The very idea of team-building activities can leave some meeting attendees rolling their eyes in anticipation of the forced conviviality. Challenged to keep ahead of the curve, meeting planners are relying on resorts and outside vendors to create fresh challenges that provide meaningful takeaways.
Here are six outside-thebox team-building experiences that are guaranteed to engage everyone, even those skeptical veterans of one too many “Iron Chef”-type competitions.
The 517-guest-room hotel spans an expansive stretch of Southern California’s scenic beachfront, and includes a spa, multiple swimming pools and five food and beverage outlets, including the updated Watertable contemporary restaurant.
The challenge: Sandcastle-building contest. Teams receive a demonstration of sandcastle construction techniques and a review of tools, which range from shovels, spray bottles and pails to trowels and molds.
How it builds a team: Provides both structured and unstructured opportunities for interaction. Teams can be challenged on creativity, speed or on workplace-related skills, such as leadership. Applying adult-level planning and creativity to a child’s pastime opens avenue for creativity. Planners can add a beach bonfire and s’mores kits as a reward.
Appropriate participants: Small and large groups can be accommodated. The lowimpact activity requires only sunscreen and a tolerance for sand.
The founders of the LA-based Wise Guys Events applied their background in acting and improvisation to create challenges such as Booze Clues, a pub-crawl scavenger hunt, Super Hero Academy and variations on escape rooms. “Each challenge team activity is a minigame with mental and physical components,” says co-founder Myles Nye. Wise Guy’s reputation for novelty and fun has made them the go-to events producer for the Hotel InterContinental Los Angeles-Century City.
The challenge: Billed as “an evening of competitive murder,” the Heritage Scare activity is “sort of our version of a haunted house you play as a game,” Nye says. A take on musical chairs turns the chair-less into ghosts who can’t win, but have an impact on the outcome.
How it builds a team: Requires strategy, coalition building and persuasion. Teams of two have to trust each other to “think through the possibilities to make the right choices that will allow your pair to survive,” Nye says.
Appropriate participants: Created for groups of 10 players split into five pairs, the size and strategy are best for smaller groups such as executive retreats.
In Mountain View’s Shoreline Regional Park, the man-made, 50-acre Shoreline Lake is known for calm waters and predictable breezes—a popular spot for sailing, stand-up paddle boarding, windsurfing, canoeing and kayaking, especially for beginners.
The challenge: Boat-building contests. Teams are challenged to create watercraft from nonstandard materials like cardboard, duct tape or trash bags, which they then race.
How it builds a team: Contests with unique challenges help illuminate coworkers’ broader skill sets. Getting teams to work in and the around the water often takes participants outside their comfort zone.
Appropriate participants: Typical participants are employees from nearby Silicon Valley tech companies who are accustomed to physical and intellectual challenges. Activities can be modified for high- or low-impact and groups of 400 or more can be accommodated.
Using smart phones, cameras and other technology (or even old-school paper), the San Francisco-based Go Game crew facilitates immersive technology-fueled games and adventures anywhere in the world.
The challenge: The Go Game offers indoor, outdoor and training games. Real-world challenges such as disaster preparedness, sales training or filming a video become tech-aided games. In the Classic Game, as teams embark on their problem-solving quest, The Go Game’s proprietary smartphone app prompts players to snap photos and videos that will be judged and put to a vote at the end of the game. Groups have an on-site game producer to facilitate the activities, adding professional management to the play-based activity.
How it builds a team: Teams embark on challenges that require communication, problem solving and creativity, whether they’re solving a mystery, singing karaoke or scouring the outdoors to complete tasks. Enthusiasm abounds. “The consistent, best feedback I get is, ‘That was more fun that I thought it was going to be,’” says Jenny Gottstein, The Go Game’s director of games.
Appropriate participants: Anyone of any physical ability. “That’s the magic of the concept of using play. Everybody can be good at it,” says Gottstein. The company says it can scale the game to accommodate 100 or even 10,000 players.
A 10,500-acre ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara wine country offers multiple outdoor activities.
The challenge: Alisal’s ropes courses feature physical—and emotional—challenges that can require safety-harnessed participants to jump from a tall pole, cross a swaying “tightrope” or scale a climbing wall, ending with the reward of a zip line.
How it builds a team: Resort staffers can help reinforce bonding by briefing activity facilitators in advance to use language pertinent to a company goal, such as reaching a sales target or visualizing a project. Team members on the ground—dubbed “rope angels”—assist those in the air and everyone shares in the victories. “Showing support on the ground can be just as powerful as being the one who can climb the wall,” says Marcy Payne, Alisal’s activities director.
Appropriate participants: With plenty of support roles—holding ropes, cheering on co-workers—not every person has to climb or leap from the 10- to 40-foot-tall structures. The course can hold from 10 to 50 people.
Great food and great films come together through a partnership with Wolfgang Puck Catering (the exclusive caterer for the studio lot) and Universal Studios Special Events.
The challenge: Teams get a taste of behindthe-scenes Hollywood in the “Make Your Own Movie” event at the studio backlot in Universal City. Attendees write, act and direct their own films on sets used in television or film productions, such as “Back to the Future” and “Psycho.”
How it builds a team: Whether the teams are creating a movie, commercial, music video or movie trailer, they’ll employ new skills such as acting, directing or even singing. More bonding continues at a Wolfgang Puck-catered reception or dinner at the studio commissary or backlot. Films are screened depending on what works best for the group; some screen them during a dinner/presentation in the evening of the filming day or following night at an awards dinner.
Appropriate participants: The events team can scale the event, whether you need blockbuster-sized teams (400) or something more “indie-sized” (20).