IOE&IT: The booming workforce brought together for the first time

The Institute had grown its workforce by more than six times in the last year, but most of them had never met face-to-face.


The Institute of Export and International Trade (IOE&IT) saw massive personnel growth during the pandemic, going from 20 to 130 employees within a year. Many had been recruited virtually and never met their team face-to-face. CEO Marco Forgione was keen to get the team together for a day of collaboration and a night of celebration.


Unsurprisingly, COVID-19 presented a major challenge. Many were still nervous about travelling and being in a room together for the first time. There were also challenges in how to get 130 people working together collaboratively and getting to know each other in the ‘real’ world rather than the ‘virtual’ environments. 

Although delegates were required to conduct their own lateral flow before arriving at the event, a purpose built assessment centre was set up on-site to ensure every single delegate tested negatively before entering the venue. 

The three-studios used for the day were set up to offer more space than usual, there was increased ventilation and anti-viral mister machines which neutralise COVID particles. Following the event, no one tested positive for COVID-19.


Taking place on 3 December, 2021, DRPG’s studios in Worcestershire were chosen as the venue, as they offered a blank canvas and on-site testing centre. 

The blank canvas nature of the venue meant that the events team could create different atmospheres and environments. From delegate arrival as they moved along a smoke-filled tunnel to an imaginary underground bunker, to a conference setting based around a TV chat show complete with live links to the green room where the leadership team were waiting to be interviewed. 

The day started with delegates being herded into Studio 3 from the outside world. Themed as a secret underground bunker, they accessed the space along a dark and intimidating tunnel. Once inside, the challenge was to bring alive IOE&ITs five new values using images delegates had been asked to prepare two weeks earlier. The aim of this was to include the whole team in a celebration of everything that makes the Institute great.

After a light breakfast, it was into the vision and strategy session hosted within Studio 1 and presented by the CEO. A light-hearted chat show with the Senior Leadership team followed, using another studio as the green room where the SLT could play-up to the camera before being invited on stage.

The afternoon was split into two sessions. The first took the delegates on a journey through the next five years of the IOE&ITs strategy, with each team portraying the SLT and having to respond to challenges and opportunities. The sessions saw the board becoming judges, as a raft of innovations and ideas were developed by the delegates. 

The second session partnered with the Lightbulb charity, with teams working together to build prosthetic hands. The session was both a humbling and emotional experience.

While delegates freshened up in the evening, the studios underwent a dramatic transformation and delegates were greeted by the sight of a spectacular dining room for the awards dinner. The group finished off celebrating in the nightclub studio where they danced into the night.

Results & ROI

Everyone left the event buzzing, each with their own plan and commitment for the next 12 months and very proud of their achievements.

“The institute has seen dramatic growth in the last 12 months, moving from 20 employees to over 130, yet most had never met face-to-face. So, to have the opportunity to bring the team together made for a brilliant end to a great year,” says Forgione.

"From the moment excited team members poured off the coaches at 8am – hugging each other like long-lost relatives – a magic vibe and our company values permeated the day’s activities.

“The event’s timing was critical, as the ‘war for talent’ is really acute in trade and customs right now. So while we knew our team members had done an extraordinary job for us since joining – problem-solving every day for traders having to navigate Brexit – we didn’t know what they thought of the IOE&IT as an organisation.

“The post-event survey was the real test – to be filled in anonymously. Would our carefully thought-through learning, challenges, team building and pure, unadulterated fun mean something more than just a great get-together?

“Yes, is the answer, as reflected in the before-and-after results. Agreement with the statement ‘I am proud to work for IOE&IT’ moved from 62% strongly agreeing before the event, to 82% after – and that shift in perception is what really mattered to us.”

Charlotte Flach Editor C&IT