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D.A.T.A & AgroStar — This is how we offsite

The strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack.

As one of India’s leading startups and a pioneer in the AgriTech space, AgroStar has been at the forefront of disruption and innovation. A typical day at AgroStar is packed with challenges and the workplace is filled with high octane energy. Every function at AgroStar is working coherently towards making the company run full throttle on the mission of ‘Helping Farmers Win’.

As we continue to grow at a very fast pace and add new team members to the pack, the emphasis is on how do we collaborate cross-functionally and more importantly within each team. How do we build trust amongst each other and help individuals focus on their strengths and thus increase throughput for the entire company. These are some of our objectives at the company level and we thought of driving these first with the Tech team and what better way to drive it than through a fun off-site.

Our Tech Team has been the backbone behind our scale and growth. Over the last three years they have relentlessly built products that solve for real-world problems faced by farmers.

Today, close to a million farmers of the country directly or indirectly use and benefit from the products built by our Tech Team. These guys are our Rock Stars!

So began the first activity for the Tech off-site, with the task to identify the right theme. Through multiple brainstorming sessions and many debates, we zeroed in on ‘Tech For Good’ as the apt central theme for this offsite.

With the stage and calendars set and arrangements made, the offsite location and theme were kept as a well-guarded secret. The lot of fifty plus techies was super excited.

“Pack light and be active” is all that they were told. On D day, we set off from our office at 6:00 am for Lonavala. A sumptuous Maharashtrian breakfast, followed by an hour’s drive and we reached the amazing Della Resorts. At the Resort, the group was first split into teams that signified regiments of the Indian army — Lancers, Bombay Sappers, Grenadiers and Deccan Horses and each team also nominated a leader of their choice. Once split, each one of them were given goodie bags that consisted of the ‘Tech for Good’ T-Shirt, a water bottle and a cap (based on their regiment), a haversack and some goodies.

Over the next two days, the teams would compete amongst themselves to win the Winners’ Cup and of course bragging rights. The teams got a sneak peek of the upcoming competitive activities through the first activity on the Della Resort Lawns itself which was won by the Lancers.

Regiment Bombay Sappers coming a close second

Regiment Bombay Sappers coming a close second

The teams asked us, ‘Why regiments of the Indian army?’ It was to be revealed soon and off we set to D.A.T.A — Della Adventure and Training Academy which was a forty five mins drive away from the Della Resorts. We all travelled in army vehicles and later got on a pontoon that ferried us across the beautiful backwaters of the dam, to reach the Academy.

D.A.T.A is a military-themed glamping resort and India’s first civilian counter-terrorism academy. Nestled in the lap of nature, the Resort focuses on training civilians with essential life skills including self-defense. While Jai Kisan (Hail the farmer) is what we at AgroStar live by, it was time to get into the mode of Jai Jawan (Hail the Soldier). All the training programs at D.A.T.A are conducted by the best of Special Forces veterans from the NSG (Black Cats), Armed Special Forces (SF), Marine Commandos (Marcos) and experienced Army instructors and we were going to be in for a truly special two days.

As we reached the entrance gates, looking at the big national flag, hoisted tall, the experience of a true army style welcome with horses, loud greetings of ‘Jai Hind!’ and the senior ex-military officers themselves waiting to welcome us, all of it was a very touching experience that connected with each one of us emotionally and left us feeling overwhelmed.

Post the meet and greet with the officers, the team went about exploring their beautiful rooms, the well-maintained property, and surroundings. After lunch, everyone lined up to get their army style combat uniforms and shoes issued, for as per protocol we had to be in combat uniforms during our stay there. Who doesn’t like to get into the uniform? You could see an instant change in stance and confidence as everyone got out of their rooms feeling proud and patriotic in combat gear.

All our AgStars! Reporting for Duty.

The teams then assembled in the conference room to get a brief about the entire stay. First up on the dais was the leadership team of AgroStar talking about the major achievements of their respective functions, thanks to the support of technology. This was followed by our CEO and Co-founder Shardul Sheth who addressed the assembly about the year that was and how the Tech team has played a very critical role in our mission of ‘Helping Farmers Win.’

Our CEO Shardul Sheth speaking to the team

Post this, Retd. Col V.G.Pande, Group Commander at D.A.T.A, addressed the team and gave an overview of D.A.T.A, its formation, the objectives and finally the expectations from us over the next one and a half days. We were also introduced to the other officials who were to be our leading officers and trainers. By now the team was super charged about the action in store.

The team then stepped out for the first two activities at D.A.T.A., a rescue activity by the lake to train us on the skills required to seek rescue in difficult situations, followed by “Hell Night”, which was a two hour night trek where the teams trekked the mountains around the Resort with the moon and few stars for company. Here everyone got helpful insights on survival in jungles or unknown territories and on managing casualties.

That was some action for Day 1 for sure. Tired and weary, the team now deserved a DJ Night and needless to say, the team did that too in true army style. Yes! They partied hard. Then, at the stroke of midnight, the team celebrated the birthday of Snehal, one of our youngest engineers.

Well if you think they must have called it a day after cutting the cake, you are mistaken. At 12:30, the team shifted the action around the bonfire with some unplugged action on the guitar. We even discovered an awesome set of ‘qawalli singers’ in the team who entertained us till the wee hours of morning.

The team ended their party at 3:00 AM and guess what, most of them were also up and ready in uniform for the flag hoisting at 7:00 AM while the remaining reported at 8:30 AM for the Obstacles training.

Boy! It was the obstacles training that transformed us. Huffing and puffing, cheering each other and fighting our fears with grit, we balanced on bars, scaled the walls, climbed ropes, walked on high Burma bridges and came down the zip line. For most of us used to being glued to our chairs, working on screens the whole day, with almost negligent routine of regular workouts (for most of us), we pulled off the obstacle course with great aplomb. We surprised ourselves for sure and we did not need too much of a push to achieve these feats. We were highly motivated as a pack.

Post the enduring session and a well-earned lunch, the team went through sessions on methods to use aggression for self-defence and on overcoming fears, especially in case of an attack.

With all the lessons on teamwork and collaboration, the Tech AgStars defined some collective objectives to be driven as a team and committed to carry forward and implement the learnings from D.A.T.A back at work. Finally, the most awaited moment came and the regiment to take away the Winners’ Cup was Regiment Lancers… again

Thus ended the incredible two days of the Tech team offsite with tons of memories. It was simply amazing to see the team leave stronger and more connected than ever before.

Personally for me, through the numerous activities we did along with the team during the offsite and the time we spent together as a team, the three biggest learnings have been as below:

Think beyond limitations

The Obstacle Course on Day 2 was a thrilling experience as most people were doing it for the first time. You could see few AgStars being wary, apprehensive and downright scared about few obstacles that seemed unsurmountable. Yet, everyone tried repeatedly but never quit any obstacle without trying it atleast once. Similarly, at AgroStar, we have been trying to do something new and build something which has never been built before. All our solutions have been built first hand. As was in case of the obstacles, we need to completely trust our skill set, try to achieve our goals come what may and continue to go though the building experience, faltering, then learning, building again and not giving up. Never doubt yourself and your abilities.

Lead compassionately

As part of all the activities that we undertook, we could get a very good sense of team spirit, bonhomie and brotherhood that is found in the armed forces. Every training or activity ensured that we all were thoughtful about our teams and team members and duly respected the chosen leader. There were times when as per their strengths, everyone got the opportunity to lead, and the entire team was in it together because the end goal was to make their regiment win. Also, as leaders, we must always be on the lookout for the next leaders who can continue the legacy of compassionate leadership and give them opportunities to lead and succeed.

Collaboration is the key

Another learning was that as new age organizations we work in highly complex and matrix structures. Hence, in order to achieve “OUR” goal, the important thing is to find allies and collaborators in all teams and not just your own team.

These are just three of the many amazing things that I have learned in my first five months at this incredible organisation which embodies trust, empathy, teamwork and an immense spirit of passion to create an impact on the lives of Indian farmers. I look forward to many more!

Author: Priyanjali Kharbas, Head of People Practices


Images Courtesy of Jolly Singh & April D’Souza |  Originally published as a Medium post

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