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Ask Aliya: Planning Affordable (and Fun!) Teambuilding Activities

“Ask Aliya” is a column for lawyers who are the first legal hire at their company and need advice from an in-house lawyer who has been there before. Aliya Ramji is the director of legal and business strategy for Figure 1 Inc., a network used by more than 1 million healthcare professionals to share cases and collaborate. To have your legal questions for startups answered, email with "Ask Aliya" in the subject line.

Dear Aliya,

I work for a small startup, and we would love to do a teambuilding office retreat. Can you recommend an effective and refreshing activity that won’t cost too much?

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

Dear Teamwork Makes the Dream Work,

Investing in teambuilding is an important part of creating a collaborative and successful work environment. After all, an organization is a team of inspired people. This is especially important for startups.

When you are part of a small team, any friction can result in devastating product and business consequences. That said, teambuilding exercises or retreats can feel forced and awkward if they are not planned and executed well. If you want to truly create an impact, focus your retreat or activities on building relationships and trust. Building personal relationships can often lead to stronger collaboration and communication in the office.

Weekly food and beverage evenings are a smart way to foster relationships. They can be as simple as chips and drinks, or as elaborate as sushi and sake or tacos and mojitos. Short activities are also a great way to nurture teambuilding without spending too much. They are easy to plan around schedules because they only require a two- to three-hour commitment. Remember to be mindful of diversity in your workplace and always have vegetarian and non-alcoholic options among others.

Some of my favorite activities include escape rooms and axe throwing. Escape rooms allow a group of people to work together to combine ideas, clues, and come up with solutions as a team. Exercises like these often empower a group to reflect on each other’s strengths and weaknesses to solve problems. Axe throwing is a fun way to bond with the team outside of the office. This activity encourages everyone to get outside their comfort zones — and it makes for great memories.

Longer retreats often require too much time out of the office for a startup. Moreover, retreats are difficult for employees with families. At Figure 1, the startup where I was in-house for several years, management avoided longer retreats. The solution was single-day events with multiple activities, including a physical activity alongside a mentally stimulating one.

If you are interested in planning a longer office retreat that isn’t too costly, a few ideas come to mind. Camping or a weekend at a lake cottage can be a budget-friendly way to bond with colleagues. You can always stay local and hold a “staycation” for your employees, which would cut the cost of travel.

Don’t forget to build activities into the weekend as well! Planning an effective retreat is not only about the location; it’s about having the whole team come together to learn more about one another and to come up with creative solutions to office problems.

Finally, building a successful company can be stressful and often requires a lot of work. Teambuilding doesn’t stop at activities or retreats. Many startups are incorporating stress relieving activities into their work environments to foster teambuilding. This could include games around the office such as chess or ping-pong or incorporating a weekly low- or no-cost activity for the whole team in the office, such as office yoga.

Whatever activities you choose, remember to consider the needs of the entire team. Consider things such as athletic ability, allergies, and family situations.

Happy teambuilding!


About the Author

Aliya RamjiAliya Ramji is the director of legal and business strategy for Figure 1 Inc. She also was a 2016 recipient of ACC’s Top 10 30-Somethings.

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