Ziplines, rainforests, thermal spas, and a hike to a waterfall – a different team retreat for a different kind of experiential marketing agency. This year’s HFA Costa Rican adventure was the first time the entire HFA team was in the same place at the same time. It was beautiful. It was exciting. It was…magical.
Our small and mighty Health and Fitness Activations team all work remote. So, we don’t get many chances throughout the year to treat our team to a fancy dinner or even water cooler chats. We spend a lot of time on Zoom, and even more working solo in our home offices. So, when I planned the company retreat, what I didn’t want was more meetings. I wanted to build in-person connections. We spend our working hours creating memorable experiences for brands. I wanted to create memorable HFA experiences for our internal team.
I began pricing out several domestic options. With the size of our team, it was difficult to find a place that could accommodate our group that also felt like “us.” I’m not anti-hotel, but fancy hotels and continental breakfasts didn’t seem like the right fit for our group. And it was expensive. But Central America offered a several affordable options. I polled the team: “Would people be interested in traveling internationally?” Everyone said yes. I priced it out and found could go international for roughly the same cost as domestic. And thus, our Costa Rican adventure began.
The team bonding began at airports across the county. Kayla & Becca met for the first time in the Chicago airport. Laura, who started with HFA during the pandemic, and hadn’t met anyone on the team in person, met Polly, Alicia, and Becca in the Houston airport during a layover. And then a few at a time, we met up at the Liberia airport in Costa Rica.
The trip was a balance of serenity and adrenaline.
We stayed in a beautiful villa on the edge of Lake Arenal. The views were breathtaking. Talk about a place to recharge! Some of our team took early morning walks around the property, even getting a grapefruit straight from the tree (thank you to the lovely groundskeeper!). Some enjoyed the view with a slow cup of coffee. Kayla, looked like she was straight out of a magazine as she breathed in the Pura Vida vibes. One morning I tried to lead a group yoga session on the patio – you know, sunrise yoga with a beautiful view. There were as many laughs as downward dogs, but it was a memorable experience.
Each day we did some kind of activity and learned more about our how our teammates engage off -camera. We explored a couple of beaches and watched Salvador and Laura become their true selves as they seemed to become one with the water. We did a beautiful nature walk where Marcus found himself at home amongst the large trees and lush landscape. And then we strapped into harnesses and hung on for dear life as we ziplined over the rainforest we had just explored from ground level. Turns out our team is full of adventurers. Who knew?
On our last full day, we relaxed at a thermal spa, naturally heated by the nearby volcano. Lively conversations, a delicious meal in a beautiful restaurant, and water slides (for the aforementioned adventurers) – I can’t think of a better way to spend the day with our team.
The morning we had to leave, we all got up around 5am. Half the group headed the airport for morning flights and Chris suggested that the other half squeeze in one last adventure – a hike to La Fortuna Waterfall. An hour drive and hundreds of steps later, we took our photos and everyone jumped in the water…even though most of us didn’t bring swimsuits. I love the carpe diem spirit our team has.
Now it’s back to cooking our own breakfasts, meetings on Zoom, and interviewing brand ambassadors. But the bonding that took place can’t be undone.
When I mention our retreat to other business owners, they often tell me how nice I am. While I do try to be a nice person, that’s not why I took my team to Costa Rica. It was a very practical choice. You see, building a healthy company culture has always been important to me. I have seen how employees at companies with a strong culture work harder, sacrifice deeper, and commit more fully to the company mission. In short, I believe company culture dramatically affects a person’s sense of belonging, and ultimately, a company’s bottom line. Do you agree?