Help us have teambuilding fun.
April 4, 2007 11:26 AM   Subscribe

What are some good group/ teambuilding activities for a bunch of young, cynical co-workers in New York City? We aren't a bunch of bitter hateful people or anything, but I use the word cynical to make clear that some kind of cheesy rah-rah corporate teambuilding exercise won't fly with this group. Unfortunately, official "teambuilding" stuff that I've seen is all cheesy corporate rah-rah.

It doesn't have to be specifically teambuilding, but it can't just be a daytrip to Coney Island. Basically, it would probably have to be justifiable as teambuilding to higher-ups, even if it's really just a chance for us to do something together and have fun. So far, a group cooking class is the leading option, but not one that has been enthusiastically endorsed.

The group is about 8-9 people, age 20s to 30s, work with poor people with mental illness, high stress/ low pay, have graduate degrees.
posted by Mavri to Work & Money (35 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
The most fun thing my company did, I helped set up at a place in Chicago. I am not sure if NY has an equivalent, but I can't imagine it's the most unique thing in the world.

It's called WhirlyBall [pops in new window] and it was universally enjoyed by the group we had together.

If there's something similar in NY, I can vouch for it being really fun... even for people traditionally thought of as party poopers...
posted by twiggy at 11:35 AM on April 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

My office did an "activity day" at Chelsea Piers that was a lot more fun that it may sound ... basically an hour at the batting cages, and hour of basketball, ten-pin bowling and a couple of other bits and pieces followed by an early dinner. It was a pretty good day.
posted by jamesonandwater at 11:37 AM on April 4, 2007

Dave and Busters

Photo scavenger hunt

I'm in IT so offsite screenings of Office Space are always good.

Pick a movie and go as a group to the matinee and let em go home after?
posted by clanger at 11:41 AM on April 4, 2007

Develops leadership, teamwork, critical thinking.
It's also a good way to assess the latent personality traits by watching how they conduct themselves on the field (loner, leader, follower, do they speak up with a good plan, do they keep doing the same thing over and over again....)

I've done this at several different places I've worked at (and used the above to justify), and it's always a good time, and in all reality does help with the teamwork thing - if nothing else, everyone comes away with good stories to share over the watercooler.
posted by niteHawk at 11:46 AM on April 4, 2007

posted by MrMoonPie at 11:46 AM on April 4, 2007

Group volunteer work.
posted by Carol Anne at 11:48 AM on April 4, 2007

Possibly of use
posted by DU at 11:49 AM on April 4, 2007

How much time can you justify on this? Half a day? A full day? Several days/a weekend?

Find a rock gym and go climbing. If you have more time, go for a hike (you'll have to leave the city for that one).

Second the paintball idea.
posted by backseatpilot at 11:50 AM on April 4, 2007

I'm from Chicago as well and I'll agree with the following two points:

1) Most corporate teambuilding stuff is super cheesy. Way cheesy and I hate it. Especially since I've done corporate training for a living. I never used that stuff if I could avoid it.

2) Whirlyball is hella fun for blowing off steam. You could probably get away with selling it as some kind of team building.

Most cookie-cutter teambuilding activites are goofy because they don't offer a specific, day-to-day business related application. I used to lump these types of activities under the heading of "management-inflicted fake fun". (Yuck.) Is there something specific you want to accomplish besides "fun"?

I've taken teams who have needed some non-thinking activity where they need to be dependent on one other to an indoor climbing wall. Whether someone makes it 8 feet up the wall because that is where there comfort zone ends, or to the top of the wall, it's all good. They have to belay each other, it's pretty cool and edgy, and it's fun.

Scavenger hunts can be cool if they require sub-groups to work as teams in a certain way. I've sent sub-teams on scavenger hunts to get artifacts and photos of client products for example, in order to teach them more about client products and services. They ran all over the city and then gathered together for dinner/drinks and a very funny report out. That specific example won't work in your case (client products) but something incorporating that activity could be fun. Indoor paintball or laser tag can be fun, especially if you have the individual teams talk about strategies for winning beforehand and then require them to be silent during the game. They learn that each team member has to know the overall strategy and each person's roles because, in the heat of the game, if someone gets tagged and is out, the other team members have to know how their role in the strategy will be accomplished.

Those are some ideas, I'm sure there will be more!
posted by jeanmari at 11:51 AM on April 4, 2007

Laser tag.

I'm in a similar situation, we all went out for a few rounds of laser tag last week. Decidedly not hokey (maybe a little juvenile) and an awesome way to get to know people you work with.
posted by thebigdeadwaltz at 11:54 AM on April 4, 2007

Dungeons & Dragons campaign.
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:08 PM on April 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

Once, where I used to work, as a going-away party for a much-loved employee, we had a lesson in East African drumming. The teacher brought all the drums, and everyone who was at work that day participated. I'm pretty sure everyone enjoyed it, even the introverts (of which I am definitely one). It does sound cheesy, maybe, but when you actually get a groove going, you all smile, and you see your co-workers in a different, rosier light. In short: It's fun, pretty much anyone can master some simple rhythms, and when the groove happens everyone knows that, yeah, we all did that.
posted by bricoleur at 12:12 PM on April 4, 2007

posted by BobbyDigital at 12:12 PM on April 4, 2007

Our department took a day trip to Philadelphia and went to the Mutter Museum, which was completely awesome. Our higher-ups' definition of team building was probably looser than yours, though, and we worked for a medical website, so we could call it vaguely work-related.
posted by MsMolly at 12:12 PM on April 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure it matters what it is as much as how you do it. I like getting together with my coworkers now and then, but I hate Enforced Fun, especially when it's during non-work hours and/or other inconveniences that clearly display that management doesn't give a crap about me as a person with responsibilities and obligations and a life of my own. I also don't enjoy competition as entertainment, or mock violence with or without an attached employee review (I'd quit first if my crap job was trying to personality-test me with paintball). I would be really uncomfortable in most of those situations, like the socially-awkward geek I am. Low key is key. (Whirlyball was awful, I have sciatica, I sat and watched with all the rest of the people who were no-fucking-way doing that for health or dignity reasons.)

I have not completely hated trips to baseball games (on a nice day), even though I only vaguely care for baseball - at least I didn't have to go through being picked for a team or forced to share with the group what kind of animal/tree/car I am. There's always food, if nobody has any big dietary restrictions, and Coney Island sounds like fun (again, on a nice day) since it's relatively easy to opt out of things one doesn't wish to do.

Frankly, when morale is low and the job is hard and sometimes sad and scary, I find that cash and the best feasible job conditions make me feel most appreciated.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:28 PM on April 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

Some good suggestions so far, thanks everyone. Unfortunately, NYC doesn't have a Whirlyball. MsMolly, the definition of teambuilding here is "would it pass the laugh test," so it's pretty loose. Also, I love the Mutter Museum. I don't know if going out of town is an option though.

Keep the suggestions coming please!
posted by Mavri at 12:30 PM on April 4, 2007

Perhaps this is too cheesy, but if you find a good improv coach, short-form "Whose Line"-style games can be a real stitch. The key is finding a coach or group who will immediately establish the improv truths that there is no such thing as a "mistake" or doing something "wrong." In fact, it is from "mistakes" that the best scenes grow.

I've seen the shyest, most unlikely people come out of their shells and rock the house in a setting where "no" is not a possibility.

Also, doing improv scenes together is guaranteed to provide a lifetime's worth of "in-jokes" for that long-term bonding experience.

A comment on some of the other suggestions above: As a female who knows what it's like to be in her 30s and not-very-fit, I think you should be aware that most matey-type sports activities can be oppressive to certain women or possibly even some less-athletic men. They may be fine with it, but if your group is very diverse, I'd be sure to get consensus that high-testosterone is the way to go.
posted by ROTFL at 12:47 PM on April 4, 2007

ROTFL and Lyn Never: thanks for pointing out the shortcomings of the sporty activities. However, as one of the most un-athletic people ever, I can assure you those concerns will be addressed.
posted by Mavri at 12:53 PM on April 4, 2007

What about the game "Mafia"? We've had gatherings and people have postponed their flight so they can finish their 3:00 AM game of Mafia.
posted by theiconoclast31 at 12:55 PM on April 4, 2007

OK, this is going to sound like a weird idea for team building, but: improv comedy workshop. You should be able to find someone who's used to running workshops for companies, even. There's a guy down here in Chapel Hill, NC, who teaches at the Kenan-Flagler Business School (I think that's the school).

And yes, it can be scary for a lot of people to think about, but the right workshop guy can probably help de-stress it. This is a fabulous thing for a group of people to do together; it could actually build your team in a non-cheesy way. And it is _so_ much fun!

Seriously, you should be able to find someone who'll address the issue of making sure that the dominant/outgoing personalities don't overwhelm the others, and the shy people are comfortable enough to join in.
posted by amtho at 12:56 PM on April 4, 2007

Should have previewed, obviously. I would point out one more thing about improv -- the goal (in non-competitive improv) is to build something (a scene) together, by working with and listening to other people. This is rather applicable, I think.
posted by amtho at 12:59 PM on April 4, 2007

amtho: Jinx!

One improv teambuilding group I can recommend is Comedysportz. I've worked with many of the members individually (though not in teambuilding workshop format) and they are first class.

Also, amtho, you are right about not letting socially dominant personalities run roughshod over everything. A good coach will gently deter that -- and besides, I've noticed that when all the rules are dispensed with and they're placed in an unfamiliar world where "winning" is not really clear-cut, those type-A people usually mellow a lot.
posted by ROTFL at 1:04 PM on April 4, 2007

Sorry to clutter this thread with posts, but had to add: If improv can loosen up Karl "MC" Rove, then who could be immune to its powers?
posted by ROTFL at 1:08 PM on April 4, 2007

Baltimore has the American Visionary Art Museum, which has art from "outsiders," many of whom were mentally ill (at least by traditional standards). Does NYC have something similar?

Truthfully, the only teambuilding things I've liked have been "Here's the bar where we're meeting, first two rounds are on the company." I echo the concerns above about athletics; I'm in reasonably good shape, but softball and capture the flag (my old company's "fun day" choices) just aren't fun, paintball sounds like torture, and I don't even want to click on something called "Whirleyball."

Could you even just do a picnic, assuming this is later in the year?
posted by occhiblu at 1:39 PM on April 4, 2007

Combining "bar" and "cooking class," can you do a wine tasting?
posted by occhiblu at 1:42 PM on April 4, 2007

Build a Lego city! or better yet volunteer at the local foodbank. Set up two or more teams to help process/pack/whatever. It is a win-win.
posted by Gungho at 1:47 PM on April 4, 2007

Googling "outsider art NYC" turned up the American Folk Art Museum, which is having an exhibition on Martín Ramírez through May 13:

Martín Ramírez (1895–1963) created nearly 300 drawings of remarkable visual clarity and expressive power within the confines of DeWitt State Hospital in northern California, where he resided the last 15 years of his life. Ramírez has been codified primarily as a “schizophrenic artist”; this project promises to go beyond the boundaries of Ramírez’s diagnosis of mental illness and consider the artistic quality and merit of his artwork.

Maybe you could combine the museum visit with something else? Lunch, an art class, something?
posted by occhiblu at 1:54 PM on April 4, 2007

Occhiblu, your suggestion reminded me of the Living Museum, on the grounds of Creedmoor Psychiatric Center. I visited years ago and it was incredible. The Ramirez exhibit looks interesting too. Thanks for the ideas.
posted by Mavri at 2:02 PM on April 4, 2007

My wife's company went to a Meal Preparation place and cooked together. Plus, everyone got to take food home. This particular list doesn't show anything in New York City, but surely there is something like this where you are.
posted by loosemouth at 2:45 PM on April 4, 2007

As a fellow cynical employee type, who hates any of this corporate rubbish, I wanted to chime in and endorse the idea of the scavenger hunt or some variant on it. Its active without being athletic (you can use public transport and you walk a bit, but no cycling/running or whatever), but mostly its about being smart enough to decode the clues, which appeals to me, and perhaps you and your fellow graduate degree co-workers. People can go it alone or team up, depending how they prefer. No-one is forced to "perform" in front of others, and it sounds really fun. Perhaps there you can find a business who would organise such a thing for your group, and tailor it to your collective interests.
posted by Joh at 3:02 PM on April 4, 2007

Oooh, the Living Museum looks very cool!
posted by occhiblu at 3:09 PM on April 4, 2007

Another vote for something activity-oriented. I wouldn't enjoy a museum and dread work picnics and happy hours. (Odd, since I really like all my coworkers and am a pretty social person.) Something about having already related to those people for 25 hours that week about task-oriented work details, and having a computer-screen-induced eye glaze going on, these social events make me want to run for cover ("oh god, we have to make conversation now?") Plus, since the picnic/happy hour/museum all kinda seem to be for my own private benefit (absorbing the art, imbibing the drink), I wouldn't feel too guilty coming up with a pretext to sneak out the back door ("I've already seen that exhibit, but thanks anyway!") Giving me something useful to do, or giving me a guided exercise (improv, drumming) would be much better.
posted by salvia at 4:43 PM on April 4, 2007

Definitely volunteer. Sort food at a food bank. Help build a Habitat for Humanity House (even the fumblefingered can paint), do yard work for seniors, etc. In Chicago we have Your city may have something similar.
posted by Joleta at 10:05 PM on April 4, 2007

Sorry. That's
posted by Joleta at 10:06 PM on April 4, 2007

Volunteering is not an option. Our jobs are kind of like volunterring, only we're paid--but not much. Thanks everybody!
posted by Mavri at 7:08 AM on April 5, 2007

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