Get Out of the Office! 4 Ways to Team-Build on the Road

posted by John Jackson

JGA staff at on a team outing in Katy, TX.

JGA staff at on a team outing in Katy, TX.

We've been quite busy this past month producing drawings for our clients, but we also managed to make time to do some important work outside the walls of our office.

Here are 4 ways we build up our team by hitting the road once in a while:

1. Go Visit Your Work

Recently our entire office took a road trip to Houston to view in-person what most of us had known only on paper (or computer screen). JGA started design on Grace Bible Church in 2010 and after 4800 hours of diligent collaboration internally and with the owner we were able to stand in this building and inhale the grandeur of a great worship space plus other spaces for education and community-building.

There is simply no way one person could design, communicate, and administrate an entire project on their own. Much like the church itself functions as a body with hands, eyes, ears…each supplying an important function to the whole, we as an office of designers and administrators do the same. One person is better at concepts and the big picture, another at turning that vision into 3-D space, and yet another who sees that it gets built according to the rigorous specification standards. 

When someone asks me what it is like to be an architect, I usually respond that it is “a real kick in the pants” to see something go from a white sheet to a functioning space that impacts lives. For me that “kick” almost always means a “fun and invigorating challenge,” but it also means that we as teammates have to urge each other on towards the goal! Either way, it doesn’t happen alone. We and our final product are made better by working together.

2. Stop to Have Fun Together

On our road trip we stopped off at Top Golf to play a round … or around, how ever you like it. I STINK at golf, but we had a really good time stinking up the place. Except Alfred! Who knew that we had a ringer in the office? Now we can actually tell people who invite us to fundraising events that we can legitimately participate. When you are having fun you learn to get to know other people in ways that you didn’t otherwise. We are multi-faceted creatures who need to be appreciated, known and loved for more than one or two character traits. Having fun together brings that out in us all. Even a challenge can be fun if you let it; you don’t have to be as good as Alfred. 

Scoring Top Golf the JGA way was interesting. I am not sure any of us took our “game” seriously, at least not on the outside. I’ve not observed any printed score sheets around the office or heard any boasting at the break room about high scores. So, what’s the point? This outing, while fun, also reminds us of the value of the attitudes an individual brings to the team. I can’t remember all those really lousy shots I made to the right or left of the target, but I have a clear picture in my mind of hitting the targets 3 or 4 times in a row. That gave me confidence that I can really do this golf thing and gave me a sense of accomplishment that was memorable. It seemed that when I was relaxed, smiling, and having fun, I hit well.  When I was frustrated and too serious, I sliced, hooked and plopped.

Whether we insert joyful play into the day as an activity, or choose an attitude of joy in the midst of hard work, we will en-joy work more by deliberately choosing a spirit of play, delight, and gratitude – which then rubs off on the team. Plan for fun.  Choose joy.  Work coupled with joy creates a great team environment.

3. Go Visit Others’ Work

It’s a good idea to study the work of other firms, not just your own, to better your practice as an architect. The cross-pollination of good ideas happens not only within a firm but also sometimes between firms in the same field. Our friends at American Constructors invited us to take a tour of the Austin ISD’s new Performing Arts Center, which they are working to complete by late November, designed by Pfluger Associates with Miró Rivera Architects.  

The 60,000 square foot building has a 1,200-seat main auditorium, a smaller 250-seat black box theater, rehearsal space, offices and support facilities, and a dance studio. There is also an outdoor plaza theater and adjacent parking garage. The project came in for about $31 million in construction costs. It features some very well done finishes, spaces, and detailing and will clearly be a flagship facility for the school district. 

It was great to get a detail-oriented tour of the facility as it was being completed; and nice to get the inside scoop from American Constructors about how everything was executed. When you see another architect doing creative things and get to hear the story of why and how they did so, it’s fascinating how much you can discover about what was important to them and their client – and you learn by comparison and contrast what is important to you

4. Plan Your Trip, Then Enjoy the Ride Together

There is nothing quite like a road trip to bring a group together. When everybody's in the same vehicle you learn about each other. Someone always calls “shotgun;” others want to critique the route choice or quality of driving; and the miles seem to pass more quickly as story chatter abounds.

A good team has a clear destination, and plan to get there. About 2 months before our road trip we started planning for it. We set aside the date, made the calls for the 15-passenger van, and googled stuff, including our route.

Yes, we did stop for kolaches.

Yes, we did stop for kolaches.

You move toward what you are focused on.

If you stare at your map the whole time you are driving you will run off the road and find yourself upside down. Glance occasionally at the map, make sure you are on the right road, and then focus on the road and hazards in your immediate view. Don’t worry about the road you cannot see yet. Likewise, don’t watch your rear view mirror the whole trip. Though they say the road to the future runs through the past, focusing on only the past will also get you upside down. Where is your aim?