Pippin Williamson
group photo of the team

Last month our distributed team of 24 employees from 12 US states and 7 countries stepped away from our daily duties and came together for our annual all hands meetup. This is the third year that we've held such a gathering and it was by far our biggest yet.

I blogged about our first all hands meetup, back in 2017 over here.

Each year we try our best to build on what's been successful in the past, without repeating ourselves. My hope when planning each meetup is that it will be consistently polished and uniquely memorable. It should have a familiar structure and quality while also being distinct from each previous meetup.

The backyard

This year we assembled the crew at a beautiful property near Rockford, Illinois. This location turned out to be a great fit for us. It was relatively easy to get everyone to O'Hare International on the same day and to coordinate transportation from there to the house. Plus one third of the attendees ended up driving themselves instead of flying. Also, the house and surrounding property proved to be a perfect setting for the experience we hoped to have. It was private, scenic, spacious, and complete with everything we needed.

Unfortunately, two members of our team were unable to attend in person this year. We did our best to include them virtually in our group discussions each day. But it is an unfortunate reality that as our team grows, getting 100% of our group in the same physical place at once becomes closer and closer to impossible.

Keri's State of Support address on Monday morning

Our schedule for the week consisted of morning meetings and afternoon fun / free time. We took what we've done previously and slightly modified it. Our changes this year included:

  • Starting a little later in the morning. Turns out very few members of our team identify as "morning people" so jumping right into work discussion before everyone's finished their first cup of coffee is an unpopular choice.
  • Mini presentations from department managers. In the past, Pippin has kicked off our retreat with the annual State of Sandhills address. This year we added a few more addresses: Chris delivered the State of Development, Lisa shared the State of Marketing, Keri presented the State of Support, and I preached about the State of Operations.
  • Break out discussion groups. Instead of getting the entire company together in one room like we have historically, the support, marketing, and development teams assembled in separate rooms so as to have more focused and relevant discussions.

During the afternoons and evenings, we enjoyed a variety of activities including:

  • Drone racing
  • Card games
  • Pool
  • Swimming
  • An on-site escape room
  • Lemon and Triscuit eating challenges
  • Bowling
  • Go-Kart racing
  • A scavenger hunt
  • The Sandhills Top Chef Competition
  • Sandhills Brewing beer tasting
Judging the Sandhills Top Chef Challenge, artichoke round

We went out to eat one time as a group but otherwise had all of our meals prepared for us by Lee, an incredible chef who stayed with us for the entire week. In spite of the setback of having the main fridge stop working suddenly resulting in a lot of food going to waste, our eating experience was outstanding. We had three meals each day which catered to the unique preferences of everyone on our team, cooked and served right in front of us.

Of course, all this fun doesn't come for free. We think of these meetups as an investment. They require a lot of effort to put together. I'd roughly estimate that close to 10% of my work time each year goes into something meetup related, plus a lot of Tyler's time as well, as he helps tremendously with our food and activity planning. When evaluating the cost of a meetup, it is important to keep in mind the indirect cost of the time spent planning as well as the cost of having all typical productivity cease while the team is together. In most cases, the indirect costs are even greater than the direct costs.

In total, the direct cost of this event was $31,820.29 which comes to an average of $1,446.38 per attending employee. This is a little bit higher than our per-person average cost in previous years but is still within a range that we are comfortable with.

Here are just a few more photos from our week together:

The future is exciting for Sandhills get-togethers. As our team continues to grow and change, we are faced with new challenges and opportunities. We're already actively working on the plan for 2020 which we hope will be even better than any previous. I don't know where we're going, what we'll do, or how many new faces will be with us yet. All I know is I will be there, enjoying the company of this amazing team. Cheers! ?

Pippin Williamson

About Pippin Williamson

Founder and Managing Director of Sandhills Development.