Don't be surprised if your staff grimaces at the mention of "team building." Group exercises like the dreaded "trust falls" at uninspired off-site locales do little to bolster morale. Thankfully, team building is getting creative, from local Habitat to Humanity projects (www.habitat.org) and custom scavenger hunts (www.urbanchallenge.com) to special programs created by hotels looking to draw business clientele.
Where : New Orleans 504-523-3341
What : Mardi Gras may be too racy a time to schedule an off-site meeting, so why not create your own parade? This sumptuous "literary landmark"--located on Royal Street in the French Quarter--was once frequented by writers such as Truman Capote and William Faulkner. Co-workers are provided with all the papier-mâché, paint, and hot glue guns they'll need to build their own floats. Afterward, the teams, made up of seven to 10 people, lead their creations around the hotel ballroom to show off their handiwork.
Price : Costs vary depending on group size and extras like costumes. For a day of float-building for 30 people, plan to plunk down $500. Room rates: $139-399/night.
Best Time To Go : September, when the temperatures start to cool off, until Mardi Gras
Don't Forget To Pack : Those necklaces you collected at Mardi Gras during college (the hotel charges extra for beads)
P.S. : Ask the hotel to arrange for a day of wine and cheese sampling and antique-shopping on Royal Street.
Garrett Creek Ranch
Where : Paradise, Texas 940-433-2055
What : Owner Leslie Schulz dreamed up this quaint Old West resort--located an hour from the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport--after years of planning small meetings for her husband's financial services company. Your employees can spend the day swinging on trapezes, traversing cables, and scaling 32-foot telephone poles. "There was nothing we couldn't accomplish once we conquered that," says Barry Nalls, founder and CEO of Masergy, a telecommunications provider based in Irving, Texas.
Price : Room rate: $220/night (single occupancy), including all meals and the meeting package. A day on the high ropes course costs an additional $25 per person.
Best Time To Go : Spring, when the ranch's pecan trees are in bloom
Don't Forget To Pack : The cowboy boots you haven't worn since 1980
P.S. : Ranch hands can teach your employees a thing or two about herding longhorn cattle, baling hay, and harvesting pecans.
The Otesaga Hotel
Where : Cooperstown, N.Y. 607-547-9931
What : Even your most jaded employees might yell "Holy cow!" after a motivational speech by former New York Yankee Phil Rizzuto at the Baseball Hall of Fame. The lakefront Otesaga Hotel--where Hall of Famers stay when they're in Cooperstown--coordinates inspirational talks with retired greats like Rizzuto and Tug McGraw. After a theme dinner replete with hot dogs and Cracker Jacks, employees can receive Louisville Sluggers emblazoned with their names and your company logo for your next softball game.
Price : Room rate: Dinner at the Hall of Fame costs about $500 for 30 people; speakers charge $1,000-25,000. Room rates: $220-500/night, including breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Best Time To Go : Fall, when the leaves are changing color
Don't Forget To Pack : Your digital camera
P.S. : Take a rowboat ride on picturesque Otsego Lake, the "Glimmerglass" of James Fenimore Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales.
The American Club
Where : Kohler, Wis. 920-457-8000
What : Teamwork experts at this historic Tudor-style hotel customize cook-offs. Teams of four don chef's hats and aprons and spend two hours creating appetizers, entrees, or desserts, which are then judged by hotel chefs against the efforts of other teams. Afterward, the teams can enjoy a meal prepared by real chefs at the hotel's elegant Immigrant Room restaurant. "This was without question the classiest outing we've ever had," says John Pence, CEO of WJ Pence, a food broker based in Waukasha, Wis.
Price : The team cuisine challenge costs $75 per person for lunch, $85 per person for dinner. Room rates: $245-1,040/night (summer); $142-766/night (winter).
Best Time To Go : Summer, unless you enjoy the deep freezes of midwestern winters
Don't Forget To Pack : Your golf clubs
P.S. : Kohler's Whistling Straits is slated to host the PGA tournament in August.