Corporate team building? SIGN ME UP!!!!
October 28, 2014 1:24 PM   Subscribe

Have you ever been on a corporate team-building event you really liked? To which you would have gone even if you weren't paid? I need to organize an event for 18 guys at my company, and I hate corporate stuff and don't want it to suck. Details inside.

I'm a project manager for a mid-level tech company in Los Angeles (in the valley), and I've been asked to organize a team-building event to bring my two teams together. 18 people, all men, ages range from late 20s to early 60s. 9 of them are from eastern europe and are visiting for a month. Gotta do it before Nov. 14.

Fun times! But I'm flummoxed as to how to organize something like this. I thought of Universal Studios, but the tourist contingent ended up going there this weekend before I could make any plans. I thought of a Laker game, but that's all at night and it turns out most of the guys aren't sports fans.

Other ideas I had/heard:
Car racing (too expensive, not everyone has drivers licenses)
Skydiving (too much liability)
Whale watching
JPL Tour (too late to arrange)
Kings game (not sports fans)
Gun range (not my cup of tea, and how does that build cohesion?)
Haunted house (no interest from those I asked)
Laser tag
Magic Mountain
Some of these are OK, but none give me the feeling that I'm arranging something special. Something so cool that it transcends cynicism and makes people happy. So I'm wondering if the hive mind has any better suggestions. My goal is to get something that will encourage conversation, encourage people not to clique off, and be done in a day from the San Fernando Valley. Price is negotiable with management.

(bonus points if someone has an idea of how to arrange transportation in a situation like this)
posted by Pacrand to Work & Money (38 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Come down to San Diego and take your team on a ropes course adventure at UCSD! It was the best thing I've ever done with a group of professional people and I am ridiculously shy and weird about corporate bonding activities. Do it!!
posted by Hermione Granger at 1:35 PM on October 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

I dunno if this is an option in LA, but my team recently did an Escape the Room game in NYC which was great.
posted by Itaxpica at 1:35 PM on October 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Griffith Park Horse Rentals?
posted by blob at 1:38 PM on October 28, 2014

Bowling is fun. Particularly if you can 'randomly' assign teams so everyone is mixed up (so not really random, but more purposefully mixed), and maybe switch around which teams are competing against each other at various times so you move around between lanes etc. Then you're not going to stick to just your little group for the night. Then you can go get wings and beer afterwards or whatever seems appropriate for post-bowling dinner.

Yeah it's a little cheesy, but I think that's OK if you're enthusiastic and don't fight the cheesiness.
posted by shelleycat at 1:39 PM on October 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding the scavenger hunts. My work event did one at a local museum, where we had to locate specific items and also answer questions from exhibits. It was really fun.
posted by backwards compatible at 1:40 PM on October 28, 2014

Definitely do an escape the room game.

PanIQ Room gets good reviews. I've also read about this one.
posted by samthemander at 1:41 PM on October 28, 2014

Watson Adventures does great public scavenger hunts here in L.A. They also do custom and semi-custom hunts.

And there are corn mazes right now at Pierce College and also at Underwood Family Farms.
posted by BlahLaLa at 1:44 PM on October 28, 2014


All these other ideas are great, I think your head is in the right place. It's just that improv in particular has this special way of bonding a group of people. I used it this summer to break the ice at a tiny conference.

Great quote that gets at the magic: "Having it as part of an event suddenly switched the equation – it became harder to not participate than it was to participate."
posted by jragon at 1:45 PM on October 28, 2014

Yes, we went to the bar! My boss bought us drinks! If you guys go to the bar it will encourage conversation, encourage people not to clique off, and be done in a day from the San Fernando Valley. Please remember to tip your bartender and servers.
posted by Rob Rockets at 2:00 PM on October 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

A team I was on also did Escape the Room, but in SF. It was fantastic.
posted by TimeDoctor at 2:10 PM on October 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

At the risk of stereotyping Eastern Europeans (but knowing a bunch of them), I will guess that they - particularly the older generation - might be embarrassed by typical North American team building activities, or find them infantilizing. Like I don't think it would necessarily lead to the bonding effect you're after. Also, remember that people have different levels of physical ability, which they may or may not wish to share with you. I would stick to sort of more "adult", sedentary activities - I think a formal welcome dinner (maybe at a historically important restaurant?) followed by time at a bar would be well received.

Of the other suggestions so far, I think whale watching would be best - you're showing them something cool and interesting, and not asking 60-year-old engineers to squat or run or make faces.

Or like a day trip out to see some other natural wonder.
posted by cotton dress sock at 2:27 PM on October 28, 2014 [16 favorites]

(Or I don't know, maybe I'm wrong, and they'll get into it and/or find it amusing, that's possible. Still, I'd stick with less physically demanding activities.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 2:36 PM on October 28, 2014

I agree with dress sock, American style team building is regarded with horror by most Europeans. Whale watching and drinks would be much more appropriate than a scavenger hunt.
posted by fshgrl at 2:41 PM on October 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

nth-ing adventure ropes courses. The one linked at UCSD looks similar to a program we've done every year with staff. After doing it for almost a decade, we've got nothing but positive feedback. Something about having to physically rely on other people for success taps into the primal team building spirit in people.

For what it's worth, we've also gone shooting before (targets/clays) and had a good time. Even the people who weren't "gun people" enjoyed it as learning/practicing a skill with others. It's a little different as we live in Utah and can go out to the middle of nowhere and blast away - the range experience isn't very fun compared to that kind of thing.
posted by _DB_ at 2:43 PM on October 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Have you ever been on a corporate team-building event you really liked?


To which you would have gone even if you weren't paid?

Especially no.

At the risk of stereotyping Eastern Europeans ... I will guess that they ... might be embarrassed by typical North American team building activities

Not just the Eastern Europeans. Most everybody I know reacts with shudders and horror to 'team-building activities.'
posted by Rash at 2:52 PM on October 28, 2014 [17 favorites]

Suggestions for whale watching from TripAdvisor.
posted by blob at 3:05 PM on October 28, 2014

Sorry, dude. All corporate team-building exercises feel corporate, and, somehow, the cooler and more fun you attempt to make them, the more corporate they feel. It's the law.

I am a relatively fit, relatively young woman, and the idea of being made to do a ropes course for work makes me full-body cringe. I adore improv, but the idea of being forced to do improv with coworkers for "team-building" purposes? Well, I'd call out sick that day; I'm not sure if the boss on The Office ever made his people do improv, but that's the first thing I thought of. (And I swear to god I'm not a grump,) but whale watching is only fun if you don't get seasick/sunburned.

How 'bout something more passive? Maybe a harbor cruise? A comedy show or interesting talk? A brewery tour?

The ONLY team-building activities that are semi-good memories for me: the ones where I ate good snacks, didn't have to do anything silly, and most importantly, got to go home early. Honestly, just take them somewhere cool but close, feed them something awesome, don't embarrass them or challenge them physically-- and don't take up their entire day.
posted by kapers at 3:27 PM on October 28, 2014 [11 favorites]

How about a day in the park with quadcopters, airplanes, kites and cars? There's probably a local expert who could help run the event and who could bring some higher end rigs with FPV cameras. Have a few inexpensive RTF flying machines, and lots of parts so a few could be built from scratch. A small generator could charge the batteries.
posted by Sophont at 3:29 PM on October 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Sometime European here; you'd want me to do this on my own time? oh hell no. Stuff like ropes or escape the room would have me planning painful ends for my management. Team building requires alcohol, food and inactivity. Or better still, letting everybody sod off home early, because the best thing about work is not being at it.

The only teambuilding event that I've been to and liked was the slightly hackneyed "cook your own dinner at a chef school" kinda deal. I learned how to properly use a knife, and a sane way of prepping garlic cloves without chasing the sticky wee bastards around the chopping board. We ate like kings, and no-one got stabbed.
posted by scruss at 3:44 PM on October 28, 2014 [11 favorites]

If you do pick something with a physical component, I give these three caveats:

1. Make sure there's a less physical aspect people can do if they want or need to.
2. Don't make the 'physical' aspect mandatory.
3. Don't try to exert any sort of peer pressure towards those who don't want to do The Physical Thing. There could be a zillion reasons why someone may not want to The Physical Thing, and really - it's OK. Even pro athletes have days where all they want to do is zone out, eat junk food, and spend all day watching junk.

I personally find bowling ridiculously fun, especially if there's neon balls available.
posted by spinifex23 at 3:49 PM on October 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

As a fifty-two year old woman, there's not one of the previously listed activities that would make me smile. I get seasick, so as much as I love whales, a day on the ocean would be HORRIBLE! A ropes MUST be joking. No freaking way. Improv? I love it with friends, but doing it with co-workers, there are people who will cavil.

Bowling is actually a fun thing to do. It really is. There are some really chi-chi-foo-foo bowling alleys around that can provide a room for the rah-rah (there's always rah-rah), cater the food, and have full bar. They might even set up some Karaoke for you.

There's a Bowlmor in Anaheim (not sure where in the valley you are) and another in Pasadena. There's one in my neighborhood, and it's flipping AWESOME!

Dave and Buster's in another one of those kinds of venues. Games, food, bar. You could go further and fair worse.

As for transportation...PARTY BUS! Or coach. Mears Transporation will be happy to help.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:25 PM on October 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

A trip to the casino would be fun if it was on the company's dime.
posted by oceanjesse at 4:28 PM on October 28, 2014

Cooking class is a good idea. Everybody eats.
posted by oceanjesse at 4:28 PM on October 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

We've done cooking classes before! There is team building in the prepping of the meal and then you all eat together (and maybe drink). It did not feel cheesy or corporate at all and was a lot of fun. Highly recommended!
posted by marmago at 4:45 PM on October 28, 2014

Cooking classes sound fun, but if you go this route, I beg of you: find a place that is allergy/vegetarian/etc friendly. There's nothing worse than cooking awesome food you can't eat (or better yet, can't handle; ask my sister and her shrimp allergy.)
posted by joycehealy at 5:05 PM on October 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I was in the corporate world for twenty years. Two team building events I enjoyed, with reasons why:
1. 'wafting on the Eno' (the Eno river in Durham, nc) - basically this involved canoeing on a slow-moving river with a guide. Why was it awesome? It was relaxing (yes, I had to paddle but it wasn't a goddamn race) and fun to be outdoors on a nice day, instead of in my cubicle. I don't know if you could find anything similar in your area-- maybe there's a nice lake where you can rent canoes? And then follow with a picnic lunch.
2. Bocce ball - this was in/around San Jose. There was the ice-breaker element of a game but even easier than bowling (bowling balls are heavy!) and there were drinks. Then dinner in another part of the venue. Fun, not overly taxing, and really a pleasant evening. I say that as someone who mostly hates enforced fun on the corporate dime.

Good luck, and no matter what you do, there's probably at least one person who will complain.
posted by tuesdayschild at 6:03 PM on October 28, 2014

Most others have covered the ideas for activities portion, so I'm not going to rehash that. In my team, however, the way this has been best received was when the team members themselves had input into whatever activity there was (usually, they'd nominate options and then vote on them) and the activity was completely optional, even if it occurred on a workday. If this is a Mandatory Fun Day on a Saturday or Sunday, then I'd expect your team-building activity to backfire massively.
posted by Aleyn at 6:11 PM on October 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Sorry to ruin the fun, but I want to reiterate something a few people have already said: Please do not plan anything that cannot be done by someone with physical limitations. Also, physical limitations are often not obvious.

I have a related story, of course.

Last year, I was threatened/required to participate in a ridiculous, physically-intensive "team-building" day-long obstacle course on a goddamned uninhabited island, even though I was still recovering from a months-long bronchitis episode and was told by my doctor basically to not do things like hike around islands with no medical care available. Also, I have always been asthmatic and have never in my life been able to do something like "run a mile," and that was not going to change in the few weeks preceding the event. But my boss at the time would hear none of it.

So, as you can imagine, during this entire miserable "team-building" day I was wheezing, gasping for air, constantly falling way behind everyone else, crying and dying of embarassment. This guy I work with who is now one of my favorite people in the world stayed with me the entire time, even though he's super athletic and would have had fun participating. Afterwards, I wrote a seething letter to HR and some key people, and I haven't heard a peep about attending any dumbass team-building crap since then.

In short: Please do not put anyone through this, even if they all seem like healthy guys, even if rope-climbing or whatever sounds fun. Just plan dinner at a very nice restaurant or something and let people leave when they want to.
posted by Munching Langolier at 6:19 PM on October 28, 2014 [7 favorites]

Yes... so upon reflection, here's my idea: rent a small bus or a couple stretch limos to drive the group over the hill to some swank restaurant in Santa Monica or maybe up on Sunset. Get a reservation, of course. Afterwards, the bus brings everyone back, taking a different, scenic route for the out-of-towners' benefit, down Melrose or Hollywood Blvd. Anyone could opt out, or leave early, taking a cab home. I bet you have just enough time to set this up. You could even do it on a Friday evening, leaving work early.
posted by Rash at 7:27 PM on October 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

We did a ropes course that was great: the place split us into smaller groups, and then there were team games that were fun. However, everyone was of a similar fitness level, so that helped with getting everyone through. One person was terrified of heights, and half way opted out. She was then told by the people running the center to help guide the rest of us through. It was great, since she was involved at a level she was comfortable with.

I've also done paintballing: guys seem to love this, especially people who have never shot before. We had a blast, and afterwards went to a bar to hang out.

Do things that 1) have people be active 2) gives people chances to opt out if they are uncomfortable (but still participate) 3) give people a chance to talk in smaller groups and actually work like a team.
And, people might hate this, but I am a firm believer in giving people some pointers before hand. Eg "OK, guys, we are going to do this team exercise. Remember, you need to communicate with the people around you about what is going on and what needs to happen. For example..." Its amazing how quickly people begin to integrate suggestions like that.
posted by troytroy at 8:03 PM on October 28, 2014

Have you ever been on a corporate team-building event you really liked?

I liked all the ones with free booze as long as they had good beer.
posted by Jacqueline at 8:48 PM on October 28, 2014

Some of my colleagues did "laughing yoga" as a team building exercise not long before I started at that office, and they just could not stop talking about how much fun it was! I think it was just an hour or two in the morning, and then they went out for lunch and had a relaxed afternoon.

Definitely don't do anything that requires specific physical abilities. In a group that size it is very likely that at least one of your staff has an invisible disability that you're not aware of and which they may not wish to disclose. I know someone who spent weeks in plaster after being made to run backwards wearing flippers as part of some bizzare team building relay. Turns out she has osteoporosis, so what would otherwise have been an amusing pratfall left her in excruciating pain and caused ongoing disability - and a rather large compensation layout. Don't be that boss!
posted by embrangled at 8:48 PM on October 28, 2014

My company recently did a bowling party at Lucky Strike (warning autoplay) - it was their SF location but they have two in the LA area. It was super fun. I actually have a physical limitation so I couldn't bowl but I had fun just the same. I don't know what your price range is but with food and booze and all the fees I think the company paid about $50/person.

At oldjob we did one of those paint parties where they teach you how to paint a specific scene. It requires zero artistic ability. It's a good "out of your element" situation but not super uncomfortable. You bring wine and snacks and such (the booze helps loosen people up a bit). I don't have a specific location recommendation but they're usually called something like Painting With a Twist or Corks and Canvas.
posted by radioamy at 9:54 PM on October 28, 2014

The thing about the limo / restaurant / bar ideas are that they require like hours of talking. That is why bowling is actually among the best answers here. Or, going to some awesome Monterey Bay Aquarium-type place.
posted by salvia at 10:41 PM on October 28, 2014

Cooking class sounds good!

Improv is fun, but the language aspect will make it quite a challenge for the Eastern Europeans. I know they'll speak English, but mastering a language enough for improv is a whole different thing. I think (as a Western European) I'd be uncomfortable.
posted by Ms. Next at 10:53 PM on October 28, 2014

> Some of my colleagues did "laughing yoga" as a team building exercise

With the right facilitator, this could be the best thing ever. I've been to sessions with a couple of different trainers, and the one who stuck rigidly to Dr Kataria's guidelines was pretty dull. The other one; well, once one person goes with it, the whole room dissolves. It's exceptionally silly.
posted by scruss at 4:10 AM on October 29, 2014

Nthing bowling. Everything else is either "activity sounds fun but would be wasted being around a bunch of people I don't want to hang out with" and "snoooooooooze fest bore-gore!"
posted by WeekendJen at 8:15 AM on October 29, 2014

At the risk of stereotyping Eastern Europeans (but knowing a bunch of them), I will guess that they - particularly the older generation - might be embarrassed by typical North American team building activities, or find them infantilizing.

This American mid-level manager feels that way too. I would be horrified by that list. Don't do children's activities. Don't make people take "classes". I work with you, I don't want to grow as a person with you.

Whale watching and drinks sounds appropriate, but some people do have seasickness. Bowling works, but please don't take it seriously. Don't make it into a tournament. Just people hanging out, with people able to opt out and drink a beer if they want.

Since some people are coming from Europe, I would suggest a low-key classically American activity. BBQ or cook out type catering, with lawn games and keg. Of course, that requires it being a nice day.

Something so cool that it transcends cynicism and makes people happy.
The goal should be to give people a chance to enjoy each other's company, not forcing them to endure an experience. No matter what you do, a percentage of people will be counting the seconds down until they can stop pretending to like whatever dumb stuff they have to do to not get branded as a malcontent.

There's actually something cynical in prejudging people who may not want to go to an adult version of "camp" as cynics. I work very hard at being a good sport and I still get called out every single time because I'm not just gushing at how much fun I'm having with people I would never willingly spend time with.
posted by spaltavian at 8:35 AM on October 29, 2014 [6 favorites]

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