Avanscoperta Retreat #4

Enrico MeloniAlessandra Granaudo Events Mar 18, 2021

Avanscoperta Retreat #4 - Let's make change persistent

Intro - Accepting the challenge

As we write this blog post, it’s already been one full year into the pandemic, an event that truly forced all of us to truly re-think our lives. And among all the things… our yearly Retreat was no exception.

What better challenge to try and organise our retreat in a never-explore-before format such as a remote Open Space?

Remote Open Space Retreat

Pandemic and social distancing gave us a good opportunity to investigate limits and opportunities of a fully-remote company life. We instantly thought this very good topic for our upcoming Retreat.
And how about the format? How to create a collaborative, vibrant and constructive conversation when remote?

So, how to make an online Open Space relevant, interesting, and even fun? Seat belts on, you’re in for a ride!

The topic

The first thing, as usual, was to define a topic. Fittingly enough, we settled pretty early on “Looking Back to Move Forward: How to make the change persistent in the current remote scenario?”

The invite read on as follows:
Less observability and more inertia mean we’re partly blind to what’s going on with people and organisations. What we learned from the current remote scenario and what to do next.

A topic, we believe, which is quite interesting and relevant, and something about which everyone can have something to say and share: this tragic event affected us all, both in our personal and professionals lives, no matter the role or seniority.

The format

What is an Open Space? And does it work remotely? Once two fundamental elements such as a theme and an invitation are set, the agenda of the event is built by the people taking part in the Open Space itself.

The same rules (namely, one law and four principles) of any Open Space fully applied this time around too, let’s review them briefly.

The Law of Two Feet means you take responsibility for what you care about - standing up for that and using your own two feet to move to whatever place you can best contribute and/or learn.

  1. Whoever comes is the right people
  2. Whatever happens is the only thing that could've
  3. When it starts is the right time
  4. When it's over, it's over

(Source)

As we did on previous occasions, we had to rely on an external person to look after the facilitation side of things, so that we could fully focus on looking after our guests and be part of the conversations.
Enrico Teotti, who has extensive international experience and knows a lot about facilitating groups online, was the ideal fit for this year’s retreat.

In pure Open Space fashion, the Market Place was kicked-off by Enrico at the beginning of the event and from then on our participants could propose some sessions.
In regular Open Spaces, you’d have groups of people forming spontaneously as a result of “let’s go in X room to talk about Y”.
Here groups were replaced by Zoom’s Breakout Rooms, which right now represents the best available choice to try and mimic that kind of dynamics that we used to have in in-person-events.

Another big change, and this was an experiment altogether, was reducing the length of the retreat. From a 2-day fully-immersive event (usually held in Bologna, foodies paradise and easy to reach for Italian and international guests) to a 4-hour call on Zoom.
That’s quite a change, isn’t it?

Long story short: we had to somehow recreate that feeling of community, of “let’s meet, talk, have a good time, a few beers and share stories” that’s been part of events since day 1.

One of our breakout rooms in action!

How did it go on the day?

Once again, and this time even more extensively than last time, the event had an international feel as more folks from abroad could join us without having to factor in 2-3 days off work to travel to Italy (this forced remote must have some benefits, right?).
We were a total of over 50 people from all over the world.

The Open Space was opened with the usual welcome speech by Avanscoperta founder Alberto Brandolini aka ziobrando who stressed how the current pandemic situation has forced us to re-think everything about our businesses. Yet the most invisible and difficult part to recreate is the so-called “company culture” and how to make “intentional” change happen now.

Eventually, we had over 20 sessions on the 4-hour event, such as:

  • Coaching in a remote-first future
  • Building a culture of organisational transparency by moving from a "Do I need to make efforts to share this?" to a "Do I need to make efforts to hide this?" mentality.
  • "Antifragile opportunities working remotely"
  • If “remote = more meetings” you’re doing it wrong (Chris Herd). So what?
  • Chances and challenges of psychological safety in remote situations.
  • Remote-friendly games to anchor learning
  • How to get visible? Strategies for Leading by example when nobody cares about you…
  • How can we stop this narration of damage and suffering about our new options to do our job?
  • How might we rethink user research: far away from the context, closer to the problem framing?
  • Making the informal formal: how can we make informal information sharing formal in a remote-first world?
  • Re-skilling in communication and information sharing for a remote and hybrid world.

There were a few moments of share back during the event, where we all gathered again in the main room aka the main Zoom call, and we discussed what we learned, albeit briefly, with the rest of the group.

Some groups did take “minutes” or sketches of the conversation as it unfolded and some others went very freely into the discussion. We’ve been jumping around the various rooms (we had up to 5 at given points) and there was surely a lot going on.

In a very similar way to what happens during an in-person-event, organisers were always available at their booth / in the main room for a chat and/or for providing assistance, and we also created a few 1:1 breakouts for folks to have a more private conversation.
And of course… there’s no Retreat without a few beers once the event is over: we had our very own Beergarden breakout room which aimed at replicating the corridor conversations that always happen at physical events. And rest assured, there was someone in there at all times!

As always... nerds just wanna have fun!

Of course, we couldn’t have lunch together in the same space, but we did have the meeting open over lunchtime so that people who wanted to could eat together.
And, as already said, at 6pm (well, a bit earlier for some of us), it was beer o’clock, and we shared a glass or two all together in the Zoom call.

Do we miss live events? Hell yes! Still, it was a very fun and engaging event where a lot happened in only 4 hours, and we can’t wait for the next one. We’re now confident about running online events even at this scale and by keeping our spirit alive, so even if next year we’ll still be remote, we’re happy to do it online.

How to make a remote Retreat memorable: Planning and fun bits

Could this Retreat be the usual Zoom call? Of course not!
As difficult as it sounds, we managed to recreate, at least partially, the Organisers’ booth, where folks would come along to have a chat with us, ask “where the toilet is?”, and mess around with our “sponsors table” where we would normally have a lot of dinosaurs, gadgets, goodies, and of course… we would be very close to the food station!
The portion of the board where this was made possible was a “do whatever you like” frame on the Mural board. This was located close to the “Wall of memories” frame, with pictures from previous editions… you know how that works, right? :)

The joy of seeing all of our trainers and friends again was a big incentive for all of us to be merry anyway, but as said we felt we needed to make it somehow extra special and create a feeling of “we’re a group” even if remotely.

So we decided to create some branded and preset Zoom backgrounds folks could customize with their own pictures, some of us even came along “dressed up” (it was Carnival time after all!), and the Mural board, the digital space where the action happened, had some dedicated areas such as “Just for fun”, “Introduce yourself” and “Wall of memories from previous Retreats” which helped us all feel more connected.

As usual, a lot of learning and more importantly a feeling of connection with our community. We’ve been doing this Retreat for four years now and we could not miss it for anything in the world, really. So we’re happy this event reinforced connections, made new ones possible, and hopefully will bring a better understanding of the current remote scenario, and how to really make the change persistent, for all the folks who took part.

What's next?

As usual, a lot of learning and more importantly a feeling of connection with our community. We’ve been doing this Retreat for four years now and we could not miss it for anything in the world, really. So we’re happy this event reinforced connections, made new ones possible, and hopefully will bring a better understanding of the current remote scenario, and how to really make the change persistent, for all the folks who took part.

The Mural board we used during our Retreat

Retreat #1 (2018) Training from the back of the room workshop.

Retreat #2 (2019) Unconference / Open Space Technology on how to craft better solutions when it comes to training programs, clients, and software.

Retreat #3 (2020) Cross-company collaborations.

Pics credits: eberhard grossgasteiger, Avanscoperta Team

Enrico Meloni

Roadie @ Avanscoperta.

Alessandra Granaudo

Training and Community Manager Avanscoperta

Great! You've successfully subscribed.
Great! Next, complete checkout for full access.
Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.
Success! Your account is fully activated, you now have access to all content.