September 21, 2021

Strengths, Vision + Team Building: Uprise Level Up Team Event in Portland, ME

Malinda Gagnon

Planning an in-person team event is no simple feat. There are a multitude of details to consider: What’s the overall goal of the event? What shape should it take? Where should it be held? Who will lead effective workshops? What color should the fanny packs be?  

Okay, not all companies are the fanny-pack-wearing kind, but building out an impactful and engaging event means considering every aspect – from high-level mission to what you’ll have for snacks.  

But the most important pieces to an impactful team meeting are the people.  

Uprise’s recent Level Up Team Event is a perfect example of that.  

Why Have a Team Event?

Our planning began months back. The first step was to get it on the calendar: four days in mid-September in Portland, Maine. Maine made sense for our first all-team get-together; several team members live in Maine already, our Texas contingent would fly in.  

Why bother rallying the team in one place? Like most companies now, we’re well-versed at collaborating and serving our clients from our respective home offices. We could host an all-digital team meeting comprised of video conferences. But for us, being together was integral to the mission of our event.  

The Mission

We wanted to bring the team together so we could get to know each other better and have some fun. Our team works incredibly well remotely, but seeing each other in person lets us have more in-depth and nuanced conversations about everything – from how we market our company, our team’s strengths, to the sports we played growing up.  It’s tough to capture all of that in one-hour Zoom sessions.

We wanted to find a balance between the mission-driven focus of our work sessions and opportunities to simply have a good time together. There’s a lot to be said for some quality “goofing off” time – it has a vital place in team building. It’s another way we connect and identify with each other as people and friends. It gives color to relationships and creates memories and common ground. And yes, it’s fun. Who doesn’t love fun?

The mission behind the Level Up  isn’t new. We’ve been purposeful about creating a connected and spirited team culture since we founded the company. We have weekly All Hands and daily Stand Ups to share what we’re working on and what we need from one another. Our Friday “Celebrations and Lessons Learned” is a chance to share stories from the week, celebrate each other’s accomplishments (and play some online games) and to share something we learned as well. We get to know each other, we joke, we cheer, and we continually establish Uprise as a place where we can be ourselves.  

The Level Up is an extension of that – a chance to build upon a strong foundation.  

Malinda and Brian lead a session during Uprise's Level Up Team Meeting in September.

Planning

Planning our Level Up was a collaborative experience, too. Every member of the team helped pull it together. Brian and I fleshed out the work sessions and itinerary, Shannon researched fun group activities for us to do together, Lee took care of the food and connected us with Anne Hussey of Quad Group for one of our sessions, our Gaming Council (led by our two expert gamers Anthony and Kyle) picked out our games for game night, Ashton ordered team shirts and made sweet fanny packs for us to wear on one of our on-the-town excursions.  

As our meeting location, we chose a large house instead of a hotel. As a small-and-mighty team, this worked for us, enabling everyone to stay in the same place and allowing for meetings around the big kitchen table and in the family room. It also let us take advantage of Brian’s culinary skills – he whipped up breakfast each day! It felt more intimate, and also very natural, given we’ve all been working from our homes anyway. We had all the tech we needed, too – high-speed internet and WiFi, a large-screen TV to display presentations, and ample outlets for our laptops and phone chargers. It didn’t hurt that we had a kitchen full of snacks at the ready and a swell deck where we could sit during break-out sessions to talk in the sunshine.  

Mornings started with an optional group run/walk and yoga (I’m a certified yoga instructor, and it was awesome to lead classes with my team and share some breathing techniques I use all the time), followed by breakfast. Then we dove into a focused Team Session (more on those in a minute). Since there’s still work to be done, we built in time for team members to check in with clients and ensure all was running smoothly. We ate lunch at the house and relaxed for a bit (on that deck, of course) and then dove back into a session. Our itinerary included roundtables and team-building exercises, presentations, and role-playing. It also included a divine dinner in town, where we raised a glass to each other and celebrated all we have accomplished and all we look forward to. And for an extra measure of fun, we booked a tour aboard Maine Baycycle – a “human-powered party boat” – and lucked out with splendid weather on the water. And the company couldn’t have been better.

Malinda and Kyle share their thoughts on their unique strengths during a breakout session on the deck.

Team Sessions

As a growing small business, we wanted our Team Event to be equal parts company on-boarding and company future. Since our team IS our company, we focused on sessions that spotlighted our individual strengths, drew us together over a shared vision, and broadened our skills so we can keep learning and growing.  

Strengths

In the week before our meeting in Maine, every team member took Gallup’s CliftonStrengths Online Talent Assessment, which pinpoints each person’s top five strengths. It includes strengths like adaptability, empathy, individualization, positivity, and achiever. We like this assessment because it focuses on strengths and gives us insight into how we work best. We also found it to be remarkably on-point.  

Our first session was led by the insightful Anne Hussey of Quad Group, a consultancy focused on family businesses. Anne gathered and reviewed our assessments, highlighting strengths we shared and those that are unique to each of us. We loved guessing which of us was an arranger or the developer or futuristic. We took time to break away from the group in pairs to talk about our strengths and how we employ them in work and life (because strengths like these are applicable everywhere, not just at the office).  

Anne Hussey of Quad Group, at left, leads a session on strengths and values.

Communication

Here’s a good test of your team’s communication: build a bridge together. Except both sides are constructed by separate teams who can’t see what the other is doing and both sides must look identical and meet in the middle. Anne supplied a host of building materials – small boxes and pipe cleaners and rubber bands and tin foil. Our challenge was to communicate our ideas between teams so we could simultaneously build our halves of the bridge.  

It magnified the need to be clear, make sure everyone is on the same page, work within a project’s scope, and use common language. (Saying, “put the pipe cleaner on the right” doesn’t make sense if you’re all facing different directions.) There were moments when we needed to stop, ask questions, clarify, back up, and start again. I’m proud to say our bridge came together just as planned, and we had a good time in the process.  

The Uprise team tackles a bridge-building exercise. Communication was on-point!

Company

Who are we? What are our values? How can we grow?  

These are big-picture concepts, ones we’ve talked about as a company since our inception. Level Up was an opportunity to continue solidifying who we are and how our values steer our decisions as individuals and as a team. Those values guide how to speak to each other, how we communicate with clients, the enthusiasm we bring, the work ethic we demonstrate, and yes, whether we’re the kind of company who wears matching team shirts to go on a boat cruise (spoiler: we are).  

We also did some more concrete skill-building with some scenario role-playing, where we all had a chance to practice how we talk about our company and the work that we do.    

The Uprise team aboard the Maine Baycycle. What day on the water!

The Fun Stuff

It’s true we had a grand time during all of our sessions (having a good-humored team ensures that), but we wanted to make sure we included some lively group activities in Level Up, too. Our planning process included rounding up some ideas for things to do (in Maine in September, the options are endless!), and we took a vote. The winner: a boat cruise in Portland Harbor aboard Maine Baycycle. This human-powered boat includes stools with pedals, like on a bicycle, so riders can pedal their way through the water (the boat also has a motor, so pedaling is optional, and we ended up doing more boat dancing than boat pedaling). We brought some drinks and snacks aboard – along with our matching shirts, fanny packs, and a dance-worthy playlist – and enjoyed each other’s company. It was funny and silly and such a stupendous way to hang out with our team.  

Celebratory dinner at Scales on Portland's waterfront.

Our People

Our first Level Up was a success for a host of reasons: solid planning, a perfect location, and working with Anne Hussey, to name a few. But the biggest reason our meeting rocked: Our team. It’s the people who make the company, and it’s the people who made this experience everything it was.  

Team is something we think about and talk about all the time. It influences our daily decisions and our vision for the future. We take it seriously when we choose who to hire (skill sets matter, but so does who a person IS) and how we interact with one another every day.  

While Brian and I are the founders of Uprise, this company belongs to everyone on our team. That’s a reality we voice often. We want every member of our team to know we recognize their unique talents, we value them, and we want to provide the opportunity to learn, grow, and succeed.  

In turn, we have a team of smart, thoughtful, creative, and passionate people who are supremely adept at what they do, and they’re fun to be around.  

This Level Up was the first of many, and the takeaways are countless (so is the number of photos we took). But we departed as an even stronger team, better friends, and excited to do more amazing things.  

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