When should you plan team building activities? Every company has a different answer to that question. Team building can be used to improve performance, which implies that the team as a whole needs to work on certain specific issues. Or it can be employed as an investigative tool, to explore group dynamics and strengthen leadership roles within a certain department. Or it can be used to celebrate. If this particular application of team building activities seems unusual to you, let us present the latest project we managed for Heineken in Italy. Having just received the Bronze Certified Brewery award for quality and sustainability of its production process, the Heineken Brewery of Comun Nuovo, near Bergamo, asked us to plan a whole day of celebratory team building in their facility. This is how we turned a corporate award into a special day for the employees.
Why should you celebrate with team building?
If there is cause for celebration, why not just… celebrate? This seems like an obvious objection, if we consider our individual experiences of awards and celebrations. However, a corporate award is not as similar as an individual recognition as one might think. Of course there is a collective “well done” to be shared and there are actual prizes, but, in the case of such a vast and complex corporate identity, it is not automatic that any individual employee should glow with pride when the company receives an award. Team building, in this instance, serves the purpose of drawing the corporate identity closer to the individual one, presenting the company not only as a source of income, but as the embodiment of certain values. If an employee shares such values, they are more likely to be invested in upholding them and therefore participating in the collective satisfaction of seeing their work rewarded.
The event – three team building activities in one day
Corporate events are complex at best. In this case we did not have to go location scouting, because we were going to use one of the hangars at the brewery itself – which has a unique industrial charm, just like you would expect of a Heineken facility. Then there is catering, a welcome coffee for all attendees, a buffet lunch, speeches and awards. In between, we had to fit three complex team building activities: the “Vision Building”, the “Quiz Show” and a more celebratory one which we called “Bronze – I was there”. The last two were relatively straightforward. The quiz show is pretty self-explanatory and was spiced up by using iPads. The third was an instance of creative team building cut down to its essentials: the employees were given a canvas and each team was to leave hand prints on a section of it. The Vision Building activity, however, was rather complex and it deserves its own paragraph.
Vision building is something every company should take care of and share with its employees. In this instance we needed to convey four basic values in as many activities. The values in question were summed up in the following concepts: “Team”, “Volume”, “Agility” and “Efficiency”.
”Team”: a safe, supportive environment to work and learn together
Have you ever danced the conga? That’s easy right? Now, what would happen if you had to do that blindfolded? Exactly. Not quite as easy. What our guests had to do for their first team building activity, however, was not dancing the conga, but completing tasks while blindfolded and arranged in a “human snake”, each with their hands on the shoulder of the person ahead of them. The only member of the team that was not blindfolded was the one standing at the back, which had to guide the whole “snake” without talking, simply by body language and hand language, in a way that could be understood and translated by his or her colleagues. The tasks consisted chiefly of picking up and stocking objects. Every time an object was found, the team member at the “head” end of the snake was allowed to take off their blindfold and join the queue at the back. This is an incredibly complex task to navigate, particularly for those who are not natural communicators. Taking away the normal means of communication (looking at each other and speaking), however, forced team members to resort to more creative alternatives.
Volume: beer and more beer
One of the goals of any team building activity, of course, is performance improvement. In the case of a brewery – or any manufacture – improving performance usually means increasing the volume of whatever is being produced. In this case, beer. This is something that team building can hint at or celebrate more or less specifically. We decided to suggest the idea of juggling greater production volumes by making our teams create “Heineken Towers”: a sort of branded version of Jenga. Each tower had to be stable enough to stay up without support and each team could build as many towers as they could manage in 20 minutes, the higher the better.
Agility: back to the future
Agility is an important quality both in individuals and in teams: being able to work smoothly and quickly saves energy and increases productivity. We decided to boost our participants’ agility with a futuristic video theatre activity. The year is 2035: society has changed, design has evolved and consumers want more than a boring old beer bottle. Beer is now drunk in vessels of all shapes and forms, from triangles to ellipses. The Comun Nuovo brewery has kept up with the times and has just been declared the “World’s most agile brewery”. How did it happen? What did the team do right? What strategy did they put in place to stay ahead of a changing market? Each team was to provide answers to these questions in a short video, demonstrating the brewery’s features that were most likely to make it “agile” enough to evolve with the market.
Efficiency: getting better quicker!
Efficiency is not just about improving performance, it is about saving time while doing it. Things need to be done quicker and better. We decided to take our own advice and improve on a team building activity we were already familiar with: bike building. In this instance, our guests had to build spinning bikes, to be used as a symbol of Heineken’s quick-paced changes. Each team had to assemble their own bike and then ride it in turns of at least five seconds, trying to cover the longest possible distance.