Thinking a ropes course or trust circle might help you bring a disparate group of co-workers or meeting attendees together? Yawn … been there, done that.
Why not shoot your people over the treetops on a zip line instead? Or have them strap on helmets with tiny video cameras that record the entire heart-stopping ride for viewing once they get back on the ground.
Those are just a few of the ways today’s team-builders bring employees or conference attendees together. It helps them get to know each other, build trust, break down barriers and have a little fun along the way.
If you really want to be atop the trends in team-building, have your teams compete against each other to build and race bikes for kids or wheelchairs for veterans, says Scott Flynn, CEO of Best Corporate Events, which has offices nationwide. When the games are over, donate the vehicles to local service groups and capture the whole experience to share on the company intranet.
That sort of effort encapsulates three of today’s hottest trends in corporate team-building: “gamification,” corporate social responsibility, and high-tech wizardry that takes everything to a higher level via smartphone and tablet apps or augmented-reality glasses.
More than fun and games
Team-building activities are under more pressure than ever to justify their value and expense. Both management and staff members are less willing to take time away from the office to spend on events without a clear payoff.
“Team-building that’s pure entertainment is declining as it has no connection to a company goal and if executed incorrectly, it actually reduces morale and becomes like a Dilbert cartoon,” says John Chen, CEO and “Big Kid” of Seattle-based Geoteaming, which also has offices nationwide. “Team-building can still be fun. It just needs to have a purpose to be viewed as effective.”
Play is “the native language for every human on Earth,” says Meredith Martini, owner and “chief playworker” at PlayWorks Group in Atlanta. “I might be the new guy, and the guy next to me is a 10-year veteran, but we’re equals on our team.” Here are some specifics:
1. Gamification: Building bridges. “If you really want to know what’s new and cool with team-building, just watch reality TV,” Martini says. “We love ‘Cake Boss,’ so we developed a game called ‘Take the Cake.’ We give teams plain cakes and basic white icing and, through a series of competitions, team members can earn additional materials like colored decorations, tools and the like so they can build these amazing cake creations. It’s a fun and creative outlet and a great way to connect, laugh and get to know each other.”
“We give them cardboard and duct tape and tell them they’re going to build a bridge, and when they’re done, we’re going to drive over it in a golf cart with the company CEO riding shotgun,” he says. “They think we’re kidding, but they really do build a bridge with the CEO. It’s a metaphor for the company and where they want to see it go.”
2. Social responsibility: Having fun while doing good. Bringing teams together to do good works continues to drive many modern team-building methods, says Martini, who’s had groups build water filters for distribution in Third World countries where fresh drinking water is scarce. “Folks want to feel involved in a project that lets them give back and make an impact whether it’s in the community or on a global level. It gives a real sense of adding meaning to team-building that is more than the usual rah-rah.
” Team-building today also seeks to build on brand loyalty, whether it’s a scavenger hunt for items in a retail chain’s local outlets or a charitable project that ends when the company donates its creations.
“We partner with Clean the World, the largest recycler of hotel amenities,” Chen says. “We get teams to race in assembling a nine-piece life-saving hygiene kit, which is donated to homeless charities. In one event, we donated more than 800 kits to the Las Vegas police who work with the homeless. A teenage girl who had a huge rash on her arm said she had been using carpet cleaner for soap because that’s all she had. After we all picked our jaws up off the floor from hearing this story, even the losing teams felt like winners knowing their completed kits were going to a real cause.”
3. Tying in technology. What scene plagues many modern-day presenters? Looking out over the crowd and seeing every other head bent over a glowing screen. So, if you can’t beat the technology, then join it and make it part of your activity.
“Our clientele is mainly 25 to 45. They were born with electronics in their hands,” Flynn says. “You’re fighting a losing battle not to include technology in your activities, but you don’t let it get in the way of the program.”
Flynn turns the traditional scavenger hunt into a high-tech chase with SmartHunts, a scavenger hunt using the company’s own iPad application, which uses GPS, clues built into computerized QR codes, real-time progress reports and point totals, and still/video photography among other bells and whistles.
“It makes the whole event paperless, efficient and green,” he says. “Plus, it memorializes the event for the group, and the company can post the video for everyone to see on a website or intranet.”
Chen predicts more activities will incorporate augmented-reality apps, which blend data with real-time images on smartphone and tablet screens, along with wearable tech such as fitness bands, Pebble watches and Google Glass. Meanwhile, he’s experimenting with drones, whether to film the action or as part of a challenge.
“Teams are finding new and creative ways to solve challenges and achieve business goals while learning new technologies,” Chen said.
Start the party with these icebreakers
1. TP the Runway: Divide your group into teams of five to 10 members each. Give each group a plastic garbage bag and five or six jumbo rolls of toilet paper. One member is the model: The rest create a complete outfit using only the TP (no tape, pins, etc) in 15 to 20 minutes. When time is up, the models walk an improvised runway, and the group votes for its favorites. When finished, everyone pitches in to clean up its own TP using its garbage bag.
2. Commonalities: Have participants sort themselves into groups according to the number of siblings they grew up with. Go around the room to find out who came from the largest family (from Scott Flynn, Best Corporate Events).
3. Go to the polls: Use the online polling site Poll Everywhere, a free service that allows up to 40 responses. Team members with phones or tablets send a text answering a question to the poll number, and their responses appear on a PowerPoint slide. Geoteaming’s Chen uses this to have people in the room introduce themselves in 10 minutes or less.
What do you see as the trends in team-building? Please use the comment box below to share some of your good experiences and even the bad ones.