The evolution of corporate teambuilding over recent decades has made planning these activities easier. Today, there are more structured opportunities for groups that want to improve their cohesiveness. Many of them are offered by CVBs, DMCs, specialized teambuilding companies and even hoteliers. The options have gone far beyond ropes courses and bike building.
In the ‘80s and ‘90s, “no one had pages of [teambuilding] opportunities,” recalls Wayne M. Robinson, CMP, CMM, assistant vice president at FM Global and incoming FICP chair. The opportunities for corporate social responsibility (CSR) were not as robust and well-organized as they are now.
“For most DMCs today, it’s a part of their proposals. In fact, there are companies who only manage CSR programs, and the programs are well-defined: who benefits, how the funds or materials are disseminated, not-for-profit status, as well as logistics, such as transportation, activity descriptions, what groups need to bring and so on.”
Diverse and well-structured teambuilding programs benefit planners looking to implement an activity that is both targeted to their group and easy to run. But, many programs are advantageous to entities beyond the planner and attendees.
Charitable teambuilding is going strong, particularly since the recession of 2008. During that time, many insurance and financial companies added a philanthropic element to their teambuilding. Alan Ranzer, managing partner/co-founder of Impact 4 Good, describes the motivation: “If we’re going to have a meeting and show that we’re not just having a boondoggle, let’s make sure we’re doing something to make a difference at the same time.”
Thankfully, improving the public’s perception of offsite meetings was not the only motivation for philanthropic teambuilding. After the economy improved, that kind of program remained a staple due to its dual benefit.
“When you can do something that is going to touch you personally, and you share in that experience of changing someone’s life together with your colleagues, it creates an emotional bond in a way that non-community service teambuilding cannot.”
— Alan Ranzer
“It’s not a trend; this is something that has continued and grown ever since,” says Ranzer, who has collaborated with FICP on some of its philanthropic initiatives. “There are more and more companies like mine that are offering CSR opportunities to their clients because they are so popular.”
This year, Impact 4 Good, a company that offers community service-oriented teambuilding to corporations (including several insurance and financial firms), continues to see an uptick in business.
“We’ve already done three times as many events as last year with insurance companies,” Ranzer reports. “What we’re finding is that companies really take CSR seriously. The companies that are doing it right don’t look at CSR as a check-box item for their meeting; they understand that it’s just as important as the speakers you select, the outings, the training sessions” and other components.
When CSR is combined with teambuilding, the activity delivers a stronger “return on emotion” in two respects. First, participants connect more deeply with one another, compared to teambuilding that lacks a charitable aspect.
“When you can do something that is going to touch you personally, and you share in that experience of changing someone’s life together with your colleagues, it creates an emotional bond in a way that non-community service teambuilding cannot,” Ranzer explains.
Second, participants connect more deeply with their company. “It endears you to your company,” he says. “There’s been so much written about employee engagement in the last five years. When you do something to give back to the community under your company’s name, you feel good about who you work for. So, you’re more willing to give all your discretionary effort to your company. They aren’t just giving you a paycheck, but also this uplifting experience when they allow you to impact people’s lives on business time.”
When FM Global held its worldwide conference in Boca Raton, Florida, “we contacted a local charity affiliated with a religious organization,” says Robinson. “We were able to assemble packages for schoolchildren in South America. It was nice because we got an email with pictures from the kids who were happy to receive their packages.”
These returns on emotion are especially valuable when a company is undergoing challenges that can negatively affect the morale and attitude of its employees.
“I’ve had clients that are coming together in times of downsizing or when major decisions have to be made, and when you use a CSR activity to kick off those events, it can really take the edge off and have people open up emotionally, which sets the tone for the time you’re together,” Ranzer relates.
An example of a firm that has achieved that greater return on emotion from CSR-oriented teambuilding is TD Ameritrade. Katrina Kent, director, The Event Group, notes that “combining teambuilding and community service has been quite successful for us and really helps meeting participants connect to a greater purpose and each other. We’ve worked with several of our core community partners, including Habitat for Humanity, the American Red Cross and the United Way, to customize teambuilding experiences of all shapes and sizes. Some examples include competitive ‘builds’ for Habitat in teams (which team can build the most fences or chairs the fastest) and various tournaments with Special Olympics, as well as 5K races for charity — and our meeting participants coming-led.”
Kent’s team has found that “approaching organizations directly is successful because most partners are equipped and eager to work with us on the opportunity.”
Post-event, measuring the impact of the activity is often easier when teambuilding is combined with CSR. “You often have quite tangible output to measure, whether that’s X dollars raised or houses built, etc.,” says Kent. “You can really see and feel the impact in a powerful way.”
The greater diversity of teambuilding experiences available today means that planners can be selective. More criteria comes into play, beyond the time available during the meeting for the activity. For example, planners may consider how competitive (if at all) they want the activity to be.
In Kent’s opinion, “Friendly competition juices everything up. When people are working hard for something that they care about, friendly competition makes it just a little more enticing.”
But in general, elements like competitiveness, physicality or intellectual challenge should only be emphasized if the participant demographics call for it.
“Balance is key,” Kent asserts. “Even when you’re doing a physical activity or something like a trivia challenge that may be geared more toward extroverts, it’s important to consider the experience for all and plan accordingly for various levels of engagement. At the end of the day, these things are great tools to bring people together, and inclusivity is key.”
Regarding the selection of the teambuilding’s community beneficiaries, one guideline is the group’s philanthropic history, which indicates the kind of causes that will move attendees and/or the C suite.
“Another thing to keep in mind is what’s happening locally,” says Ranzer. “We have clients that have planned or are planning to run programs in Puerto Rico; well, we all know what happened there in terms of (Hurricane Maria in 2017). If you’re doing things in California, there (could be) wildfires. If planning in the Carolinas, (there could be another hurricane). So knowing what has happened on the ground locally is another indicator of the type of (charitable) activity that might be good for your group.”
Finding new activities and new causes can also spark a little more enthusiasm among participants. For instance, teambuilding through equine therapy organizations is fairly uncommon, and thus can intrigue attendees. Richmond, Massachusetts-based Berkshire HorseWorks is one such option, and partnering with the 501(C)(3) organization is an indirect form of CSR: Berkshire provides financial assistance to at-risk youth, families and veterans who could not otherwise afford equine therapy.
Groups that want to teambuild at Berkshire HorseWorks have several upscale lodging options in its surrounding resort area, such as Cranwell Spa & Golf Resort and Canyon Ranch Lenox. Recently, Berkshire HorseWorks — in collaboration with Stable Connections — partnered with the Boulderwood estate in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, to offer exclusive retreats for families and organizations of all kinds.
Boulderwood is an 11-bedroom shingle and fieldstone home situated on 75 acres and abutting the 12,000-acre Beartown State Forest. Built in 1900 by Yale Professor Henry Farnum, the house is located near many cultural attractions including Tanglewood, Norman Rockwell Museum, The Mount and Shakespeare and Company. Groups have meeting rooms with basic AV equipment available, and PBS host and Executive Chef Carol Murko prepares all meals. Berkshire HorseWorks would hold all equine activities at Boulderwood for the client.
MountainOne Insurance Agency, Inc. has held a four-hour teambuilding event at Berkshire HorseWorks’ ranch for 15 high-performing salespeople.
“The primary goal was to be a reward and get them out of the office for about a half
a day to do something fun,” relates Jonathan Denmark, LIA, CLTC, CISR, CLCS, president and COO of MountainOne Insurance Agency. “The secondary goal was to get some salespeople that don’t typically work with others in situations where they have to get to know each other’s style, work together to solve a problem and build a stronger team overall.”
The program actually began before the group was onsite. EAGALA-certified Hayley Sumner, founder and executive director of Berkshire HorseWorks, visited MountainOne’s office a week in advance.
Denmark describes the meeting: “At that point, we had not told the team what we were doing. She asked people questions on defining conflict and culture in your personal lives vs. your professional lives, and putting some tags to them. So, what does conflict look like? And, people said things like stress or competition. And, what does culture look like? And, people would say things like family, unity and togetherness. So, she set the stage in getting to know our team a little bit. By the end of the presentation, she was showing people pictures of horses on the screen and saying, ‘How does this horse make you feel?’ It might be sprinting or standing there in a fold.”
At the ranch, the theme of emotionally connecting to horses continued.
“Hayley had laid out about 100 different pictures of horses. Everyone had to pick out a picture of a horse that represented their role at Mountain One Insurance Agency, and then describe it to the entire group,” says Denmark. “So, someone who may have been a new producer may pick out a picture of a young horse following its parents, and she would explain, ‘This is me. I’m still learning, I’m following.’ Others would pick out the black stallion [representing their role as a sales leader]. So, it was interesting to see people outside of their comfort zones explaining and trying to relate to these horse pictures.”
Next, the attendees met outside the paddock for the first teambuilding
exercise. The task was to have a team member lead one of two horses outside the fence. No talking was permitted once team members entered the paddock, so they had to make plans before entering.
“As a team, we had to work among ourselves to [determine] who has experience with horses,” Denmark explains. “We identified a couple people, and those people became the leaders, and we kind of emboldened them. They went inside the paddock, communicated with the horse nonverbally by touching and combing its hair, put the reins on and led it outside the paddock totally silent. And, of course, the whole team exploded with applause after they successfully did this.”
Denmark extrapolates the experience to a business scenario: “It was kind of an interesting lesson that says not every client is the same, and it’s really important to match up the right person with the right client.… And, we were able to make people who wouldn’t typically be leaders, leaders in this situation.”
The second teambuilding exercise had attendees work out conflicting agendas. They were given index cards with conflicting instructions on what to do with the horses, without knowledge of one another’s agendas.
“It was just absolute chaos with 15 people trying to do different things with the horses. So, that was really interesting in having to kind of sell our agenda to one another while
following the instructions on the index card,” says Denmark.
Overall, Denmark feels the equine activity “really humanized people. It broke down a lot of the thick barriers and made them a little more vulnerable. We had a session afterward where we talked about what everyone learned about themselves or others, and the feedback was absolutely incredible. I also think it helps with retention when you do something like that for your salespeople. They say, ‘This is really unique. My company and my leader really care about me. They want us to improve in these situations.’”
Unique types of CSR-oriented teambuilding can also be conducted at the group’s hotel or meeting venue if travel time is a factor.
Ranzer gives the example of Financial Literacy Monopoly, one of many programs designed and offered by Impact 4 Good. The game naturally resonates with insurance and financial groups, and benefits local high school and middle school students who also participate.
“The questions to earn Monopoly properties are all about financial literacy. Before the game starts, we bring in local kids to be on their teams. And, as they’re going through these questions, they’re actually teaching these kids what these concepts are,” Ranzer explains. “One analyst said to me: ‘It’s refreshing to do something that makes sense for who we are. We’ve done scavenger hunts and things that can be fun, but there’s a reason that all of us are financial analysts. To be able to pay it forward and teach kids about these concepts really allows us to view our work in this industry in a different way.’”
After the game is over, Impact 4 Good gives Kiva cards to the teams. “They go on to kiva.org and search the world over for [low-income entrepreneurs and students] who are looking for small loans. The Kiva cards we give them have a monetary value, and as a team, they will fulfill a loan application and pick which project they want to add money to,” says Ranzer.
The program thus goes the extra mile by teaching kids, who are the community beneficiaries of the activity, to be philanthropic themselves. Ultimately, teambuilding that is steeped in CSR not only helps to unify workforces.
It also indirectly helps to unify communities by promoting the value of social responsibility. Ideally, community members themselves will be also achieving a “return on emotion” through good works. I&FMM