Teambuilding is often one of the first items on the chopping block when corporate budgets tighten. However, companies that make such a move may miss out on a key opportunity to improve employee performance.
According to experts, teambuilding can improve employee productivity, morale and engagement, and foster collaboration and problem-solving skills while strengthening bonds among coworkers. Ideally, it also serves to reinforce an organization’s culture and mission statement. And, teambuilding can do all this in the spirit of a fun, energizing and memorable experience.
Having fun, creating memories and enhancing camaraderie were the goals of a five-hour teambuilding event that one financial company held recently at an Orlando hotel for its annual meeting.
Team Rock Stars provided an impactful and engaging program for the company, in which professional rock musicians helped attendees write and perform songs about their company.
The 31 participants came from the company’s eight offices in Alabama, Georgia and Florida, so many of them had either never met or had only talked on the phone. “Even people in the five Florida offices had never met,” says the company’s CEO. “This was an opportunity for all of them to get together and actually interact with each other in person. I expected this event to increase the desire to work with people who you actually have an interaction with at this event as opposed to being a faceless voice on the phone.”
Attendees were not informed of the teambuilding event until they arrived onsite. “Everyone came into a large room for dinner and drinks, and was surprised to find a band playing,” says the CEO. “A lot of them weren’t sure what was going on. A master of ceremonies took the stage and explained everything. I could see the excitement building as he talked.”
After dinner, attendees separated into four groups in four different conference rooms. Each group had a “rock mentor.” The mentors, who have performed with groups such as Guns N’ Roses, Carole King and Quiet Riot, helped attendees rewrite popular songs such as “Takin’ Care of Business” and “Fight for Your Right to Party,” changing lyrics to reflect company-related themes and experiences. Each mentor had a different approach, but each had a way to help bring a group together and agree on the lyrics, says the CEO.
After the writing sessions, each group took the stage in a ballroom to sing their songs, backed up by a band that consisted of the rock mentors.
After each attendee group performed, the band of rock mentors began performing a surprise concert. Soon after the musicians started playing, the power in the hotel went out due to a rainstorm.
“They could have packed it up, but instead, they decided to play an acoustic set in the dark,” says the CEO. “It was magical. They played until the power came back on and then continued their concert. They definitely went above and beyond, and it added to the experience. People still talk about it.”
The results of the teambuilding event have been long-lasting. “It made them feel good about their work and strengthened relationships that are important to the company,” says the CEO. “Before the event, there was the usual professionalism. Afterward, there was a real warmth and connection among everyone. People in each office became closer and more willing to help each other.”
Some teambuilding projects are so challenging that they require attendees to learn entirely new skills. Others provide participants with a huge surprise.
Paul Caine, founder/CEO of PC Ventures, and co-owner of Rock ’n’ Roll Fantasy Camp, which runs Team Rock Stars, describes an activity that contained both elements — along with a legendary rock star.
“There were about 100 people, and we broke them up into eight or nine bands,” says Caine. “They each had a counselor who was a professional touring musician. Each group rehearsed three songs they would perform — two of their choice and one by the rock group The Who. Many of them never played an instrument before, and we taught them how to do it (well enough to accompany the songs). Those who knew how to play did so.”
Participants rehearsed for two mornings. They learned on the second day of rehearsals that they would be performing their Who songs with Who lead singer Roger Daltrey. The teambuilding participants kept it a secret so that people who didn’t participate would be surprised by Daltrey’s appearance when they saw the bands perform.
The event had several goals. “It was designed to be a fun activity and something interesting,” says Caine. “The teambuilding involved working as a band, learning to problem solve, and presenting as a team in front of peers. People still remember the experience. I still get emails and notes from people reminiscing, saying it was one of the best experiences we’ve ever had.”
Caine offers the following advice to businesses that either don’t do teambuilding or are considering cutting it from their budgets. “At the end of the day, whether you produce a product or provide a service, it’s all about the people who work for you, the quality of the talent and their happiness in the organization, and their belief in your mission and their ability to carry it forward,” says Caine. “These kinds of experiences are invaluable in creating a productive environment.”
Increasingly, companies seeking to bond employees with one another and with the destinations hosting their meetings are finding that CVBs can help connect them to local charitable organizations offering Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs, from environmental projects to humanitarian aid to the homeless, immigrants, disadvantaged children and others. Attendees, especially the millennial generation, are increasingly motivated by such programs, which have a long-term, positive impact on a community and its people.
In recent years, Norwalk, California-based Automotive Finance Corp. (AFC) has held several CSR programs in Indianapolis. In one, 240 attendees built wagons for Damar Services Inc., an Indianapolis-based organization that provides services for people with behavioral and developmental disabilities. Attendees competed in quizzes and other fun challenges, which earned them points to buy supplies for the wagons that they later assembled.
At another meeting, 30 AFC attendees played a jeopardy-type game to earn points to spend at a nonperishable food store. Attendees used the food items to build and decorate miniature golf-style “holes.” The group then played all of the holes. After the event, attendees donated 125 pounds of nonperishable food to Second Helpings, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit that “rescues” perishable food from restaurants, retailers and wholesalers to create and distribute hot meals to those in need.
Yet another group of 180 AFC attendees built wheelchairs for veterans. The group raced in the wheelchairs for fun and to make sure they functioned before donating them to the veterans.
Many companies specializing in teambuilding programs are now offering relatively inexpensive “prepackaged” CSR programs that make meaningful contributions to communities.
Los Angeles-based Wise Guys Events offers one such program — Superhero Academy — which has attracted financial firms such as KPMG, PwC and Sameday Insurance.
The experience takes place at an outdoor park and allows attendees to dress up as superheroes. “They rotate between several stations playing 15-minute mini-games with each other that test their teamwork and thinking ability,” says Myles Nye, co-founder of Wise Guys Events. “During the event, participants create videos of the event which they deliver along with gifts to hospitalized children or the charity of their choice.”
Nye says that the financial firms taking part in the program typically bring participants who rarely see one another in person as they are from different states and different countries. “Companies say the program brings everyone together and makes them feel like a part of a cohesive team,” says Nye. “As far as the teambuilding goal, the mini-games get everyone involved, regardless of ability, and combine sophisticated game mechanics with a light-hearted spirit of play, which breaks down barriers and keeps people engaged.”
Prepackaged programs are proving popular because many companies can’t afford customized, offsite teambuilding programs that last several hours to a few days. Planners, DMCs and third-party teambuilding providers such as hotels are offering shorter (some just a few hours or less) teambuilding programs and holding them at local properties or corporate facilities to save on venue and transportation costs.
Many hotels and resorts provide a growing variety of ready-made teambuilding programs, partly because teambuilding is an important consideration when choosing a venue and destination for meetings.
According to Destination Hotels’ 2017 State of the Meeting Industry survey, about 60 percent of planners are highly interested in adventure and active teambuilding experiences. Nearly 37 percent of respondents rated activities such as beach cleanups and school refurbishment projects as highly desirable. Several Destination Hotels properties offer a range of unique teambuilding programs: At Stowe Mountain Lodge in Stowe, Vermont, attendees can help save Vermont’s bat population by building bat houses under a guide’s supervision, or test their farming skills in a cow-milking competition. There’s also a “corporate survivor” activity based on the popular “Survivor” TV show: Teams rotate through five challenging and thought-provoking activities. A boat-building project at Sun River Resort in Sun River, Oregon, emphasizes teamwork and communication among participants who construct a workable craft from scratch with supplied materials. Wild Dunes Resort in Isle of Palms, South Carolina, offers authentic low-country experiences including oystering and clamming clinics.
Teambuilding has come a long way since programs such as ropes courses and bike building were all the rage. Planners and attendees are now looking for one-of-a-kind teambuilding experiences.
“The current trends we see flourishing are a desire for immersive activities, as opposed to passively watching something, and for CSR,” says Nye. “Workers in general, but especially millennials, are motivated to work someplace if they feel they are doing good beyond simply helping the company grow and thrive.”
Teambuilding programs, whether they are created with large or small budgets, can help unite, motivate and inspire employees. They develop attitudes and relationships that reinforce organizational goals — and provide unforgettable fun. I&FMM