Apparently it’s okay for corporate B.C. to have fun and partake in some employee motivation again. So if you want to perk up your next executive getaway or senior management retreat or add a twist to a customer appreciation event, it’s a bit easier these days. All you have to do is loosen the purse strings and think ‘different’.
Before we tell you how, you should know there’s nothing new about using fun to achieve business objectives. Back in the 4th century BC, the Greek philosopher Plato said: “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” Like most Greeks, he understood the value of a little R & R. After all, he also coined the phrase: “He was a wise man who invented beer.” There’s been plenty of bad news to dampen corporate spirits, what with terrorist attacks, wars, mad cow disease, avian flu, softwood lumber, forest fires, corporate scandals and general profitability issues. So how does BCBusiness know that fun is back? In an admittedly unscientific poll of local event planners, corporate team building specialists and resort operators, we learned that the dour drought is over: our business community is once again investing in people and seeking creative ways to boost morale, recharge batteries, unblock creativity, develop teams and reward loyalty. You won’t believe what companies are doing out there. Although the ubiquitous golf tournament and fishing trip still make the grade in some circles, the current trend is to get out of the office, do a little business, enjoy some good food, then involve your people in a nifty new activity: the more exciting the better. Resorts across the province are hoping to cash in on this business by adding value to their services. For example, last year Vancouver Island’s Dunsmuir Lodge partnered with corporate games people, Pinnacle Pursuits, to build an experiential outdoor learning centre on site. If you are planning a getaway, here are a dozen ideas sure to inspire. They’ve all been tried, tested and given two thumbs up. So whether there are 18 or 80 people, super-fit or sedentary, type A or type B, by searching the Web and doing your own thing or enlisting the help of an event planner or resort sales director, you can stage a meeting or retreat that may one day assume legendary proportions around the water cooler. Getting to know you It’s hard to imagine 10 CEOs spending eight hours engrossed in a customized scavenger hunt, then hunkering down to craft an autobiographical totem pole. Imagine no more – you could have seen it for yourself at Lost Lake in Whistler this June when a Vancouver TEC group went out on its annual retreat. (TEC stands for The Executive Committee, an international leadership organization designed to enhance the personal and professional development of chief executives.) According to TEC chair Catherine Osler, her mandate to event planner Bryan Burns was simple yet difficult: devise something to get CEOs to open up on a personal level and accelerate their performance as a team. Their first task was to follow a series of clues, hit 15 different locations and along the way photograph what they felt represented different attributes of a successful group. Then came totem-pole decoration. “They just loved it,” says Osler. “It was an intense 48 hours in which we challenged them emotionally, physically, intellectually and creatively. In the end they learned more about each other and how they, as individuals, could add value to the group and their own business.” corporateplaypeople.com Not your usual hotel fantasy When Coast Plaza Hotel and Suites pulled in 100 managers and sales staff from the U.S. and Canada, it wanted to cap an intense two-day meeting with a unique, unifying social affair, with a message. For inspiration it turned to Vancouver event planner Denise Dickson, who devised ‘Knights of Power’, an original fantasy challenge played indoors. (It was, after all, January in Vancouver.) On the final night, the cross-border group met in a spookily transformed parking garage to receive instructions from Dickson’s ‘monks’ on how to defeat a ‘dark force’ that threatened the world. Ten teams attended ‘knight training camp’ then aced a series of challenges before triumphing as one team and enjoying their reward: a highly authentic medieval banquet complete with court jester and minstrels. Luckily the hotel was almost empty, says general manager Craig Norris-Jones, so Coast Plaza’s ‘knights of power’ could run merrily amok from the lobby to the penthouse suites. His verdict on the exercise: “Wonderful, exactly what we had in mind.” createyourownevents.com
The amazing race’ette Twice a year Telus Small Business Solutions seeks new ways to honor its peak performers. By all accounts it’ll be tough to top last spring’s Whistler event, where 60 highly competitive sales types split into 15 teams for a customized version of TV reality show, The Amazing Race. For almost four hours, Telus people were everywhere – from the village to the slopes – frantically racing against the clock to solve clues and complete challenges involving brainpower and stamina. It was an exhausting yet highly successful exercise, reports sales director Suzanne Trusdale, who admits her own worst moment was to have to serenade a group of bewildered tourists. Although unsuspecting onlookers think they’re witnessing something strange and new, to locals it’s a yawn. Whistlerites are used to such antics in what’s rapidly becoming the retreat capital of western Canada. canadianoutback.com Hot off the grill When Nando’s Canada president Dan Isserow began planning a mini-conference for 26 franchisees, he wanted something to get them thinking and feeling – and to increase their heart rate. After contacting the National Speakers Bureau, he hooked up with Vancouver motivational speaker and interpersonal communications guru Cheryl Cran at (natch) a local Nando’s eatery, to review some of the pressing issues facing his ‘peri-peri sauces people’. (Back then, revenue from the restaurant chain’s signature dish, Peri-Peri Chicken, was hurting from the avian flu scare.) “Guest speakers are all well and good, but they must understand your business and leave you with an exciting, memorable message,” notes Isserow. “Cheryl delivered something that our people could use not only at work, but in all aspects of their lives.” After the classroom, came an ATV safari and to their credit, nobody chickened out. nsb.com, cherylcran.com To the sea in ships Given today’s shortage of skilled construction workers, companies such as Richmond’s Brighter Mechanical, know it’s crucial to earn and retain employee loyalty. With this in mind, Brighter sent a mix of managers and project supervisors out for a daylong Sea Quest Scavenger Hunt (think car rally, only with boats) organized by Sewell’s Marina at Horseshoe Bay. Teams of four, most with little or no boating experience, received a fully fuelled speedboat, cell phone, game map and question sheets and then puttered out into Howe Sound to complete a series of tasks. [pagebreak] Strategy and teamwork proved equally important, says Bob Cooke, manager, new construction, who came up with the idea, but the net result was a whole lot of fun and a new level of camaraderie: “It was exactly what we needed for the group to get to know each other: everybody raved about it.” sewellsmarina.com
Running the rapids If Ikea’s top guns want a tough team challenge for an annual getaway, maybe they should consider locking everyone in a room and forcing them to assemble some of their own furniture. (Kidding, sort of.) Luckily, however, Coquitlam store general manager Carl Janzen has better ideas. This spring he and 15 other senior people headed out to the REO Rafting Resort near Boston Bar where they set up camp in cabin tents on the banks of the Nahatlatch River. Following the business portion of the weekend, they went white water rafting, rappelled down cliffs and worked together on a series of low-rope challenges. “Initially there was some reluctance to do the rafting,” Janzen admits. “When we put on our wetsuits we looked at each other and said: ‘Why on earth are we doing this?’ Afterwards, everyone agreed it was the highlight of the trip.” reorafting.com Surviving in style Some lawyers sure know how to live it up. In mid-June, Vancouver’s Whitelaw Twining group flew 26 partners and associates to Kelowna and bussed them on to Vernon for a weekend at the swanky Predator Ridge Lodge. After a brief meeting and barbecue, they hit the golf course, followed by a gourmet dinner (and a fair bit of tasting) at nearby Quail’s Gate Winery. Whitelaw finance director Paul Sandhu was relieved to hand off the logistics to Vancouver event planner Ruthie Shugarman, who also arranged an energetic half-day version of the television show Survivor; Sandhu says it was the highlight of the weekend: the younger associates got a special kick out of watching the (older) partners force down some nasty concoctions as part of a team-food challenge. canadianmeetings.com Going right to the top When Lotte Davis, co-founder of AG Hair Cosmetics, wanted a spectacular venue to host 40 U.S. and Canadian distributors, she chose an unforgettable location: the híwus feasthouse, a traditional aboriginal longhouse atop North Vancouver’s Grouse Mountain. “This was not just about business,” she says. “It was about focusing on us as a brand and giving our guests an exciting B.C. experience.” Over lunch the group heard a talk from the grizzly bear trainer at Grouse’s Refuge for Endangered Wildlife and then, in glorious Vancouver sunshine, walked past the lake to watch the mountain’s two resident bear cubs at play. Dinner was in the Observatory Restaurant with a clear view over the city at night. “Everyone just went nuts,” adds Davis, “The [thank you] letters and calls came in for months.” It was such a success that AG returned this year with a group of top salespeople. Although this time around it did rain, a fire was lit in the híwus, the ambience enjoyed; Davis describes it as very inspirational for a brainstorming session. If you want to further impress the troops, plan an event with a cultural performance from the Squamish First Nation, or perhaps a traditional aboriginal feast. You can even rent snowshoes for the short trek to the longhouse.grousemountain.com
Beachcombers B.C. boasts an amazing selection of wilderness resorts offering everything from the simple life to remote high-end luxury complete with spa pampering and heli-hiking, depending on your pocketbook. When CARA Airport Services’ 17-strong management team fled the city, they chose Tzoonie Outdoor Adventures, an eco-friendly lodge operation, accessible only by boat from Sechelt on the Sunshine Coast. Employee relations manager Fraser Biggs says he was attracted by its isolation and wealth of activities, ranging from picking oysters and digging for clams on the beach to trying your hand at hiking, canoeing, ATV riding or just a little wildlife appreciation. In season, you can also go whale watching. Post-brainstorming exercises included a boat-building contest using only cardboard, duct tape and box cutters. Given the business they’re in, this group took no chances: it packed along its own executive chef. At the end of the session, adds Biggs, the top brass were sent home, leaving the troops to stay on and do a little partying. tzoonie.com Virtual reality After four days of certification training, a group of exhausted video-security technicians needed some serious down time. In spite of their ages (30 to 45) Source A/V’s western sales manager Brian Rumohr took them to Playdium at Burnaby’s Metrotown, which (for those too old to know) is a vast and absolutely astonishing entertainment centre loaded with more than 200 mind-blowing electronic games and attractions that actually do grow on you. After dinner on site, Rumohr handed out unlimited play cards and let the techies go to it. In spite of the wealth of high-quality virtual and interactive ‘games’ (everything from flying to putting an ‘Indy car’ through its paces), most of the group ended up having fun in the comparatively low-tech atmosphere of the four 10-pin bowling lanes. “It was a big hit, everyone had a blast,” says Rumohr, who adds he’s considering using Playdium’s new corporate meeting rooms and teambuilding services for a future group event. playdium.com Silence in court Each September the Kootenay Bar Association leaves the long arm of the law behind and heads out en masse to the Three Bars Guest and Cattle Ranch in the Canadian Rockies near Cranbrook. Some 50 judges, lawyers and legal assistants plus assorted family members, relish the peace, privacy and the opportunity to do a little horseback riding, mountain biking, golfing, fishing or hiking (there’s also a great kids’ program). [pagebreak] To be fair, Association vice-president and family law specialist Susan Kurtz says it isn’t all fun and games; the group does hold its own meeting, plus a couple of lengthy teleconferences with the Law Society of B.C. and the Canadian Bar Association. “It took years of planning to get it all organized,” she says, “but now we have it down to a fine art.” As an added bonus, the Lawyer’s Assistance Program also offers the frazzled legal eagles some extra stress relief through meditation and yoga. threebarsranch.com Drumming up trade At a state-of-the-industry forum for suppliers, Burnaby’s Creation Technologies wanted to kick things up a notch at the close of a long day so it got a little help from international teambuilding timpanists, Drum Café. At the end of the working session, the 75 Creation Tech attendees wandered into an adjoining room where they found a circle of chairs. Sitting on each chair: a single drum. Without saying a word, Drum Café facilitators began to play and everyone gradually joined in. “Some people are hesitant, but they soon get involved,” says Creation’s marketing director Debbie Gillies, who has since used Drum Café for two other supplier and customer events. “What you feel while you’re drumming is hard to describe but it’s uplifting, energizing and creates a real sense of unity. It also leaves a lasting impression of Creation as a professional, yet fun company.” Drum Café’s master drummers can supply instruments for groups of 10 to 2,000. drumcafe.ca