The company breakaway – old-fashioned relic or indispensable business tool?
The company breakaway is often dismissed as a day or two out of the office for a bit of fun and a few hours of discussion about the business. More often than not, the phenomenal ideas that seemed so innovative around the table never materialise. Lessons learnt are quickly forgotten and the passionate commitment to “doing things differently” and “going the extra mile” soon gets swallowed up in the daily grind.
But according to Doug Crawford, manager: service delivery at Entelect, the breakaway is still highly relevant in today’s business environment. In fact, he believes it’s more relevant than ever.
Entelect is a software development company that runs teams of on-site developers across a range of clients and projects throughout South Africa. Each project is operationally independent, which means there’s no need for the project teams to interact or engage with each other. However, from a strategic and developmental perspective, there is a lot they can learn from each other.
“Each year we take a day out of the office to bring together our project team leaders from across the country – we call them ‘team leads’ – to share experiences and discuss creative and innovative ways to address common challenges in the business,” says Crawford. “More importantly, the sessions give team leads and management the opportunity to interact in a dedicated and focused setting that allows for a healthy two-way communication that isn’t easily achieved by other means.”
Sounds like any other breakaway, right? But Crawford says these interventions have yielded several success stories over the years.
“The breakaways are heavily solutions-focused,” he explains. “Before the event we circulate a list of topics or tasks that will be unpacked during the course of the day. Team leads are required to make notes for discussion on each of the scenarios. On the day itself we divide the group into teams. Each team is allocated one of the topics to unpack and debate in the morning session. Teams then present their solutions to the group in the afternoon.”
Some of the challenges from the last Entelect breakaway were:
• Create a toolbox to help our new or young team leads run effective career, growth and performance discussions with their team members.
• Create an on-boarding pack that can be used by team leads and other team members to ensure new members joining a team have the best possible experience and are able to deliver value to the client and team at the earliest opportunity.
• How do we maximise visibility across the company of the technical achievements and innovations being delivered by our teams?
• How can I inspire a sense of purpose in my team that creates a common-ground for our client, staff and company interests?
• How do we ensure teams and clients are aware of and making use of Entelect’s value-adding services?
“The depth of discussion was impressive,” says Crawford. “As a management team we are already working on operationalising a number of the ideas that came out of the most recent session.”
Some of these are:
An on-boarding toolbox to ensure a comprehensive and consistent on-boarding experience for new team members
A discretionary “happiness” budget for each team to spend on anything that will make them happy
Team CVs that list capabilities and achievements at team level leading to awareness and boosting profile within the company
Generating thinking around value-add activities, e.g. knowledge sharing, training, events and workshops
The sessions also play a very important role when it comes to internal mentorship.
“We currently have 44 team leads in the business,” explains Crawford. “Breakaways provide the ideal forum for the whole team to network and form relationships. Some people in the team are very experienced, while others are new to the role or to the business. During the breakaways we actively encourage connections between newer and more experienced team members, which serve as informal mentorship-type relationships.”
It’s not only management that sees value in these sessions. Team leads themselves gave some really positive feedback after the most recent breakaway.
“I really enjoyed the day as a whole,” says Jonathan Counihan, who works on one of Entelect’s teams based at Sage. “I like the fact that our input is valued and some actionable items come out of it. I think the networking aspect is also very good, as it gives the leads a chance to touch base and build support structures.
“I really feel part of the team the way the Entelect management keeps us in the loop about the company strategy and vision.”
Schalk Wolhuter, who leads the Entelect team at Discovery Vitality RSA, says, “Put a group of highly motivated and bright individuals in a room, shake them a bit and out comes ideas and solutions. This is what happens at an Entelect Team Lead breakaway.
“A properly thought-out scenario list, a room full of team leads, a great venue… and the only thing that can happen is that problems will be solved.”