When it comes to doing business, whom you know can help you succeed. When it comes to team-building, whom you get to know can as well.
Team-building at its best, says John Chen, CEO of Geoteaming, “should meet the goal of what we call the pick-up-the-phone factor.” If a team member needs help or clarification at work, having a connection with co-workers can mean the difference between seeking their counsel and not. “People should build relationships long before they need them,” he says.
While in the past team-building often focused on physical activities, such as ropes courses or paintball competitions, today, many different options are offered.
“Run Brain Run was founded a decade ago to serve what we saw as a neglected niche in the team-building environment by putting fun and inclusivity first and foremost,” says Bob Fisher, event wizard with Run Brain Run. “Too many team-building activities leave the team out by being too physically demanding. Not everyone can, or wants, to run an obstacle course, slide down a zip line, scale a rock-climbing wall or shoot one another in the face with paintball guns.”
Team-building is also not exclusive to large corporations; options for increasing office camaraderie or interdepartmental collaboration can be had at varying budgets. Northwest Meetings + Events presented three Northwest team-building companies with the same scenario and asked them to come up with team-building activities for small ($50 per person), medium ($100 per person) and large ($150 per person) budgets.
Lead event producer for Engagement Unlimited
Vancouver, British Columbia–based Engagement Unlimited has worked with companies such as the Canadian Mental Health Association, Royal Bank of Canada and Walmart. Engagement Unlimited weaves social welfare into its give-back-based team-building activities.
CEO and founder of Geoteaming.
Founded in 1997, Seattle-based Geoteaming has produced 1,600 events for more than 160,000 people. While most of its events are held in the U.S., the firm has organized team-building activities in destinations as far away as Taiwan. Clients include Verizon, Microsoft, Classmates. com and Tetra Pak.
Event wizard at Run Brain Run.
Run Brain Run has offices in both Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington. The company focuses on interactive teambuilding games and has worked with companies such as Microsoft, Columbia Sportswear Company, Wells Fargo, Adidas, Intel, Boeing and Nike.
In less than a year, a young but successful tech startup has quadrupled its team, going from 10 to 40 employees. With growth came communication issues and some infighting among the “old guard” and the new hires—some of whom were hired to supervise staff members who had been with the company from the beginning. The company is turning to a day of team-building to not only improve communication but also to create a more collaboratively creative team.
TEAM - BUILDING ON A BUDGET:
» Engagement Unlimited
Stanfield recommends a mobile app scavenger hunt game called “Capture U.” “Teams explore the city in the afternoon while working together to complete photo- and videobased missions,” she explains. “The missions are partially fun and explorative, but also weave in specific content that speaks to the company, such as communication-based challenges.” The activity is bookended by ice-breaking and team-building exercises, and culminates in an awards show, debriefing and a photo display of the pictures taken throughout the day. Employees then form completely new teams for a round of “Name that Tune.”
In this price range, Geoteaming offers its iPlay app (costs are as low as $25 per person), which has more than 60 different team-building missions. Geoteaming provides a remote techsupport person who can be reached by phone or text anytime during the game. This person also scores the teams and builds a digital slide show of the best photographs and videos of the day for the players to watch when the game ends. One example of an iPlay mission is to have all of your team members jump at the same time, capturing the moment in a photograph when all of their feet are in the air. “It sounds easy,” Chen says, “but you have to get your team in synch. We’ve seen it take two to 10 attempts to get it right.”
» Run Brain Run
Fisher recommends his company’s scavenger hunt, “Search Party,” which focuses on solving puzzles rather than flaunting physical prowess. Companies can use this option in places around Seattle and Portland, such as Pike Place Market, the Oregon Zoo, Pioneer Courthouse Square, Seattle Art Museum or the Portland Museum of Art. The games take approximately two and a half hours, including instructions at the beginning and an awards ceremony at the end. Fisher came in under budget for this activity, with per-player pricing beginning at $25 (with a minimum of $250). He suggests any additional dollars in the budget be spent on snacks.
TAKING TEAM-BUILDING TO THE NEXT LEVEL:
$100 per person
» Engagement Unlimited
Stanfield recommends its Playschool Playscapes activities: Teams win building materials by correctly answering trivia questions and then work together to construct mud-pie kitchens or buddy benches. At activity’s end, teams donate these play structures to at-risk kids in day cares and elementary schools. “Unlike many give-back activities, the group is left feeling like they have personally made an immediate and tangible difference in the lives of children,” Stanfield says. “They have a chance to get their hands dirty and try something different, all while working as a team.”
Chen says at this price (as low as $75 per person), Geoteaming sends at least one staff member to act as facilitator for an app-based mission. The facilitator guides the teams through the process of picking a name and a cheer and explains the game, which would include 20 location-specific missions. For example, a team member in Seattle might have to get behind a fish counter at Pike Place Market and catch a fish thrown to him or her.
» Run Brain Run
For $100 per person, Fisher suggests its Gameshow Live! on-site game. Teams of six to eight work together to outscore their opponents. Fisher says to expect silliness. “No Mensa-type brain puzzles here,” he says. “Think rather: ‘I’ll take Nerdology for 100, Alex.’” Participants also compete head to head with what Fisher affectionately calls “stupid people tricks.”
TEAM-BUILDING EXTRAORDINAIRE :
» Engagement Unlimited
At the $150 per person level, Engagement Unlimited offers a program called Bizprov: Improv for Business Skills. Professional facilitators who are also comedic improvisers lead small teams in improvisation games. “Improvisers draw from a creative, positive and innovative skill set every time they hit the stage and create a scene,” Stanfield says. “They support each other, trust their instincts and build off of accepting offers rather than rejecting them.”
Because our hypothetical company is facing growth and communication issues, Chen recommends a program called The Search ($145 per person with a $3,000 minimum). It includes everything presented in the previous level, plus a six-step system called 1 Cache, which is designed to help teams not only make decisions faster, but also make those decisions stick. Chen created this system while working at Microsoft. “I used this system to help get eight teams to work together. And that product went on to sell more than 150 million client licenses.” In addition to 1 Cache, Geoteaming throws in “I Commit,” an activity wherein each team member commits to future changes based on lessons learned during the game. “If they’re really smart, the managers will track that decision in the next 30 days to get value out of this team-building event,” Chen says.
» Run Brain Run
Fisher of Run Brain Run again comes in under budget, recommending the “Freewheel” game, which costs $100 per player with a minimum of $2,500. Players participate in a game-showthemed event during which teams compete to build new bicycles for disadvantaged youths. “The highlight of this event is always when the kids come in to meet the teams and receive their new bicycles,” Fisher says. “It is always a great moment, and there is rarely a dry eye in the room.”
Geoteaming organizes events around the region, taking advantage of each location’s attractions.
How do you choose the best team-building firm and activity for your needs?
When choosing a team-building company and activity, budget is important, but it is only one factor. Activity location, staff credentials and expected outcomes are all components that should be considered. It’s also crucial to consider your team’s physical and emotional comfort levels. While a good learning activity stretches team members’ horizons, you want to avoid humiliation at all costs. Fisher with Run Brain Run emphasizes not making people relive playground shame. (Tip: So, a dodge-ball tournament is probably not a good idea.)
“We do our best to make sure none of our events leave players on the sidelines or feeling like they can’t contribute,” says Fisher.
Alexander Kjerulf, author and expert on happiness at work, also believes that overly competitive team-building activities can prove problematic. In his blog, he notes that team-building activities can bring out people’s “inner jerks,” decreasing the chance of participants learning anything useful. Instead, he promotes events that have common goals for participants, rewarding them for cooperation. Facilitators should allow plenty of time for debriefing, he says, and reward not only those who got the best results, but people who helped others be successful and those who made the experience pleasant for others.
What makes a great team?
In his Harvard Business Review article “The New Science of Building Great Teams,” Alex “Sandy” Pentland, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Human Dynamics Laboratory and the MIT Media Lab Entrepreneurship Program, noted that the most valuable form of communication is face to face, while communicating via email or texting was the least valuable. The goal of team-building is to provide opportunities for those face-to-face collaborations.
Through its Project Aristotle (so named for the philosopher’s quote “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts”), technology giant Google set out to uncover what makes a successful, collaborative team. Its human resource department conducted more than 200 interviews with employees over the course of two years and looked at more than 250 characteristics of more than 180 Google teams. What it found is that the success of an individual team relied less on whom the team members were and more on how they interacted with each other, structured tasks or projects and valued their own personal contributions. According to the study, the five dynamics that set successful teams apart from others were:
Psychological safety: Team members felt secure in taking risks, without the fear of being embarrassed.
Dependability: Team members could count on each other to produce high-quality work in a timely manner.
Structure and clarity: The goals of the team and roles of team members were clear.
Meaning of work: Team members felt that they were working together on something that was personally important to each member.
Impact of work: Team members felt that the work they were doing fundamentally mattered.
Through its Re:Work website, Google is sharing its tools and resources with other companies interested in building effective teams. The site offers discussion guides, case studies, research and tips.