City Friendly Team
I try to write once a week consistently.  This week, I’m sharing my post a little early because I don’t know what my schedule will bring over the next few days.  My father (aka “the Colonel”) is coming into town.  We don’t get to see each other often, so when we’re together, I try to keep email and work in check to focus on family first.  That said, this week I thought I’d share a new idea regarding team building, something that sometimes stretches the limits of my creativity.

My current team is spread out across 3 states in two different time zones.  They all work independently for the most part, so varying geographies and the nature of the work don’t make for frequent interaction across the entire team.

"A Red Door" was one of the locations assigned to a team. Image by Kristin M Woodman.

“A Red Door” was one of the locations assigned to a team. Image by Kristin M Woodman.

Once a quarter, we bring everyone together for a department meeting.  This provides an opportunity for “face time” within and across the team.  Usually, we figure out some sort of team building activity to go along with the department meeting, mixing up the groups so they have a chance to get to know each other better.  When you’re talking 80+ people, trying to set up an activity where they can have fun, without doing something they’ve done before and/or being “lame” can be a challenge.

This quarter, I was planning a 3-day symposium around the department meeting and team activity.  We had over 30 different training and overview sessions to share knowledge, increase the baseline awareness of the team regarding core competencies, etc.  To take that many people to a conference would be a challenge.  Instead, we brought the conference to them.  Needless to say, my project management skills were in full gear trying to pull the sessions together.  When it came time to figure out the team activity, my creative gene was failing me a little bit.  I needed help turning a half-baked idea into a full scale, workable fun-fest for the group.

Two of my managers offered to help and I quickly gave them the sketch of what I was thinking and they ran with it.  What we ended up with was relatively simple to do and the team – by all accounts – LOVED IT.  I thought I would share it here, as I know I’m always on the lookout for good ideas that are quick, easy, cheap, and – most of all – fun.  I thought others might benefit from the idea as well.

Before the event, you have to do a little prep work.  First, determine how many people you have an how many teams you think you need.  We had over 70 non-managers (no worries, the managers have a supporting role to play), so we ended up with 9 teams of 8 or 9 people.  That’s enough that they can get to know each other, work together to accomplish a common goal, and not be a nuisance in the local area.

We were all located in Portsmouth, NH.  In advance of the event, we looked on google maps and google images to identify easy landmarks that the teams could find.  In some cases, we went the direct route.  There was a restaurant with the name “Dolphin Striker” so we put Dolphin on the list.  In other cases, we got creative.  The “Friendly Toast” became “Congenial Bread.”  Each team had to find 5 different targets, so that was 45 landmarks or other items (a beer, an ice cream, a dog on a leash, etc) we had to come up with.

We created a grid with the names of the locations/items across the top and the names of the individuals along the side.  This created empty boxes that they could use to fill in information about each other.  Here’s where it got more interesting than a typical scavenger hunt.  When it became time to begin the event, we gave each team the name and smart phone # of one of the managers (some teams shared manager contacts).  At each stop on the list, they would text a picture of the team in front of the landmark/object back to the manager.  The entire team had to be in the picture so we knew they didn’t split up.

Once a photo was received, the manager sent them a question that they all had to answer and fill into the grid.  By the time they finished the “quest,” they would have asked and answered 5 questions about each other, ranging from “do you have a tattoo” to “if you could be any age, what would it be.”  Each team had different questions and they were all fun and relatively harmless (“Ginger or MaryAnne?”).

We had a predetermined time when they all needed to regroup so we could put the answer sheets into a hat and pull out a “winner” and give out prizes.  The answers themselves were shredded, as we promised in advance, because some of them might feel less comfortable answering the questions if they thought they’d be shared beyond the 8 or 9 people in their group.

Though there is a little bit of prep work that needs to be done ahead of time – 5 landmarks/items and 5 questions per team – it was not extensive.  It could have taken 10 times as much effort and it would have been worth it.  The team had a great time walking around the small community and getting into the “competition”.  Several teams finished early and used the extra time to hang out at a local establishment.  Others took their time and enjoyed the weather and each other.  No matter their style, the feedback we received was that it was a great way to spend a late afternoon connecting with people that we work with, but may not really know.