Only 30% of full-time employed Americans are actively engaged and inspired at work, according to “The State of the American Workplace 2013” report by Gallup Inc. And yet, it’s the 30 million engaged employees in the U.S. that come up with “most of the innovative ideas, create most of a company’s new customers and have the most entrepreneurial energy,” Gallup chairman and CEO Jim Clifton writes in the report.
Keeping the team happy, motivated and inspired can only be good for the firm’s relationships with its clients and, ultimately, its bottom line. Gallup’s survey indicates companies have a lot of room to grow in terms of engaging and inspiring their employees, and there are abundant opportunities for distributors to encourage clients to invest in motivating their employees.
Goals vary greatly from client to client, says Dayne P.S. Sullivan, meeting planner/event manager at Adventures in San Antonio (asi/109471). “In some cases, companies in the midst of mergers and acquisitions are looking for the team-building experience to bring separate company’s employees together to work as one single cohesive unit,” he says. In other cases, it’s been way too long since department employees have had the opportunity to get together and learn about each other.
“In either case, some of the goals and objectives are to increase communication between colleagues, to improve their ability to collaborate on projects, to develop critical or flexible thinking or simply to encourage creativity and interpersonal skill sets,” says Sullivan, adding, “Team-building exercises are most beneficial when they succeed in developing both self-awareness and group awareness.”
Team building strengthened as a trend during the recession of 2008-2009, when employees had to do more with less. Many people were out of work, and those that had jobs needed to work even harder for either no pay increase or in some cases, less pay. Companies needed to devise a way to boost morale and say thank you to their hardworking, beleaguered staff.
As the economy picks up steam, the objectives of team building are evolving. “When the economy starts improving, companies are more concerned about losing good people and the cost of replacing and training them,” says TeamBonding COO and self-described “Creator of Opportunity,” David Goldstein. “Corporate Culture is a buzz phrase. The goals of team building in this scenario are more about building balance and having fun at work,” he says. “Companies want employees to like what they’re doing and feel like they have a purpose.”
Sullivan notes that corporations are seeking the benefits of team-building activities when rebuilding their staffs and for corporate branding initiatives. “In our experience with corporate sales teams, the attractiveness or desirability of the prizes or awards is directly related to the amount of work they’re willing to put forth to win them,” he says. In his experience, for topnotch events, it is becoming the standard for companies to invest amounts ranging from $100 to $1,000 for prizes and awards, not including the cost of the actual exercise or event.
“The goals and objectives for team building are, or should always be, to build trust and camaraderie, but it always helps to dangle a nice-sized ‘carrot’ as a motivation,” he says. If there are sales executives that really understand and appreciate the need to motivate their teams, they will always have a line item in their budgets to afford really great reward packages.
TAKE CUES FROM KIDS
Anyone who remembers sitting around a campfire, swatting at mosquitos, making s’mores and singing, “I’m Being Swallowed by a Boa Constrictor” was informally, and perhaps unknowingly, introduced to the concept of team building at a very early age.
“Summer camp is the quintessential team-building and bonding experience,” says Nina Bloomstein Shatz, director of sales at Red Ball Promotions (asi/346567), a division of Triad Advertising. “Camps are all about building a culture, loyalty and a sense of pride. They create bonds that make kids proud to wear their apparel. Corporations can learn from this.”
Goldstein says his company’s philosophy was built on the power of play. The 15-year-old Chicago-based company offers a host of team-building and bonding events and activities, aimed at getting people to know and trust each other outside the office setting, as well as develop communication and collaboration among employees.
“Many large companies do team-building exercises, particularly pharmaceutical and technology companies,” he says. “They have the budgets and vision for it.” Early in the year, these companies tend to do a lot of sales kickoff types of team-building activities, and the summer months are heavily skewed toward intern activities to attract and keep the brightest talent, he notes.
Amy Anderson, a senior event planner with Phoenix Marketing Solutions who has over 20 years of experience in the industry, agrees that technology companies tend to embrace team building. She attributes this, in part, to the fact that the industry employs so many young people. “New graduates think it is important to step away from the office, and to spend time with colleagues outside of the office setting,” she says.
Google in particular has built team building into its corporate culture. “Google believes in working together in a creative way,” says Anderson. The company built LEGO stations throughout its offices, which is one play-oriented area of headquarters where employees are encouraged to come together and build, connect and collaborate to help spur creative ideas.
Departments that have the hardest or most demanding jobs – for example, the collections department – are great candidates for team-building activities, says Jessica Gibbons-Rauch, strategic account manager at Concord Marketing Solutions (asi/166445). She created a poker game for one client where each time the employee reached their goal or got a winning hand, they received a fun promotional item. Tailgating equipment, speakers and coolers were popular for this particular sector, she says.
Shatz says senior living facilities are doing a lot of things to thank their hardworking employees. One of her clients did a college basketball tournament theme to bring its employees together in a fun way. “They ordered basketball stress balls, pins, small and large trophies, and people really loved it,” she says. “It was a little something on the side that was fun and helped break down barriers between different segments of staff that might not typically mix socially.”
Gibbons-Rauch recommends tying promotional items to the specific theme whenever possible. “Promotional products should provide a reminder of something the team accomplished together,” she says. For example, if a team builds a project together successfully, present branded Rubik cubes as a great reminder that they worked together and accomplished their goal. She has created customized baseball shirts for employees to wear to a company sponsored baseball game.
“Even though team building is to promote the people as a team, it is always good to leave these people with a reminder of what the event was,” says Sullivan.
TRENDS TO NOTE
One of TeamBonding’s favorite team-building activities remains charitable events. “This originated during the recession when some companies couldn’t necessarily justify team building, but could justify the concept of giving back,” says Goldstein. “Activities like assembling school supply backpacks or military care packages were good for the community as well as good for employees.”
The company also works with a lot of technology-oriented events. It created a high-tech scavenger hunt using GPS technology for attendees at the Corporate Event Marketing Association Summit 2014 conference in La Jolla in July. TeamBonding partnered with distributor and conference sponsor Jack Nadel International (asi/279600) for the event.
The hunt consisted of 10 teams of 10, and each team leader used an iPad, iPhone or Android to get maps, messages and instructions about activities they needed to perform and upload. Activities included forming a letter of the alphabet with the team, jumping into a pool, and singing a song – all for points. The winning team received branded TeamBonding Bluetooth speakers. Each team wore different neon-colored Malibu sunglasses to separate themselves and set their team apart.
Jack Nadel business development manager Jeffrey Grade says one of the goals of the scavenger hunt was to help attendees get to know each other. Of the 250 attendees, about 85 were new to the CEMA Summit. The team-building exercise was meant to help foster collaboration and relationships. He calls the CEMA show “a three-day mixer” focused on networking, education and relationship building.
Gibbons-Rauch says there have been some occasions where the client has ordered merchandise without specifying it’s for corporate team building. “If the requests are weird, it’s probably team building,” she says. Unusual merchandise with unusual logos are common. For example, when an employee retired, she supplied neck wallets for his entire team. The retiree was known for wearing this quirky item, and it was his team’s way of honoring him with humor.
One of her clients did a football helmet team-building activity that awarded stickers each time the employee did something significant, similar to the Ohio State football team’s achievement system. Gibbons-Rauch supplied the client with the stickers, and whenever she went to the client’s offices, the staff would proudly show off their sticker-covered helmets.
Her previous employer did a team-building exercise that proved very popular with its purchasing department. Dubbed “Project Unicorn,” a large stuffed unicorn was presented to the staffer who achieved a stated goal – such as cost savings. The unicorn sat on the desk of the winner, and was moved around as different employees achieved objectives. “The trophy looked ridiculous, but everyone worked so hard to get that unicorn on their desk,” she says.
Screeching monkeys have also proven to be a popular promotional item for her team-building clients over the years. “People love them,” she says. “Sometimes, the crazier the better.” Jean Erickson is a NJ-based contributor to Advantages.