A brilliant team bonding day in Bristol

Written by Chris Hardy - November 30, 2023

During October, some of us in the Wholegrain team enjoyed a day together in Bristol. In the non-stop world of remote work this break in routine, time in person, and chance to be creative together felt important and nourishing. This post shares some of the fun we had, the benefits of this kind of day, and the importance of experimentation both inside and outside of work.

Members of the Wholegrain team stand around a table laden with ingredients, preparing for their Coexist kitchen cookery lesson.

After breakfast at a local café, we headed into a local park, where I facilitated an hour-long session. We were blessed by the weather with a crisp and clear October morning. This session was an opportunity to share our thoughts and feelings about the new line management approach we are implementing. We did a variety of exercises that involved positioning ourselves along an imagined ‘opinion line.’ In person this worked really well, helping us see that everybody holds different opinions, and that all perspectives are valuable and useful.

This kind of simple, embodied and practical approach to group facilitation is sorely missed when the majority of group sessions are delivered online. The sun shone, and we problem-solved together. Most left the session feeling that we had made good progress in how we are collectively making sense of our new organisational structure.

After the sunny workshop, we walked across town to an indoor climbing centre for some bouldering. If you are unfamiliar with this sport, bouldering is a kind of rock climbing that can be done safely without any harness, ropes or complex equipment. It’s a surprisingly good activity for a group of mixed ability climbers because, as far as I can tell, the majority of the time is spent standing on the padded mats chatting. There are also lots of climbing routes of different levels of difficulty all on the same wall, so you don’t end up grouping according to competence.

Wholegrain Digital's Developer, Louise, attempts one of the climbing walls. Louise is a white woman with blonde hair, wearing a grey vest top and black shorts. The wall is a dark stone colour and the climbing points are brightly coloured to indicate different route levels.

Climbing together helps build team cohesion as we get to:

  • Witness each other trying (and often ‘failing’)
  • Cheer each other on regardless of level of skill
  • Show a degree of vulnerability in trying new routes.

In the world of modern work where things need to be done well, on time and to a high standard, it’s refreshingly fun to make mistakes, fall, roll on the mats and have all that be thoroughly accepted and supported by your colleagues. Bouldering is, in essence, largely about experimentation. You could say the same about cooking.

From the climbing wall, we headed to the Coexist community kitchen for an afternoon cookery class. Coexist is a community oriented cookery school, which often hosts local team-building experiences. We arrived there mid-afternoon, when we were treated to a very welcome tasty starter after all that exercise! Then we were welcomed into the kitchen for our class.

The Wholegrain team are gathered around a table, serving the food they cooked, ready to feast together.

In groups of two or three, often with people we don’t usually spend a lot of time working with day-to-day, we were able to experiment, make mistakes and figure out how best to cook a variety of dishes. Within the same recipe there seemed a surprising amount of variation in how we interpreted the instructions! Ultimately we came together, communicated well, witnessed ‘failure’ and vulnerability, and ended up feasting together. 

“It was really great to make something tangible together that we could all enjoy right there on the day, the food. A great and relaxed way to spend some time together. The long walks were also good, another very nice way to chat without any pressure whilst being somewhere new.”

Wholegrain Designer, Dom
The Wholegrain team stand in the park, surrounded by greenery. The sun is shining on them and everyone is smiling. They appear to be having fun.

For many of us these moments together are a highlight of our working year. It’s not often that we all get to be in person, to laugh and chat without time pressure, to learn together, and to try out new things. We had a similar experience in October 2022 when we visited Antwerp, which was another meaningful bonding experience we all enjoyed.

This kind of experience, I feel, deepens our relationships with each other and makes the return to predominantly remote working far more enjoyable and productive.