Wacky scavenger hunts with actors in orange jumpsuits are still a fun and popular choice for team-building activities. But companies are increasingly weaving into these activities opportunities for charitable giving and required certifications—like safety trainings. And some experts point out that for building team spirit, you don’t always have to break your budget–something as simple as a shared meal is an ideal event.
“If you have a pulse, team building’s a good fit for you,” says Jenny Gottstein, of The Go Game. “People are investing in their teams more than ever before—investing emotionally, investing in their well-being, their health.”
The Go Game is one company that does offer the more lively events with actors in orange jumpsuits, nerf gun battles, and the like. But it’s not ALL fun and games.
“We have ‘The Slow Game’ that teaches mindfulness, we have disaster preparedness trainings,” she says. “We’ve done games that celebrate diversity and inclusion. We’ve done games around identifying market insights. We’ve also done creativity trainings for marketing, and other departments.”
The Go Game is based in San Francisco, with offices in New York, and other cities. It’s held 10,000 events in the last four years for dozens of companies in the financial sector, law, technology, energy, and other fields.
Still, a workplace psychology study found that a third of employees don’t like team-building activities. So you’ve got to wonder if Gottstein’s group meets resistance.
“All the time,” she says. “Prescribed fun is a tough pill to swallow. Nobody wants to be told they’re going to have a good time. “I think for us what becomes the defining, the reinforcing concept is that we’ve been doing this since 2001, and we have people who come back year after year after year. The same clients are coming back to us. It’s providing us this permission to have fun and engage with coworkers in a way you wouldn’t otherwise.”
Gottstein points to a trove of wisdom statements reaching back to Greek philosophy about the value of mixing pleasure with work:
Biologist Marc Bekoff offers: “Play is training for the unexpected.”
Plato wrote that, “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”
Some companies want people to learn not just about each other in team-building, but about the needs of the greater community.
The Go Game is one of many companies that will tie in charitable missions with games. During some games, actors will reward players with items to donate to charities. Afterwards, the game culminates in a presentation about the charity’s work.
This kind of charitable giving is one recommendation for successful team-building outlined by David W. Ballard, head of American Psychological Assocation’s Healthy Workplace Program.
In an article in U.S. News & World Report, Ballard also offers that the following activities are often a hit: outright volunteering, professional development, and shared meals.
Ballard also suggests field trips. One example is Green Mountain Coffee Roasters sending employees to meet coffee growers in Guatemala. But visiting local museums are also an opportunity for team-building. New York company Museum Hack offers company tours and activities at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Physical activities are also on Ballard’s list of best team-building practices. In New York, Chelsea Piers offers obstacle courses, and rock climbing.
Gottstein says team-building is especially important for start-up companies like you might find at a coworking space.
“We do a lot of games for startups and what’s different between the games for a startup and mega companies–there’s way more riding on it,” Gottstein says. “When you have a small company those relationships are paramount. We find that the longterm impact on smaller offices…the feedback we get is a lot stronger over the years.”
So while some say you can’t mix business with pleasure, companies like The Go Game, Museum Hack, and many others, may make us rethink putting more fun in our work.