Elizabeth Sherry

Elizabeth Sherry Talks with Corporate & Incentive Travel Magazine

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Connecting Through Team Building

Original article

These days, teambuilding activities are the “name of the game,” with companies and organizations of all sizes investing time, resources and energy into building better teams with fun, interactive, creative meetings and events.

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The popularity of certain types of group participation exercises changes from year to year. Themed meetings are also likely to encourage attendance as prospective attendees anticipate what is to come.

Corporate event planner Beth Lawrence, president and CEO of Beth Lawrence LLC, says, “Teambuilding has actually become increasingly popular, in my opinion, as we become more and more dependent on technology. It’s ironic that in our tech-savvy and global society, we are now looking for more real-life connections. Almost every event I have planned has some sort of networking or teambuilding component.”

“Major corporations have implemented a more positive and fun work culture. …The future looks bright for more teambuilding within the corporate market.”
— Elizabeth Sherry

But these connections don’t just happen. Meeting and event planners have to provide opportunities for them to occur.

“Teambuilding has grown up,” says Bailey Roth, president of Redstone Agency, a boutique event management company. “These days, it’s more than just playing interactive — and, let’s be honest, sometimes silly — games. In the corporate world in particular, organizations want to create a culture that’s broadly relevant. In practice, that has meant a shift toward using teambuilding to develop longer-term relationships and communities based on a shared culture and mission, rather than short-term relationships based on transient factors. People want to build professional relationships that can last beyond a single conference or event. There’s no relay race for that.”

Roth stresses that teambuilding remains popular because collaboration and professional relationships will always be important. But the reality is a bit more nuanced: There are different kinds of teams and various types of teambuilding options.

“The first and more typical kind of teambuilding involves enhancing collaboration and relationships within a corporate environment,” Roth says.

Another type of teambuilding employs activities at events to make participants experience a connection to a cause or mission.

“As corporate event planners, we are always asking whether participants feel like they belong at our events,” Roth says. “Do they share the cause? Are they engaged with other participants? As long as we are asking those questions, there will be a need for
effective teambuilding.”

Elizabeth Sherry, meeting planner and engagement manager at the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, says teambuilding activities in their once-traditional sense of creating the tallest structure out of spaghetti, tape and newspaper is out.

“But what is becoming more popular is creativity in engagement, such as having a Jenga competition spanning a day, or “forcing” people to have conversations with each other not about work, which in the end will create better synergy when work conversations begin again,” Sherry says.

Now teambuilding has transformed to gather people in order to actually have conversations and get to know each another on a personal level.

“I am sure technology has played a huge factor into why this has become more valuable today,” Sherry says. “Think of the last standard meeting you went to. Did everyone show up right at the time of meeting start? If they were there early, were they on their phones not talking with the person next to them? A decade ago, the five minutes of waiting would have been filled with talk about how someone’s kids were doing or how their parents’ health was. Now it is filled with ‘click,’ ‘tap’ and ‘swipe.’”

What’s Hot/What’s Not

There is a reason why so many meetings and events seem to be cookie-cutter productions. There are people to please and placate, funds to be allocated, guest lists to be trimmed and complex rules of etiquette to be followed.

It is no wonder that so many people end up with the same event they have attended a dozen times before. Why not orchestrate a teambuilding event that creates a distinctive atmosphere and helps these meetings stand out from the crowd?

As with any facet of the meetings and events industry, the popularity of certain types of teambuilding activities ebbs and flows from year to year.

Lawrence says two types of programs are gaining in popularity. These include event apps and gamification activities.

“There are branded apps that allow guests to connect prior to conferences and after, as well as Slack, which can be used to build community,” Lawrence says. “Onsite, there are gamification options within these apps or supplementary event technologies.”

In fact, Roth says technology is absolutely critical and, used effectively, can help foster the type of relationships and communities within the teambuilding arena.

“Technology allows people to connect pre- and post-event, facilitating connections beyond the breakfast buffet,” Roth says. “And it doesn’t have to be complicated. A tool as simple and accessible as an Instagram hashtag can go a long way. For those interested in exploring more sophisticated online community apps, I’d recommend looking at Poken by GES.”

While Sherry agrees that technology can be a great tool to engage meeting and event attendees, she thinks all planners should ask themselves what the goals are that they would like to get out of the meeting, and also ask, “Can we do it without technology?” “What would it look like?” or “Would technology enhance this vision?”

“For some companies, it does,” Sherry says. “If technology is an avenue a planner would like to explore, virtual reality goggles have become more and more popular. Digital art walls are an opportunity for a standard non-creative department to have to think outside the box. And geo-mapping scavenger hunts have been popular for a couple years.”

Aside from technology and gamification within apps, companies are often bringing their experiences onsite to conferences, such as ax-throwing venues, board game cafes and even ping-pong clubs. Many companies want a unique event that will not only appeal to those who have ‘been-there, done-that,’ but something personalized for their meeting that ties in their theme and brings their message to life.

At the moment, activities that account for work/life blend are popular, especially when they connect people based on a shared objective, such as wellness or mindfulness. Roth says examples include spin classes and other group fitness classes, volunteering as a group and activities that are intellectually stimulating like escape rooms.

“The trend very much favors activities involving a single, united group, so ‘color wars’ and other competitions involving multiple teams are out of favor,” Roth says. “That’s a positive development, in my view, because connections based on shared objectives are more likely to foster loyalty and appreciation of culture than those based on assignment to a given team in a competition.”

Charitable team activities are also favored. Companies and participants like that their event has a dual purpose — they are growing closer as a team and helping others at the same time. Some meetings and events find teams participating in a treasure hunt to collect items needed by a local charity — offering ways for teams to work together in a different way than a traditional “let’s stuff care packages” event.

Some meeting planners are also seeing an emerging teambuilding trend in the area of technology. Today’s scavenger hunts are taking a big leap forward by using smartphones and tablets, offering interactive technology that far surpasses the scavenger hunts of yesteryear whereby participants documented their success with Polaroid cameras.

So what’s not popular in teambuilding these days? “Classic” events, such as Wacky Olympics and Cardboard Boat Regattas, are “oh-so passé.” Also, planners have seen a long and successful run of reality television shows as teambuilding experiences. However, Survivor-type events to Dancing With the Stars themes are coming to an end. The exception to that is culinary teambuilding, which remains “hot,” bringing teams together through food.

What to Look For

When considering appropriate teambuilding activities, planners should talk to the teambuilding company about the group and what they hope to achieve with the event. The more information that can be shared with the teambuilding facilitator, the better job they can do at customizing the program to make sure it is a really great fit.

Be sure to trust the experts. A meeting or event planner may not know what’s best for their group, but a good teambuilding company can work with the planner to help determine what would be the perfect teambuilding opportunity.

In fact, a common mistake meeting professionals make is assuming that each teambuilding company will run programs the same way.

Remember every teambuilding company has different nuances to their programs and facilitators with different levels of experience running them. Be open to new ideas and ask lots of questions about anything that is confusing before the program.

Also, be sure to choose the right event for participants. For instance, just because a company VIP loves adventure sports, it doesn’t mean booking a high-risk activity is the way to go. You want to ensure everyone is comfortable — if it’s intimidating, it actually alienates people instead of bringing them closer.

Teambuilding also should never be a surprise, as it really defeats the purpose of bonding the team. If you planned a meeting last year and had dinner on the main night, will they remember what they had to eat? Probably not, but they will remember what they did, how they felt and what they experienced. Teambuilding done right can connect on so many levels.

Down the Road

For cost-conscious corporations, inexpensive teambuilding activities within the meetings and events arena are expected to gain momentum in the near future.

“Having a board game competition or a paper airplane tournament are simple, cheap and fun,” Sherry says. “Our company just hosted a potato sack race in the middle of our lobby. We got a lot of looks, but we had so much fun. Winners all got a bag of potatoes to take home.”

Lawrence adds that learning new skills together — like ax-throwing — is going to continue to be a trend because it’s something you can usually follow up with and do locally, as well. “Also, technology enables us to keep connections going long after the event is over,” Lawrence says.

Roth adds that the reality is people are experiencing a strain on their time. That’s why teambuilding that acknowledges the value of participants’ limited time is very important.

“I predict that teambuilding serves a secondary purpose, such as being active will become increasingly popular in the coming years, as demands on time continue to be a factor,” Roth says.

For many planners, teambuilding is the backbone to any organization’s culture. “The future of business will be working with companies that are like-minded in their approach with how they treat employees, whether it be direct benefits or culture,” Sherry says. “Major corporations have implemented a more positive and fun work culture. They are building their brand off of working with people who share the same vision. The future looks bright for more teambuilding within the corporate market.”

Options to Explore

Successful organizations have capitalized on the strategic value of meetings — they see the imperative of bringing people together to accomplish real business results. Engaging meeting and event attendees via unique teambuilding experiences can positively impact the bottom line. Teambuilding, if properly planned and executed, will inform, educate and inspire those who attend. It sends a loud message to all stakeholders that employees matter, are valued and that building a strong team mentality is vital to the success of an event and organization. Some key teambuilding ideas include:

One-Day Adventures

For meetings and events that feature teambuilding activities that can last an entire day, considering exploring private teambuilding resorts or a private ranch where teams can enjoy bonding activities, such as paintball, a ropes/challenge course, an eco-adventure race, a leadership challenge and zip line. The ropes/challenge course, for example, could provide a teambuilding program that incorporates communication, trust, problem-solving and fun.

City-exploring Options

Corporations can offer unique and memorable teambuilding activities and scavenger hunts, utilizing various parts of a city for these programs. An Amazing Race program, reminiscent of the popular reality show of the same name, could provide attendees with the opportunity to “race” through different parts of a city completing required tasks. Survivor-type games could include a series of physical challenges (for people of all fitness levels) that allow team members to test their mental and physical strengths.

Tackling Obstacles

Some teambuilding planning companies offer elevated obstacle courses set in the forests or woods. Suspended between the trees off the ground, obstacle courses range from Tarzan-style ropes to wobbly bridges, swinging logs, cargo nets, zip lines and even aerial surfboards.

Exploring Mental Prowess

Fast, flexible and trusted group activities are the name of the game for many corporations.
That’s why some meeting planners are embracing teambuilding activities that not only stimulate participants’ mental prowess but also help establish stronger communication and interactive skills among attendees. From crime investigation activities to smartphone scavenger hunts to philanthropic activities, attendees can participate in group activities that appeal to their interests.

Ranch-style Activities

Consider having your group bond while participating in authentic dude ranch activities, while celebrating “all things Old West.” Several ranches throughout the West and Southwest areas of the U.S. offer a variety of teambuilding activities that will enhance a group’s cooperation, decision-making skills and encourage teamwork. Some favorite teambuilding offerings include team penning and foot rodeos. In addition, special private group activities, exercises and events can be orchestrated to meet the needs of attendees. C&IT

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