Cultural Onboarding via Welcome Weekend

photo of 9 welcome weekend 2019 participants
left to right: Kaitlin, Tammy, Stephen, Brittany, Grace, Kasey, Nick, Anjali, and Jeff at Welcome Weekend 2019!

This year, Atomic introduced Welcome Weekend to our calendar of internal events. Welcome Weekend is an overnight, off-site experience, organized and run by office managing partners and held annually for new employees who join one of our offices each year. It’s an evolution of the Founder’s Retreat.

Why Host Welcome Weekend?

Welcome Weekend is an organized (but flexible), interactive, and fun event that is designed to provide cultural onboarding for new Atoms. The goals of Welcome Weekend are:

  • Understand Atomic’s historical context: Help new Atoms learn more about the company and the unique history of their own office and leave with an understanding that Atomic is always evolving and they have a role to play in shaping the future.
  • Understand Atomic’s culture, values, goals, and opportunity for growth: Discuss what’s important to us and why, provide an opportunity for open and candid questions, and discuss individual goals and ideas for growth.
  • Strengthen connection and engagement: We want new Atoms to feel connected and energized about Atomic and to develop strong relationships with the managing partners in their office and one another.

What Does Welcome Weekend Look Like?

The right destination

Getting out of town is an important element of welcome weekend. Picking a destination that’s an hour or two from the home office makes the event feel special, and it also provides valuable time in the car for unstructured conversation. This year, we hosted our Grand Rapids Welcome Weekend at a mountaintop house at Crystal Mountain Resort. In addition to the great view from our house, the weather cooperated perfectly!

We left the office around 8:30 am and used the drive up as an opportunity to get to know our colleagues better by taking turns telling our life/career stories. I learned many amazing things about my colleagues–Tammy has met Bill Gates several times, Kasey and I share a deep nostalgia for the early internet, especially Geocities, and Anjali’s love of geography led her to collect maps and globes as a teenager.

The right activities

The biggest challenge of Welcome Weekend was that we had many topics we wanted to cover, and we needed to balance that with the finite amount of time and energy/attention span inherent in a weekend getaway.

We started by sharing goals and questions on sticky notes. This created alignment within the group and helped Jeff and me to make sure we were addressing topics that were important to our colleagues, in addition to the ones we wanted to address.

Soon after, our co-CEO team Shawn and Mike arrived to share lunch with us and walk the group through company history, from our founding in 2001 to the present, and through to some exciting future plans. We used butcher paper to build a timeline of important events. In the future, I’d like to bring it to life by including some fun facts and historical photographs.

Atoms learning about Atomic History
Shawn and Mike took the group through AO history and vision by drawing a timeline on butcher paper.

Our time with the CEOs took us right up to 5 pm. By that point, everyone was ready for a walk through the woods to clear our heads and digest everything we had covered during the afternoon session. After our walk, we made dinner at the house (the build-your-own taco theme was a big hit and allowed everyone to customize their meal to their dietary needs!), accompanied by plenty of informal Q&A. Board games and brownie sundaes for dessert rounded out the evening.

In the morning, we revisited our list of outstanding questions and attempted to answer them over a visit to the breakfast buffet. Before we knew it, it was time to pack up and head to the minivans for the drive home.

Key takeaways

  • Participants strongly agreed that understanding company history gives them confidence for the future. They have a better understanding of how we operate and make decisions, as well as an understanding of how they can plug in and shape the company as we move forward
  • Sharing our personal stories creates deeper connections and builds respect between colleagues. This carries into our work together. We found a lot of common ground and overlaps in our experiences, as well as shining moments of strength in adversity.
  • Sharing questions and goals at the beginning was great for grounding our discussions, making sure we covered the right topics, and tailoring the conversation to what would be most effective for making new Atoms feel integrated into the company.
  • Collaborative, easy-to-learn board games are an accessible way to make memories, build camaraderie, and learn more about each other. (We played Codenames Pictures and Ravine).
  • After a certain point, the success of an event like Welcome Weekend isn’t defined by the amount of structured content the group is able to cover–it’s in the trust and relationships built.

I’m already looking forward to hosting next year’s Welcome Weekend. It was a great chance to get to know new colleagues, understand their individual goals, and welcome them to our office. Have you ever hosted or participated in a similar event? In the comments below, I’d love to hear about any tips, feedback, and advice from your experience!