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Team-Building Activities Are Worth It (Really)
 

A month ago, I paid to take my staff on a team-building scavenger hunt. Here's why it was definitely worth it.

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About a month ago, I invested in something I had never spent money on: a team-building day.

I was skeptical, to say the least.  As a small-business owner, I don't have money to throw away, and team-building exercises always struck me as a bandage rather than a true fix. In addition, it has always been my feeling that scheduled team building tends to piss off employees in the process--who wants to spend the day "getting to know" team members they haven't already chosen to befriend? 

Like most companies, Metal Mafia has different departments. And as at most companies, there tends to not be a lot of crossover relationships from one to the other. This year, for some reason, there seemed to be more friction than usual between our two main departments: order fulfillment and sales. So, after my partner suggested a team-building day, as much as it pained me, I decided to give it a shot and opted for a half-day scavenger hunt organized by cityHUNT. Knowing that my staff members love reality TV and had been into Amazing Race, I figured they would buy into something along similar lines. I also wanted to show them problem solving in creative ways could advance the company's needs. 

More specificially, I had to convey to the salespeople that the order fulfillment team was a valuable part of the equation that makes our business work, and to teach the fulfillment team to step up in bold new ways to help lead the company in the right direction. I set everyone up in scavenger hunt teams of two--one person from each camp. And because my sales employees are English speakers who don't know a second language and the fulfillment employees bilingual but native Spanish speakers, I asked for half the clues to be given in Spanish. This way, I was making sure each team would have to rely equally on both partners.

The idea behind it was that I hoped our salespeople--who are, by nature, more openly aggressive and whose job makes them more competitive and therefore more individualistic--would learn to be more conscious of what people together could accomplish and find out how hard it was to do all the silent tasks that our fulfillment team does with such skill.

The fulfillment team, on the other hand, was often too silent, acting as the unheard-but-fundamental ingredient that created customer satisfaction that has helped our company grow for eight years. I wanted these empoyees to take from the day the idea that their voices counted as much as the sales folks'--and that it was crucial that they learn to use them. I also wanted them to understand that being on the frontlines as a member of the sales staff was a hard job, and that it took real skill to help customers get what they needed. 

The hunt's activities were set up so that each team member would have to perform some of the tasks of the opposite team members' regular duties. Salespeople were timed on how fast they could build and stack boxes. Order pickers were asked to go up to strangers and sell them on the idea of trying on our jewelry.

It was three hours in the hot August sun, but when it was all over, it was a huge success. The teams worked together in ways they had never done, and they found not only a new appreciation but also a new curiosity for one another as both professionals and people. When the day ended, they all agreed that it had been a lot of fun--and asked if we could have more days like this one. 

The best part has been watching these employees change in little ways in the month since the team-building day took place. Every single one of them brought something he or she learned back to the office with him or her, and that's priceless.

Last updated: Sep 7, 2012

In 2004, VANESSA MERIT NORNBERG opened Metal Mafia, a wholesale body and costume jewelry company that sells to more than 5,000 specialty shops and retail chains in 23 countries. Metal Mafia was an Inc. 500 company in 2009.
@vanessanornberg




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