Corporations and other organizations have used teambuilding for years. The goal is not always the same but in general the idea has been to bond members of the same department, such as a sales department, in order to increase productivity; to bond employees across departments to strengthen the entire company or to increase cooperation and production between departments; or to bring far-flung members of a national or global organization together so they might work better in the future after developing a relationship face-to-face.
Teambuilding can help break the ice and build trust among employee groups and can create better leadership as well as give managers and C-suite executives a better working relationship with the employees who report to them.
The one overriding goal is that teambuilding should positively affect a company’s bottom line and/or culture when all is said and done.
How best to make that happen is up for debate. There are many options available for organizations to consider. Exercises based solely on competition have long been popular, and given that competitive drive is important for a successful salesforce, that seems like a good way to go.
Today, however, experts have come to understand that it’s not competition that produces optimum results; rather, it’s a challenge in which team members work together to successfully solve a problem. Yes, teams can still compete against one another in that challenge, but it’s the cooperation and collaboration piece, the working together toward a common goal, that actually produces the desired effects.
Even with cooperative problem-solving as the means, the options for corporations to consider are hugely diverse. Finding the ideal teambuilding product may depend on the makeup of a company, what industry it’s in, what the specific goals are, how many people are taking part in the exercise and other factors.
Here are four examples of team-building programs that have been successfully used by corporations. Maybe one of them is just right for your organization or client. At the very least, these creative companies prove that the path to teambuilding success is as varied as the corporate landscape itself — and presents many intriguing twists and turns along the way.
Fort Worth Texas-based SkillsDriving provides driver safety courses throughout the United States and around the world. The company also offers several teambuilding programs, including the NASCAR Pit Crew Challenge, which can take place anywhere in the United States — in ballrooms, parking lots or even an office atrium.
In this challenge, corporate teams work on a real NASCAR vehicle. Together, they must effectively communicate and interact to determine the quickest, most efficient way to carry out a pit stop. One critical element: Deciding which team members should be placed in which positions for optimum positive benefit — as important in the workplace as on a pit crew.
“SkillsDriving has been involved with all aspects of motorsports adventures since 2004,” says Dawn Stokes, owner/CEO. “We knew there was a direct correlation between running an efficient and well-oiled corporate sales team and a race team. Communication is key!”
Stokes says group size is limited only by space and the availability of cars. “Our typical group is 12–50 for an intimate and formalized experience; but we have done groups of up to 1,000 for pure head-to-head competition.”
While all ages and genders do well with the Pit Crew Challenge, Stokes says there are differences in approach. “Women generally listen better (sorry guys) and attack the project with more trepidation — asking a lot of questions. Men typically dig right in. They’ll get the job done, no matter what, but they usually pull back and start refining their processes after a few trials.”
The great thing about this challenge is that all participants are equal. “Everyone is terrible at it — at first,” says Stokes. ”It is a cerebral challenge, a physical challenge and, the best part, an unknown challenge. Since no one has the experience to perform the challenge, it immediately levels the playing field of rank within the company, age, sex, tenure, etc. Everyone is literally in the same boat, with no advantages.”
As a team, they then grow together. ”It is usually very surprising to all involved as to how the team successfully navigates through the challenge. The teams progress very quickly in improving their communication and skills and putting the right people with the right task,” Stokes notes. “It’s fun to see them cut their times in half from the first run to the third run. Just imagine if they could improve their work goals two times by increasing their communication and idea flows?”
Stokes points to another interesting aspect of the challenge: The chosen team leader does not always end up being the actual leader. “We ask that each team select a captain, but very quickly, the team starts to take ownership of the goal together and ‘leaders’ pop out immediately — not necessarily the one the team originally selected.”
In the beginning of the challenge, coaches deliberately give very little direction but do provide tips and tricks along the way. While this seems like the antithesis of promoting good communication, a critical element of the challenge, Stokes says the opposite is true because team members have to interact and ask questions.
“We have become reliant upon email, texting, everything electronic,” she says. “This exercise forces verbal communication and the ability to ask great questions. In our fast-paced world, we do not do a good job with either of those important skills.”
At the end of the day, the group reviews how the teams began, how they were able to improve and how this behavior parlays into company success. “It is a very cool way to connect the dots by rewarding behavior by changing a tire!” Stokes says.
Not surprising, the list of corporate groups that have participated in teambuilding with SkillsDriving is impressive, including Amazon, Dell, Walmart, Citibank, Deloitte, American Airlines and small organizations to large universities.
“Pit Crew Challenge has been extremely successful with corporate groups,” Stokes says, “because people really do enjoy interacting with other people and teams love seeing growth. This exercise exposes the positives of true teamwork with immediate results!”
Who doesn’t love trivia? It’s popular with all ages and generations, as can be seen in the multitude of trivia nights in bars across the country. New York- and California-based TrivWorks has taken this popular experience out of the bars and into boardrooms and corporate meetings, with a goal of fostering communication and bonding among diverse groups of employees.
TrivWorks has nearly 10 years of experience producing team trivia events for small companies to Fortune 500 companies nationwide, and for audiences as small as 15 or larger than 1,500. It offers full customization for groups, provides professional corporate emcees for each event, and companies can choose from a variety of formats.
Founder David Jacobson says that the most effective teambuilding events “are those that produce a positive and engaging shared experience for the entire room. Live customized team trivia works perfectly here, as it produces an extremely fun, high-energy competitive experience that is tailored for the specific group in attendance. Such an atmosphere fosters laughter, camaraderie and positive workplace skills, while allowing colleagues at all levels to feel comfortable with one another and get to know each other in a unique new way.”
Trivia also works with specific goals that may be important to a company. “Trivia teambuilding naturally promotes communication, collaboration and teamwork,” says Jacobson. “However, by clearly identifying a client’s specific teambuilding goals and objectives in advance, we can focus in on the area or areas that they are seeking to develop through the experience. For example, this may be to help teams go “cross silo” and get to know colleagues, assist in the onboarding of new hires or summer interns or simply to boost morale.”
TrivWorks recently partnered with Know Your Crew to extend the experience beyond the one-time event. “Whereas most teambuilding experiences are limited to the event itself, our partnership with Know Your Crew and its app allows teams to extend the engagement before and after events. By employing digital technology to engage our clients prior to and after a highly enjoyable trivia teambuilding event, we can offer a fun and easy way to get colleagues pumped for what’s coming as well as to continue getting to know one another after the event has concluded,” Jacobson says.
Given how different the employee makeup of each company can be with respect to gender, age and ethnicity, teambuilding experts have to be nimble enough and offer enough customization to create success regardless of the specific audience.
“What I love about using trivia as a teambuilding activity is that there are so many ways to customize the experience,” Jacobson notes. “One way we do that is by ensuring the questions are appropriate for everybody in attendance, regardless of age, gender, country or origin, etc. Through a concise customization call developed over years of doing this, we can quickly get all of the information we need to tailor the experience, without asking the client to dedicate significant time or resources. The result is an incredibly inclusive experience, where everybody in the room is highly engaged and participating.
“Customizing the experience means not only personalized/tailored trivia questions, but being thoughtful about how we break the teams down in advance, so that people get the most out of the experience,” Jacobson adds. “Most clients who want a teambuilding event seek to mix folks up from the groups they usually associate with. We help them with ongoing counsel about who to put on which team, ensuring there’s a good mix of groups/departments and also a perfect balance of age ranges as well. This is particularly important for pop culture questions — not only so that younger players get the ‘younger’ questions and older ones get the ‘older’ questions, but so that these different generations discover how much they actually have in common through shared knowledge of pop culture.”
Gender, Jacobson says, plays no real role in how players approach a trivia challenge. “Both men and women have a healthy competitive drive and want to win equally. Where the difference comes in is how we prepare the event. The questions are always customized for the intended audience; we want to make sure we are asking the most appropriate trivia questions for the room. The key is to strike a healthy balance, so that everybody feels like the event is for them, that they have a chance to shine and don’t feel left out.” www.trivworks.com
At the 2017 Meeting Professionals International World Education Congress (MPI-WEC), attendees could sign up to learn more about Seattle-based Puzzle Break and its teambuilding events, which involve an escape room. Participants are “trapped” in the room until they can discover clues, solve the puzzles, decode the locks and escape. They can only do this by working together.
Jessie States, CMM, manger of professional development at MPI, says, “The session included a short introduction to the concept of escape rooms as teambuilding exercises followed by a 50-minute immersive escape room experience — a police department trying to solve a crime. It was very well received. Most dissatisfaction came from the fact that the time frame just wasn’t long enough for some of the teams to finish.”
Nate Martin, co-founder and CEO of Puzzle Break, was on hand for the MPI experience. He explains how escape-room teambuilding works. “Puzzle Break games task groups of players with finding clues, solving puzzles and unraveling a mystery before time runs out, typically about an hour. Participants face mental challenges of all varieties, specifically designed to appeal to different types of brains and group sizes.”
He says small games can work with as few as two players, and large rooms accommodate up to 15. “Additionally, we have created several large-scale experiences that we can bring to offsite events for up to hundreds of simultaneous players.”
Martin calls Puzzle Break the ultimate marriage of two supremely important requirements for a successful team-building activity: First, it’s an experience where groups work together using their brains to overcome an obstacle. Second, it’s fun and memorable. “There are tons of popular group activities that check one of those boxes,” he says. “We’re proud to excel at both.”
Interestingly, Martin points to a challenge in Puzzle Break events that has little to do with Puzzle Break itself and much to do with corporate culture. “Perhaps the biggest challenge is one of our greatest value propositions: the boss is just one member of a Puzzle Break team. It can be very difficult for leaders to step back and take an equal role in the adventure, and equally difficult for folks to treat their boss like any member of the team. Overcoming these challenges is crucial to long-term team success.”
Martin says Puzzle Break’s large-scale, offsite games are frequently used by international companies when they bring their global distribution teams together, many of whom have never met in person. “The escape room activity is also very popular with large technology companies,” he adds.
The MPI-WEC experience garnered rave reviews among planners and others, including these:
“Loved this session and didn’t want to stop! I want to do this with my employees and at conferences.”
“Best experience of the conference. Every group was actively engaging with one another. Fantastic!”
At some point, most of us have wanted to be a rock star. We played air guitar. We sang along (loudly) with our favorite rock bands. We were “creative” with lyrics. Who knew that could become part of a successful teambuilding activity — one that serendipitously also provides that entertainment wow factor for a meeting?
Team Rock Stars has figured it out. Here’s how it works. Participants are grouped into ”bands,” and each band is assigned a celebrity rock star to coach them through the experience. The participants collectively rewrite the lyrics to a hit song — ideally the lyrics relate to relevant issues facing their company or the industry. Like a real band, they choose a name, rehearse and choreograph their upcoming performance, which takes place in front of their colleagues.
The experience can be wholly customized based on the makeup of the group. Team Rock Stars has experience with C-suite and senior leadership, business units or groups, sales recognition and incentive reward events, brand enhancement, customer recognition and engagement and more.
Rocking out, it turns out, can work with any group.
Paul Caine, co-owner of Rock ’n’ Roll Fantasy Camp and founder/CEO PC Ventures, believes this approach works for a number of reasons. “Most leaders have a high sense of urgency to get things done. An immersive action-oriented style of learning makes the most sense to hold their interest. Additionally, amazing team synergy is created as the celebrity rock coaches engage the team to jam, write, record and perform. And each team member can influence the team’s outcomes and champion change to transform the team during the onstage performance. Trust gets built, collaboration increases and innovation is encouraged.”
Caine points out that breakthroughs in productivity at the workplace often come from that same kind of motivation among teams with a collective purpose.
“The Team Rock Stars champions authentic and meaningful messages that have a call to action to strengthen the organization,” he says. “Team Rock Stars helps groups reinvent themselves with a passion to innovate together. They identify with the team themes, discover new ways to contribute to the team and have cool song lyrics with a real band ready to perform in a few hours. The music mentors’ coaching inspires change within the team and gives participants the courage to give a moving performance at the event — and back on the job. Cross-functional teams immediately begin connecting at a whole new level of communication to share information and resources after the Team Rock Stars.”
ROI is demonstrated in a number of ways, according to Caine. “First, in the talent of those who participate in the experience and are then highly motivated to collaborate with their peers. There’s also the extensive professional and personal videos, photos and social media by participants generated from the Team Rock Stars, which provide the demonstrated results of an organizational shift in a positive direction the stakeholders (corporate leadership) wanted delivered. The extended life of the organizational messages lives on within the people and culture. This process can unleash a new entrepreneurial spirit throughout the company measured by new products and services developed from these business teams.”
Team Rock Stars can integrate with any theme or strategic focus of a conference. Caine notes that establishing a meaningful conference theme can be a challenge for company executives, and Team Rock Stars helps with that as well.
“The Team Rock Stars leader behaviors are an important part of helping clients identify the leader behaviors they want to emphasize most for their conference or meeting. The more leader behaviors they have articulated in front of them, the easier it is for leaders to build their thoughts on what is important to them in their organization. The shaping of a core leadership theme for an annual conference anchors the strategic direction for the company, so it needs to be on target with an engaging message.”
Caines says themes have run the gamut from leading change and inspiring business growth to culture shifts and merger integration transitions. Whatever the theme, it seems that music and mentorship together can make it happen.