Wasserman: Creating a team Off-Site that’s worth the 2 year wait

What happens when you bring inspiration from Warhol and Virgil to the team off-site?

In December 2021, it’d been two years since the experiential marketing division at Wasserman Media Group, a globally renown entertainment marketing and talent management company, had seen each other in person. For obvious “unprecedented time” related reasons, the team had been restricted to Zoom all-hands and digital culture-building while their headcount grew by over 30% in one year and the firm took on more cutting-edge work than ever.

And now the circumstances were finally right for the 75-person team to host their long awaited offsite—an event which would bring majority of team members face to face for the very first time. A cross-functional group of Wasserman leaders approached Wavetable to deliver an in-person experience that would offer valuable learning moments, catalyze fresh thinking, and pass the vibe check. And also meet these restraints:

  • The event had to cater to and resonate with 75 people, many of whom never worked together IRL before
  • Could break the mold of a conventional mandatory company event
  • And create breakthrough moments of growth in a few hours’ time
  • Oh, and it would take place in just two weeks

Armed with the wisdom of a few artistic legends and a resounding will to beat the odds, here’s what we came up with.

The considerations

A SOCIETAL COMMENTARY: One of seven personal design principles penned by late fashion designed and artistic visionary Virgil Abloh. He endeavored to always create things that have “a reason to exist now.” If we have enough of most things, why does your work deserve to take up space right now?

Society, as eye-rolling as it sounds, had vastly changed since it was last commonplace for coworkers to see more of each other than most other people—and with it, the social norms and expectations of a group setting. People were now more likely to be protective of their mental space, cautious of letting others in, and yet still just as curious to connect with people that think and like the same things they do. As experience designers and faciliators, we’d have to figure out how to help everyone collectively lower this mental drawbridge—and given the time restraints, quickly.

Moreover, we knew some folks would be reluctant to participate to begin with. Not that it was their fault. Let’s be honest: company offsites get a bad rap. Often they’re boring, cliché, and altogether unhelpful to the employees they’re meant to benefit. In this case, the two-year buildup might also add some individual pressure to perform and impress (Who wants to mess up in front of every one of your colleagues?).

So how could we help each team member relax into their creativity, but also develop a personal stake in the outcomes of the day?

The setup

READYMADE: Abloh’s seventh personal design principle. Readymade refers to the act of elevating or pursuing a “new idea based on recognizable parts”—turning what has already been into something that could be.

When it comes to curating an engaging environment, location matters. To pull this fully remote team back into a physiological and mental space conducive to creative exploration, we knew we’d need a gathering space that felt grand—bigger than even the purpose of the day, reflective of the kinetic energy required.

Wasserman’s team had a few locations in mind, all justifiably iconic and core to New York culture in their own way. But as soon as our team set foot in Fotografiska, we knew it lived in a world of its own. To begin with, the building itself is a marvel: the same historic Church Missions House that once housed bishops and Anna Delvey’s dreams, and now  the American flagship of Swedish photography museum Fotografiska. In its years since opening, the museum had hosted the likes of Warhol, Hassan Hajjaj, Gucci … and now, Wasserman.

image: Rob Tringali

Location secured. Next: How were we meant to fit two years of overdue icebreaking, connecting, and ideating in just a few hours?

The experience: Phase I

SIGNS OF “WORK IN PROCESS”: The fifth of Abloh’s personal design principles, in reference to bringing a “certain rawness to what you are designing.” To save any rationalizing or self-editing for the aftermath of what you’re creating. To focus on the embracing the imperfection of human interaction, because aiming for perfect is the same as trying to design something you’ve already seen.

Our way in: Help everyone find common ground. To see your neighbor on a level playing field is to help lower defenses and foster comraderie. To see them as a mutual source of inspiration is even better. Dodging as many corny icebreakers as possible, we came up with a two-part interactive workshop where each person’s success could be inspired by each other.

The morning was the primer, centered around fostering inspiration from the very people in the room. Our team led Wasserman in an exercise of open introspection:

  • Learning to spot trends within themselves, their team, and the broader world
  • Mapping hype cycles accordingly (visual representations of the life cycles of these trends, from conception to maturity to widespread adoption)
  • Learning to design and ask open, curious, and quickfire questions about life, pop culture, and the world—in a way that establishes genuine connection between teammates
  • Exploring their own non-work related inner curiosities through a solo tour of Fotografiska’s Andy Warhol exhibition
  • Understanding how these interests can intersect and even positively impact your daily work
Sample slides
“Loved the pacing and how the content was layered in to build over our time there, reinforcing key learnings throughout the day.”
– Wasserman employee

The experience: Phase II

After lunch break, the main event. At the time, the Wasserman team was keen to work with a travel client, so we designed this make-believe brief to get them in the right headspace.

some sort of distinct visual element that feels like a prompt The year is 2041. Family vacations are cool (and socially feasible) again, but harder to plan and execute than ever. The internet has made it easy to access any number of destination, itinerary, and activity ideas—and for the very same reason, it’s more challenging to narrow in on the exact right plans for your family. As one team, draft a brief that unlocks the future of family travel: Why they’re great, what they’re for, and how they’re attainable.

Your only mandatories:

  • Rapidly ideate 32 distinct ideas
  • Then draw on the work from Phase I to distill into one cohesive pitch
  • Incorporate a range of ideation and remixing techniques, like the design principles of late fashion visionary Virgil Abloh*
  • Pitch to Wavetable and team leads, delegating the lead positions to folks who don’t typically pitch

💡 Late design visionary and founder of streetwear label Off-White, Virgil Abloh was famously known for being untethered to the ways of traditional industry and infusing human development thinking into his work. You’ve already seen a selection of the seven principles sprinkled above (we’d like to think he’d enjoy the metaness). Below is the full list, as presented in his 2017 Harvard Lecture.

Wow, did this team deliver. The beauty of what they created in just 90 minutes wasn’t in the actual contents of the pitch—after all, the pitch was just the mechanism of creation.

It was in the chemistry between each team member, building on each other’s ideas and interpreting Virgil’s words and finding ways to reframe something already unimaginatively known: the idea of a family spending time together.

What made it different from every other offsite was that it wasn’t about work—at least, not in the in-your-face, slightly-invasive-and-obviously-canned way offsites can come off as.

But also, it kind of was. Being granted the room to stretch their imagination, the Wasserman team was able to appreciate each other’s superpowers in real time; celebrate their own unique contributions; recognize new ways to apply “old” skills, to areas of life and culture they’d never expect to touch at work; create with their colleagues for the sole purpose of creation; simultaneously refill their well of client-facing ideas; and revel in their great work together.

We’d delivered exactly what Wasserman leaders were hoping for: A moment of low-pressure, high-reward growth that reenergized the team and ripple-effected into the actual work. Or more simply, Serious Fun.™

“The best work-sponsored training I’ve been a part of. Absolutely excellent.”

“Loved the pacing and how the content was layered in to build over our time there, reinforcing key learnings throughout the day.”

“Everything was super interesting and inspirational.”

“I’m blown away. This was so much fun and I loved the way it made me think & helped me grow as a creative.”

“Very inspiring and helped me think outside the box.”

The payoff

As for WTHQ, here’s we took away:

  • Not even a global pandemic can dull our desire to connect with the people we spend 40 hours a week with
  • Teams who realize they can create great ideas together outside of work are more likely to create great ideas together at work
  • People welcome a challenge when they feel mutually rewarded
  • Virgil Abloh was a genius of our generation (and Warhol wasn’t bad either)
  • His 3% approach works for marketing briefs and streetwear collections and also amateur disc jockeying (think about it)


Virgil’s design principles and Harvard lecture

More on Virgil’s 3% rule


Gartner hype cycles

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