Great ideas for team building activities from cycling the Olympic velodrome to classic motor racing, ice-cream making, white water rafting and diffusing bombs.
Team building is back! Its back because it’s the event industry's equivalent of a cliché and clichés are clichés because clichés work (four times in one sentence, not bad!). It’s ironic but true - think about it. If something happens time and time again there's got to be a reason and, even though we spend our lives trying to reinvent things that don't need reinventing (we even tried to do that with a trade show once!), good old-fashioned team building is great just how it is. Corporations stage team building activities year after year because, frankly, they work. Well, when they’re done well they do...
Just over a decade ago I used to work at a major PR agency called Ketchum. The agency was huge but, far more impressively, it all stemmed from the legendary Lynne Franks PR, founded by an iconic and prolific lady called…erm…Lynne Franks. Even more impressive than that, her original agency is (allegedly) what the hit TV show ‘Absolutely Fabulous’ was based on. Fashion PR darling (or fash-warn as we all called it at the time). I therefore like to think that I’ve worked alongside some of the greatest PR people in the world (from the founders of market-leading Frank PR to David Beckham’s agent and all sorts of weird and wonderful people in between). In fact, my direct boss has recently moved to Sydney to set up Shine Communications out there so, all things considered, I’ve got some major catching up to do!
Anyway, whilst at Ketchum, I experienced my first ‘sophisticated’ teambuilding experience (I’d done all sorts of overly expensive and gratuitous sales-based ‘teambuilding’ previously at my former organisation which mainly involved excessive drinking and general debauchery in an effort to out-drink all those who had out-sold everyone else, all year). Ketchum was a massively creative place and, as you’ll see on my LinkedIn career history, I coined a phrase which I feel sums it up perfectly – a ‘stable of greatness’. This teambuilding activity was relatively simple yet perfect in it’s purpose and execution, engaging all of us in such a way that it’s stuck with me for over twelve years, despite having seemingly done everything the events industry can conjure up (or throw at me) almost relentlessly ever since. This particular activity was film making. We were split into several groups and were shipped off to Pinewood Studios where we were shown a scene from the latest Bond movie (which, I fear, starred Piers Brosnan being that long ago!).
Incidentally, my favourite Bond was Roger Moore and I have an almost Partridge-esque fascination with him. I even have a framed and signed picture of him on set in my downstairs loo, taking pride of place alongside Kiefer Sutherland in 24 mode. And, for the record (even though it’s totally gratuitous – although, there is another Bond reprise later on) the best line ever uttered by James Bond is in Moonraker, when he and the impeccably named ‘Dr.Goodhead’ slide down a cable-car wire, dropping 50 feet to safety avoiding almost certain death (in a similar stunt, both of Robin Van Persie’s legs would have snapped off for sure). After a severe tumble, Dr.Goodhead asks Bond “James, have you broken anything?” to which Roger Moore calmly replies “Only my tailor’s heart”, as he brushes himself down. Genius. I am forever indebted to his greatness (on and off screen – I met his son Geoffrey once too because he owned a cool bar/restaurant just off Bond St (appropriately called Hush).
Anyway, I digress (again). We were given a ‘budget’ and a selection of props we could ‘buy’. This leveled the field as we had to ‘produce’ our short movie on a shoestring, ‘buying’ costumes, scenery, even camera effects. One of us was a producer and all of us ‘acted’. I seem to remember I was a Russian spy (baddie) and got terribly carried away with the accent. The best thing about the day (apart from the fact that we won!) was the dinner/awards ceremony in the evening at which all five films were shown on the big screen and the winners were presented with ‘Oscars’ for their efforts – cue long, comedy acceptance speeches! It was utterly
brilliant and got us all thinking as well as working as a team – just what successful PR is all about. Ironically, this inspired me to launch a young film-maker’s award in partnership with our client, Wrangler Jeans and Odeon cinemas. I even got it on the front cover of Heat Magazine (twice!) and then nearly f**cked it all up by booking the Odeon Leicester Square for the winner’s ‘Premiere’. The date clashed with the Premiere of Mission Impossible 2 and, as it turned out, I had actually booked the crappy little cinema round the corner unwittingly – who knew there were two Odeons in Leicester Sq? Not me, apparently. Still, the crowds (and a little chap called Tom) made for a great red carpet buzz and it looked great on the video. Of course, I claimed it was a tactical move and got away with it.
There are many reasons that team building is a good thing to do from a corporate perspective.
1) It's a great way to engage your team in a positive, creative and preferably unique way.
2) It has been proven to increase productivity.
3) (Here’s the science bit) it's tax deductible because its corporate training.
Anyone who adopts an instant air of cynicism and presumes that events and, in particular team building events are akin to a 'jolly' are (hopefully) absolutely right! Why shouldn't productive and legitimate things be fun? Training can (and always should) be fun or you'll lose your audience. It's all about engagement, legacy and subsequent productivity.
People won't accept mediocrity any more (it doesn't look good on Facebook) so the more exertion (body and mind), the better. People should be pushed because it helps them to perform.
But what's out there? What ticks all the classic cliché boxes whilst offering that extra dimension? What will get your target audience buzzing rather than huffing?
Here are 10 of our (current) favourite team building experiences:
1. Silverstone - racing Ferraris
It’s never going to be a good idea to let me loose in a Ferrari 430. Ever. And this was no exception. After a couple of laps I got cocky and spun off the track whilst attempting to overtake a Nissan GT (which is much faster than a Ferrari I hasten to add – I know this because when I got in one I was lapping Ferraris like…something that laps things very fast.) When we came to a halt in the gravel, just short of the Silverstone fence, the instructor turned to me, took a deep breath and said “Right, just give me a couple of seconds for me to pick my heart back up off the floor and you can ease gently back on to the track”.
Seriously, these guys are nuts. Who would put themselves in that position, sitting alongside novice drivers who watch far too much Top Gear and almost certainly had a poster of a Lambourghini Countach on their bedroom wall, harbouring decades of angst they’re just bursting to unleash on the track. Well, Silverstone’s expert professional drivers do, that’s who. And it’s utterly brilliant.
Statistically, it’s 100% safe too because the instruction and the crash-course training (I agree I could have used a better analogy there) is impeccable and there’s really nothing to hit, except the wall and maybe a few other people, but that’s all carefully taken into account. Plus, the instructors retain an element of control via their dual pedals and shouty voices!
In summary, the Silverstone experience is awesome. The venue is as dramatic as it is iconic especially with their new ‘Wing’ enclosure and venue – also great for conferences, the training is excellent, inspiring and fascinating and the opportunity to drive Ferraris flat out is almost inconceivable. Again, there’s an enormous sense of achievement involved and the awards ceremony at the end of the day leaves everyone desperate to win something. Somehow, I did win that day and I have a lovely glass Silverstone Trophy in my office to prove it. A year on and it still comes out at every opportunity!
2. Bobsleigh racing in Austria
I was at a wedding this weekend and got speaking to the CEO of a major marketing company who is not easily thrilled. He has an R8, an Aston Martin and, now, a white Maserati (with a 'loud' button, presumably for cruising through town) because that's how he rolls (fast!). Anyway, he told me about a niche and completely unique team-building event he's just experienced in Igls, Innsbruck, Austria, the resort which hosted the Winter Olympics in 1964, 1976 and the first youth Olympics in 2012. Now, in his language, if something's worth doing, it's probably worth 'over' doing because if you're giving your clients an experience, you might as well give your clients an immersive experience that they'll never (EVER) forget.
I'm a great advocate of events being a hugely powerful means of getting under the skin of your target audience and injecting a little bit of the soul of your brand into them via experiential marketing and so the more adrenalin-fueled and original the activity, the better the legacy. And the rush.
With those three thoughts in mind, a team bobsleigh experience has to be the fastest (and coolest) act in town. Combining a five star hotel, all the kit, trained by Britain's winter Olympians, time trials (basically a race) and the most exhilarating, once-in-a-lifetime, utterly unforgettable 85 mph experience imaginable, Subzero Bob is the most exciting new concept in corporate team-building and it's hurtling towards you this year!
Plus, Ant and Dec did the experience a few years ago as part of the Saturday Night Takeaway which inspired the team to carry this on, so it's got to be cool! More details on this one to follow because it's gonna fly..
3. Build a Brand with Team Tactics
The ultimate concoction of creativity, infused with a dash of Dragon’s Den as well as a sprinkle of (Alan) Sugar, this ‘build a brand’ teambuilding initiative is a sweet experience, quite literally. Delegates are separated into teams and are tasked with creating their own brand of ice-cream. And then they have to sell it. This is a highly relevant, highly competitive (if you want it to be!) and unique initiative, which incorporates a great big dollop of front-line marketing activity.
What’s more, Gelato is like an Italian low-fat version of ice cream, so everyone’s a winner – even if you’re on a diet! It really does incorporate the whole spectrum too – from creation to completion. Ingredients, design, packaging, advertising, identifying your target market, even price point - it’s all there for the taking. Corporate training as it should be. Fun and creamy!
4. Gilwell Park – the home of the Scouts
If you’re looking for good, old fashioned tried and tested team-building of the excellent variety there are two ways to achieve it. The first is to be a wealthy young eight year old, attend Ludgrove School (the finest prep school in the country as attended by Princes Wills and Harry) and be personally trained by Old Etonian Bear Grylls who’s a dad there.
If that’s not an option then the only viable alternative is the wonderful Gilwell Park. And that’s because it’s the home of the Scouts movement and where it all began. Basically it’s where Bear learnt his trade. They offer over 30 exhilarating activities available from Archery, Aerial Trek, Climbing and Bouldering walls as well as Jacob’s Ladder for the ultimate team building experience.
What’s more, the Gilwell Challenge allows you to have formal meeting time with your team too, fusing fun, adventure and challenging activities with your corporate off-site meetings. You can even stay over if you want to stage a more elaborate two-day experience…
5. Cavendish Hospitality at the Olympic VeloPark
In another ‘OMG - I never knew that you could do that!” sensation, corporate groups can now take advantage of exclusive use of the Olympic Velodrome, BMX, Mountain Bike or Road Circuits. The Velodrome was the undisputed beating heart of the infectious Olympic spirit which surged through the nation, slapping us in the face and getting us all (willingly) on our bikes! It’s now available, enabling us all to don our Team GB lycra (they provide that) and to jump on fast bikes with no brakes!
Cavendish Hospitality can offer full access to this astonishing team-building day (or half-day) on certain days throughout 2014. You’ll learn to ride the world’s most
aerodynamic bikes, guided by former Olympic coaches and, before you know it, you’ll be racing up the high banks of the Velodrome with your name (and lap times) in lights on the big screen above. In addition to the London Olympic Velodrome, the 9km Mountain Bike trail, the Olympic BMX track and the 1.6km floodlit Road circuit are all available on an exclusive basis to organisations wishing to do something spectacular and memorable this year.
6. Palmersports – Formula One Racing
There’s motorsport and then there’s motorsport. This is probably the most talked-about driving-based team building activity of all time! Situated at the incredible Bedford Autodrome, Palmersport is the great grand daddy of all high-octane experiences, with a ‘fleet’ that couldn’t be more different to your corporate fleet of 3 Series BMWs. And they do everything.
From GTS carts to Caterhams and Ariel Atoms, graduating to the awesomely mean looking Le Mans 24 style Palmer Jaguar JP-LM and the awe-inspiring, super-sexy (and impossibly loud!) Formula Jaguar. I can’t tell you how many companies mention Palmersport when talking about driving days and one look at their website demonstrates why – they’re definitely the Versace of the racing world…
7. Mercedes Benz World
Talking about high-end brands in the racing world, Mercedes Benz World in Surrey simply can’t be left out. Based on the site of the world’s first purpose-build race circuit (1907), this driving experience blends ingenuity with perfection and it’s unique situation adds a dash of heritage to the potent cocktail of (increasingly low) exhaust fuelled exhilaration. With state-of-the-art facilities and specially designed tracks, the low-friction surfaces at Mercedes-Benz World guarantee you will enjoy a day of high-energy driving. Activities include the Wet Skid Circle, Handling Circuits, the Wet Straight, and if the track doesn’t do it for you, they have a 10-acre Off-Road Terrain too, so whatever the surface and whatever you’re driving, you’ll have awesome power, superlative handling and advanced technology at your fingertips. And it’s quality assured. Because you’re in a brand new Mercedes Benz. Every time.
8. Shooting at West Wycombe Park
There are so many reasons why shooting is a fantastic, safe, exciting and breathtaking team-building opportunity and you may not have thought of any of them. Yet. It’s all about ‘smashing plastic’ and offers ‘everything but the feathers’ which is perfect for corporate team-building. Providing shooting lessons and experiences for novices through to experienced shooters, E.J.Churchill is an award winning clay pigeon shooting ground with over 100 clay pigeon shooting stands and 6 clay shooting disciplines, including high towers, skeet, multisport, down the line layouts and purpose built grouse butts, there is something for everyone who wants to give clay shooting a try.
9. The Marlborough Assignment at Blenheim Palace
Set within the stunning grounds of Blenheim Palace, delegates on this super high-brow team-building day will be taught all the necessary skills to turn them into “00” agents. But this is no Bond wannabe experience – it’s the real deal. The activities on offer are a variety of authentic spy training challenges ranging from code breaking and defeating laser alarm systems to sniper shooting and observation tasks. And from there, it just gets better and better. Bond girls (optional!) are on hand to help guide the delegates through their training and Marlborough agents will be on hand throughout to administer military grade training. The winning team could even be given Omega watches – now there’s a thought! Especially if it was tax deductible..! (that part probably isn’t!).
10. Global Games Sports – Urban Beaches & Summer Sports
Anything sports related is fun. That’s why sport is the answer to everything in the world. And I mean that. It involves teamwork (even tennis – there’s an entourage behind Andy Murray you know!), a bit of skill (optional) and a massive sense of achievement because it generally involves doing something more exerting than sitting at your desk. Add inflatable stuff and it only gets better! Global Games Sports can provide it all. From their hugely popular ‘urban beaches’ for corporate volley-ball and BBQs (perfect in a Brazil World Cup year) to ‘experiential domes’ (full of interactive sports stuff), sports simulators penalty kicks (including Rugby and football) and even temporary tennis courts (amongst lots of other things). It’s all about ‘Team Cohesion’ – team building through sports.
11. The Lee Valley White Water Centre
And finally, in at number eleven, hot on the heels of the rest of the Olympic Park, the Lee Valley White Water Centre will soon also be available to corporate groups via Londonlaunch.com! It’s like the Grand Canyon Rapids Ride at Alton Towers with a chance of falling out of the boat! Much more fun! Billed as the ultimate adrenaline adventure, this highly exhilarating experience combines skill, teamwork, huge fun and a face full of water – enough to revitalize even the most hardened corporate devotee!
So there you have it – from classic motor racing to building brands, white water rafting and bicycle racing to cracking safes and diffusing bombs, teambuilding has just got serious (and massively sophisticated). It’s BIG and it’s BACK so get out on the TRACK!
Will Broome CEO