personally enjoyed both the fun and work parts of the retreat, and how we discovered in a much more personal and profound way, each other’s passions, characters, difficulties, likes, and dreams.

Symba is not only a tool to help create opportunities in the world, but it is also an important part of my life as these three powerful women have become like family to me. I am incredibly excited about what’s coming towards us in the future and the world should start preparing for Symba.” - Tamara Estrella, Chief Strategy Officer

“Our team is scattered throughout the entire country, and works extremely hard remotely outside of full-time jobs and ranging time zones. When we were finally all in one room for our first team retreat, it was magic!

To be very honest, I believe that the most rewarding and valuable aspect of the startup journey, has been building an amazing team to bring an idea to life. Each individual on Team Symba, is someone who offers unique skills, creativity, and visions. They are my high school, college and best friends that I have made throughout my life. The decision to bring on each individual member is a significant one.

I often share with our team, that this startup is so much more than us. When we began the retreat, I told the team that my hope is that this first retreat lays the foundation for an incredible company that will live through multiple generations and leave a positive legacy. Hopefully, our grandchildren will be proud of us for founding Symba!

Yes, I know it is a very bold vision, but we are a startup team risking everything to bring Symba to life. It is something that we believe in with every ounce of our being. I could not be more proud and excited to be a member of Team Symba!” - Ahva Sadeghi, Chief Executive Officer

“Our recent team retreat was one for the books. It was the first time us four ladies were in the same room together and it was astonishing to see all our energies synergized to bring Symba to life. From discussing marketing methodologies and vision to database designs and strategy, we fleshed out so many ideas and started to set the grounds for company culture.

The entire weekend was a space for innovation, open thinking, discussion, curiosity, and so much more. Being in a physical space together, compared to our remote communications for the last few months, makes me so excited for what the future has in store for us.

The best part of Symba is being able to create such an amazing product with an incredibly diverse team. Symba is an idea that has turned into our baby and our ‘squad’ is a team that has turned into family.

I am incredibly honored and humbled to work with such intelligent, creative and passionate women, and am thrilled to bring Symba to every company that offers an internship. Follow us on our journey and watch us make that happen. Trust us, we can do it. And we will. At least that’s what this past retreat has made me realize." - Nikita Gupta, Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer

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Ahva Sadeghi

Ahva is the CEO and Co-Founder of Symba. She is a passionate social entrepreneur, and was recently named Forbes 30 Under 30 and a Global Entrepreneur Scholar by the US Department of State. Ahva completed her graduate studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science where she served as President of the Human Rights Students Committee and received the John Lewis Fellow with Humanity in Action.

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