Notable Team of the Week: Toronto Design Offsite Festival

It’s no secret that exceptional work stems from the power of collaboration. So in addition to featuring notable young professionals and entrepreneurs every single day, we’ll be chatting to some of Canada’s best teams every Thursday to get an inside look at how they combine talents to stand out in their industry. Today we’re talking to the executive team behind the Toronto Design Offsite Festival


Describe what you and your team focus on in less than 140 characters. Go.
The Toronto Design Offsite Festival is the largest design festival in Canada with over 80 events and exhibits across the city every January.

What kick ass projects/programs have you been working on recently?
Right now we’re in full “festival mode.” This means we’re all focused on making the Festival Week happen. We’ve got some great projects in store for January, including a half-day symposium on how well-being is understood and created through design, innovation, and change; a thematic exhibition on the tangible and intangible ways in which design improves our daily lives; an outdoor installation; building and studio tours; and the third year of ‘Outside the Box’ (more on that below).

What are some of the benefits of working on a team?
Collaboration. Teamwork means different perspectives, backgrounds, ideas, and compromise. Working together allows us to bounce ideas off each other and create excellent results. It also helps that we really like each other, so it’s like working with friends.

What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced?
Because we get along so well, getting through a meeting without going off topic can be a challenge. It’s not uncommon that we diverge from the meeting agenda to laugh or share about our personal lives. When we catch ourselves going off topic we use a special word to bring us back to focus: “tunafish.”

Do you have any advice for other young professionals working within a team?
Be flexible, work hard, and listen! Remember to let go of your ego and work towards the best result for the particular issue or project at hand. Everyone has something amazing to contribute.

Does your team have a designated leader?
We work collaboratively as an executive team, with specialists/leaders in three “departments”: development and operations, programming, and marketing. Jeremy, our Executive Director, is often the public voice of our organization (and head cheerleader).

Within your organization, are teams switched up every once in a while or do they maintain the same? What are some of the pros and cons of that?
Teams tend to remain the same, but cross-pollination happens at the executive level. Each leader brings big picture topics to the weekly executive meetings for collaboration, coordination, and sometimes problem-solving.

That said, there’s a ton of communication between teams because of the nature of our work, and sometimes team members move from one “department” to another. Since we’re primarily a volunteer-run organization, we see a turnover of staff every couple years, which brings new energy and ideas to what we do.

What does the word collaboration mean to you?
Working together to create, synthesizing collective ideas, having the ability to share ideas and discuss collectively while being critical of what we do. It also means respecting your team members and the work you’re creating together. We feel collaboration is most effective when the diversity of a team reflects the diversity of the community it serves.

What has been you and your team’s favourite project/campaign/ initiative to work on and why?
Over the last couple of years, there have been so many. The Festival’s opening parties are usually pretty great. Nothing says “We did it! Let’s get this festival started” like the opening event. Our exhibition project ‘Outside the Box’ is also a favourite because we get to work with so many artists and designers across Canada and the U.S. to bring city showcases to Toronto and New York. We work for months and months planning the whole of Festival Week, so when it’s actually happening, it’s so rewarding to see what hard work and teamwork can create.

TO DO Exec Team - Gladstone


Where is your team’s favourite place to wine/dine in your city and why?
We work from the Gladstone Hotel, and frequent restaurants and bars near our office along Queen Street West including Chantecler, the Commodore, Grand Electric, and the Shameful Tiki Room. They’re all homegrown and run by local talent.

Do you and your team go out together? Where and why?
We just started a monthly event called “Designer Drinks” that happens the first Tuesday of every month. It’s super simple and super fun. Featuring a local designer each month, the event gives our community a reason to just hang out, and our staff an opportunity to socialize. It’s open to the public, so we always get to meet someone new.

What’s the best thing that has happened to you and your team recently?
We’re a non-profit so getting grants is pretty spectacular. We just received a marketing grant from the Ontario Cultural Attractions Fund, which we’re very pumped about.

Are there any other teams within your company or any company that you know of that are killing it?
Our Programming and Marketing teams are murdering it. They both work incredibly hard while having a ton of fun. Because of that, they are always coming up with new, creative ways to excel.

And finally, what does success look like to you and your team? Work, play, or otherwise
We see success as being able to express our personal values and interests in what we do. The Festival is truly a reflection of our shared values of inclusivity, accessibility, and community.