Monthly Archives: November 2016

Team Building and Recreation: Two Different Beasts

Far be it for us to stand in the way of fun, whatever the form, but we’ve noticed a trend lately: Some organizations are blurring the line between team building and recreation. Most corporate adventures pursued under the guise of team building sound ridiculously fun—excursions that include bungee jumping, paintball, GoKart racing, rock climbing and so on. And while we whole-heartedly approve of the spirit of these exploits, there is a key distinction between recreation and team building.

If it helps, think of the difference between flowers and trees: Both are plants, but only one provides shade. Similarly, recreation and team building are both fun, but only one offers challenges specifically designed to help teams work together toward a common goal.

Toward that end, team-building activities usually include elements that combine problem solving, delegation and communication. The same cannot be said for skydiving, white water rafting or heliskiing, where a hired guide makes all of the important decisions (thankfully). Granted, team building sometimes includes recreational activities (some trees also bloom, right?), but the two are fundamentally different.

Don’t get us wrong: We endorse play in most any fashion. Recreating with colleagues is an opportunity to drop the work façade and get to know people better, even if it’s just for a round of golf after work. If a company can afford extracurricular recreational pursuits, it’s a grand idea. Recreation recharges the batteries—and there’s nothing wrong with that. Our only suggestion is to allocate funds toward team building separately from recreation.

If you want to identify the goals and approach team building strategically, here are 10 suggestions to help make the magic happen.

Tips for Event Planners: What Nobody Else Told You

Planning a successful group event entails marrying magic with pragmatism and shepherding chaos into calm. It’s not easy and, consequently, some events go more smoothly than others. After 10 years of experience as expert event planners, we have a unique perspective and know what works. We compiled this list to help eliminate the most common mistakes event planners make.

Do your homework. Regardless of whether you need caterers, entertainers or team-building specialists, vet each vendor carefully.
The time you spend up front will save you anguish later. Read online reviews and contact at least one other company who has worked with the vendor directly to inquire about their performance.

Be sure you understand each vendor’s offerings and that your expectations are aligned before signing a contract.

Now comes the easy part: Let it go. If you hired a guy to make BBQ for 350 people, he knows what to do and what he needs. If you’ve done your homework well, you can trust that your vendors are experts in their crafts.

Promote the upcoming event internally, and consider these tips. (Note that 3-5 are specific to team-building events.)

  1. Top Down Buy In: If leaders in the organization don’t take it seriously, then others won’t.
  2. The Hype Machine: Tease it out ahead of time, but remember that a little mystery goes a long way. Share enough to create intrigue, but don’t give away every juicy detail of what’s to come.
  3. Costumes are Good: Designate colors or themes for each team. Will Team Purple triumph over Team Green?
  4. Pre-Game Competition: Pump up the natural competiveness of certain people or departments. Would anyone care to make a small wager on the marketing department?
  5. Prizes: If you feel compelled to gather a few prizes, go for it. Gift certificates are good, but keep the value small. If a prize is too big, it becomes the focus and dampens the fun. A $15 or $20 voucher at a local coffee house, sock store or novelty shop is perfect.

The Golden Rule of event planning is that everything takes longer than you think. Toward that end:

  1. Build extra time into the schedule, and keep the timeline loose. Expect to start a little late, and remember that it’s always better to end sooner than people expect than to ask them to remain longer than expected.
  2. Recognize that transportation is a bottleneck, so keep travel distances as short as possible. Once you get people to a site, try to organize everything around that location, as opposed to multiple places.
  3. Allow for free time for play or socializing between events.
  4. If people are hungry or uncomfortable, they don’t have fun. Provide water, food and, if it’s an outdoor event, sunscreen.
  5. It’s easier to cut something than it is to spontaneously fill time. Create a best-case scenario (if all goes according to schedule) and a worst-case scenario (what to cut and change if something goes amiss).

Final Tip
Be sure to acknowledge all of the other people who help organize the event. Appreciation is one of the keys to building and maintaining long-lasting relationships of any kind.

Case Study: Wells Fargo Team Takes a Breath Together

The key to a successful corporate reorganization consists of two elements in equal parts: seamless implementation and team member support of the initiative. Without the latter, a company risks investing time, energy and resources into a process that may not be adopted smoothly.

So after an ambitious reorganization effort to centralize its marketing operations, Wells Fargo recognized that each team within its marketing department needed an offsite to learn about moving forward and to help team members coalesce and rally around the new marketing organization.

With 21 employees scattered throughout multiple states—from California to North Carolina—the leaders from Wells Fargo Integrated Brand Marketing team saw the offsite as an opportunity to bring everyone together to cover both procedural changes (i.e. how new campaigns would run) and unite as a team. In particular, the organizers wanted a team-building activity that focused on mindfulness.

Larissa Acosta, segment marketing leader and one of the organizers, suggested the Slow Game as a way to close the event. But Acosta, who is new to her team, didn’t mention mindfulness to the group. Instead, she leveraged their curiosity to maintain momentum into the afternoon of the offsite’s second day. And after a morning of laborious workshops, the Slow Game began.

Acosta said, “Once we got through opening exercises, it was clear to me that it was going to work. From the way people were responding to the warm-up exercises, I knew they were having fun.”

The opportunity to set aside work for a few hours revealed new insights about everyone. “Being engaged in something that has nothing to do with your job and is focused on connection with the missions and the people on the team—that’s priceless,” explained Acosta. She recalled, “People talked a lot about the opportunity to get to know everyone better because we don’t all work together. There were some surprises as far as how some people responded to the missions, and new personality traits came to light.”

Afterward, the feedback was that it was refreshing to be outside and fun to do a team-building activity that was fresh, creative and unexpected. With mindfulness, the concept of the “beginners mind”—experiencing events as if for the first time—was especially welcome because of its rarity in finance where world experience is so highly valued.

We asked Acosta if she thought this exposure to mindfulness would have a long-term impact on her team, and she pointed out, “You just need to open the door for people, as far as what else is out there in how we perceive the world, perceive our day to day and the people you interact with. As long as you crack open that door and people have exposure to what is possible, the seeds will grow over time.”

Team Building: Where Everyone is the Beloved Underdog

During this year’s suspense-filled World Series, many people experienced the joy of cheering for a team who, seemingly against the odds, might win. This phenomenon is called “the underdog effect,” and psychologists have documented it, running tests where people overwhelmingly choose to support the team least likely to win.

Theories abound, both scientific and anecdotal, as to why this fascination with the underdog prevails. One theory is that spectators like games that aren’t lopsided, so they root for the loosing team in hopes of seeing the score balance and suspense build. (No matter if you’re a Cubs or Indians fan, weren’t you just a tiny bit thrilled to see the World Series go to the seventh game with extra innings?) Plus, because there’s little at stake with a team prescribed to lose, a win feels all the more triumphant. And a loss? Meh. It was to be expected.

Another explanation for rooting for the underdog is the possibility of schadenfreude, the perverse pleasure we sometimes derive from the misfortunes of others. (If you think you’re a saint, take a second to recall if you ever wished something horrible to befall an evil boss or an ex after a bad breakup.) Sometimes it’s reassuring to think that giants can fall, so the schadenfreude theory says that people support the underdog simply because there might be a chance to watch (with glee!) as a powerhouse team fails.

But one theory that we see missing from the pile is the exact opposite of schadenfreude. We all know what it feels like to lose. We’ve all been the underdog at something at some point in life—on the playground, on a sports team, at a job or maybe in romance. If Michael Phelps challenged Michael Jordan to few laps in the pool, odds are that Jordan would loose badly. Nobody, not even MJ, is great at everything. We can empathize with the underdog.

As game producers, we appreciate experiences that create underdog situations, but with a twist: We want everyone to experience being an underdog. We want to get Phelps out of the pool and Jordon off the court. Once they’re both in unfamiliar territory, things get more interesting.

When designing a team-building event, we ask ourselves a series of questions: How can we create experiences that help people move safely past their comfort zones? Is it possible to push the boundaries for everyone in a group simultaneously? Or can the positions of power shift unexpectedly during play?

Because we create challenges that demand different kinds of intelligence, every person on a team gets the opportunity to shine and experience a heroic moment. And by leveling the playing field, our games offer people the opportunity to see their colleagues’ strengths in a new way.  

It’s a recipe like the 2016 World Series with alternating underdogs and tons of suspense. It’s an opportunity for people to work together and discover strengths as both individuals and as teams, a place where something unexpected could turn the tables for a win. And a place where everybody loves—and is, temporarily—an underdog.