For Team-Building Events, a New Ingredient: Fun
It's no secret that some people find team-building exercises, well, alienating.
While big, far-flung organizations still use team building in attempts to improve communication and camaraderie, many who participate end up wishing everyone had just stayed at their desks. In a 2012 survey of more than 1,000 office workers by Wakefield Research, commissioned by Citrix, nearly one-third said they had attended team builders that either weren't in line with company culture or that put employees in embarrassing or uncomfortable situations.
In response, many organizers have embraced new strategies to make team builders more engaging. No one wants to play long and boring games designed to educate employees about company processes or culture, the new thinking goes. Favored events now include cooking classes, learning to ice-sculpt, fencing and even donning fat suits for sumo wrestling.
The new kinds of team-building events, many of which tap into pop culture, are much more likely to engage reluctant participants, and are better tailored to different corporate cultures, says David Goldstein, chief operating officer of TeamBonding, a Chicago-based company that organizes team-building events.
Mr. Goldstein's company, for example, arranged a cooking exercise for Thermo Fisher Scientific, a maker of laboratory equipment based in Waltham, Mass. Some 25 managers from around the world, coming together for a week of meetings, on the first night were divided into five teams. Each team was assigned to make a course for dinner within a set time. The teams were told what to make, and whether it was an appetizer, an entree or dessert. The ingredients were all laid out. But there were no recipes.
To make spanakopita, a savory Greek spinach pie, Ronald J. O'Brien, director of public relations for Thermo Fisher Scientific, says his team had to assimilate and understand one another's personalities quickly. 'We were all leaders,' Mr. O'Brien says, 'and the process highlighted the differences in the way we all approach a situation, which person would be in charge and how work would be delegated.'
Sometimes team-building events are one of the few times that remote colleagues come together. Other times, team builders take colleagues who work together all of the time and show them something new about one another.
Superior Farms Inc., a lamb producer and distributor based in Davis, Calif., was looking for a new team-building idea for its 11 senior executives when it found Dig This, a company in Las Vegas that bills itself as a 'heavy equipment playground.' Co-workers doing team building there take the controls of heavy construction equipment to accomplish customized team missions.
Operating an excavator, which tends to be a new experience for everyone, put Karen Ellis way out of her comfort zone. Ms. Ellis, the Superior Farms vice president of human resources, says that if it weren't for the specific directions that her team partner spoke calmly and encouragingly into her headset, she wouldn't have been able to do her part for her team.
'He was so patient with me and knew exactly what I needed to hear,' says Ms. Ellis, adding that it gave her a fresh perspective on someone she works with every day.
One of the big trends in team building is to model events after what's happening in pop culture, including doing things for charities and nonprofits. Jibe Consulting, a management and technology company in Lake Oswego, Ore., chose an activity created by Wildly Different, a team-building company based in Orlando, Fla.
Some 70 Jibe employees were split into teams of 10, which assembled and decorated little red wagons, then completed various tasks to win toys and fill up their wagons. Teams that have the best-decorated wagon and acquire the most toys win award medals.
'To see an IT guy stand up and hum a tune for us to guess the song showed me a whole new personal side of him,' says Melissa Humes, Jibe's HR director.
'But the best part about the event,' she adds, 'was having the Ronald McDonald House come in and take all the wagons for the kids.'
比如，戈德斯坦的公司为总部位于马萨诸塞州沃尔瑟姆市的实验室器材制造商赛默飞世尔科技(Thermo Fisher Scientific)安排了一次烹饪活动。从全球各地来参加一周会议的25名管理者在第一个晚上被分成了五个小组，每个小组要在规定时间内为晚餐做一道菜。这些团队被告知要做什么菜，是开胃菜、主菜还是甜点。食材都已备好。只是没有食谱。
为了做出美味的传统希腊式馅饼spanakopita，赛默飞世尔科技的公共关系总监罗纳德·奥布赖恩(Ronald J. O'Brien)说，他的小组成员不得迅速去熟悉和了解其他人的性格。“我们都是领导者，” 奥布赖恩说，“整个过程凸显了我们处理同一个状况采取的不同方式，谁应该负责，工作如何分配。”
加州戴维斯市的羊肉生产分销企业Superior Farms Inc.想为公司11名高管寻找一种新的团队建设思路，后来在拉斯维加斯找到一家名为Dig This的公司，这家公司把自己称作“重型设备游乐园。”在这里参加团队建设活动的同事要操控重型建筑设备，完成定制的小组任务。
开挖掘机似乎对每个人都是全新的体验，也让凯伦·埃利斯(Karen Ellis)进入了一个自己完全不熟悉的领域。埃利斯是Superior Farms人力资源副总裁，她说，如果不是她的小组搭档通过耳机冷静地告诉她具体该怎么做并不停地鼓励她，她绝对完不成自己那部分任务。
团队建设领域的另外一大趋势就是模仿流行文化的活动，包括为慈善和非营利组织做事情。俄勒冈州奥斯威戈湖市的管理和技术公司Jibe Consulting就选择了由Wildly Different设计的一项活动。后者是位于佛罗里达州的团队活动组织公司。
但她又说，活动最棒的部分是看到慈善机构麦当劳叔叔之家(Ronald McDonald House)来拿走所有为孩子们做的小车。