Battling a horde of zombies may sound like your average commute to work, but for some it’s how they’ll be getting to know their managers this summer.
If you’re faced with zombies coming at you you’re relying on your team mates and it’s survival of the fittest
That’s right, fighting off a zombie apocalypse in an abandoned shopping centre is one of the latest popular choices for a team away day in Britain.
Philippe Bell is the Adventure Category Manager at events provider Buyagift.com. He says the zombie adventures they offer to clients typically cost around £100 ($130) and are particularly popular with office-based employees such as banks and call centres.
“The key thing is the adrenalin rush especially when workers are sitting at their desks all day. Battling zombies is a great way of building relationships within companies. If you’re faced with zombies coming at you you’re relying on your team mates and it’s survival of the fittest, it’s like a war and whoever is victorious will carry on living.”
While some can’t wait to hurl themselves round an assault course or get stuck in to raft building, others can think of nothing worse than bonding over paintballing.
Fan or not, you’ll probably end up taking part in a team-building event at some point in your working life, so what can you expect?
For one firm average spend on a team-building-event has increased by 32% in just 3 years, from £1,970 ($2,588) in 2013 to £2,592 ($3,405) in 2016 according to Team Challenge Company, one of the UK’s biggest providers of corporate team building. It works with big corporations from publishers to oil companies.
One year we went to Las Vegas, got picked up by helicopters and landed in the Grand Canyon for a picnic
Cathy Israel, chief operating officer at Best Corporate Events, one of the biggest firms in the US, says per company average annual spend is difficult to pinpoint, but the average spend per event is around $9,000. One company purchased an event for 6,571 participants “that totalled nearly $400,000," she adds.
As budgets become more extravagant so have the activities involved. Once upon a time bowling and a pizza might have covered it but things have gone off-piste to include everything from training to be a stunt person or gum-boot dancing in a bid to get employees talking.
The one that will forever stick in my mind involved everyone being told to karate chop a piece of wood in half
At the luxury end, at $100,000 a week for up to eight people, firms like Valdez Heli Ski Guides in Alaska clients can take a helicopter to the top of a mountain and shoot back down on skis, staying at a private lodge with private dining, according to founder Scott Raynor.
“We’ve had teams from investment bank Merrill Lynch, Apple, Google and big law firms,” Raynor says. “They’ve mastered their skills and are looking for new challenges.”
But does an expensive week of hair-raising heli-skiing genuinely improve working relationships?
Raynor has no doubt it does: “It definitely builds team unity because you need to create mutual a sense of trust and more importantly, be yourself and drop any facade.”
But your firm doesn’t need to spend a fortune. Less expensive at £88 ($115) per person but no less adrenalin-fuelled are the Hunger Games team-building events organised by UK company Rabble. Teams are split into groups and sent hunting for items that might help them on their final quest. For the end game they use battle equipment such as laser guns, dodgeballs, archery equipment and like the real Hunger Games, the last man or woman standing wins.
What kind of company sends its employees on a simulated killing spree? Founder Charlotte Roach says customers range from tech starts-ups to supermarket chains and HR companies but that it’s particularly popular with competitive professions such as sales teams and bankers. That doesn’t mean quieter, more thoughtful types are left on the sidelines, Roach says.
“Introverts enjoy playing because they’re given a set of rules to stick to. They shout less and think more and tend to be super successful,” she says.
There are subtler approaches to team bonding: Horse Sense takes an animal-centred approach to team work by literally getting hands on with horses. In the middle of the English countryside, a makeshift classroom has been erected next to some stables. Karen Fleming, managing director of the company’s management training and coaching business called Sense and Ability, she explains how it all works.
“Horses are incredibly intuitive and pick up on what we are feeling,” she says. “We do a mindfulness exercise which involves asking the clients to put their hands on the horse, relax and breathe slowly. We observe how the horses react and behave as clients interact with them. It’s very effective; horses get to the core of people straightaway so we immediately get feedback on how they’re behaving and how they’re communicating with each other and themselves.”
Why do some bosses think this is a good investment?
But at £150 ($197) per person for an afternoon, is Horse Sense just an expensive novelty? Chris Hurst, a director of Tazamo web design who came along to Horse Sense with his team says there’s method behind this unconventional approach.
“We’ve recently changed the way we work from office based to remote working and we want to improve our communications, so we thought why not do this? I’ve taken colleagues on other team-building days, but nothing quite like this. Our company thrives on imagination and if we can find something different, we’ll throw ourselves into it. It’s the best way to find out about yourself.”
Our company thrives on imagination and if we can find something different, we’ll throw ourselves into it.
Another manager who prefers to think differently and get his team doing the same is Brian Scudamore, CEO and founder of O2E Brands, based in Vancouver, Canada. There are four businesses under the O2E banner doing junk hauling, painting, moving and home improvements. All work on a franchise basis and with annual revenues of $250m. Scudamore says he is keen to keep his franchisees working efficiently, and incentivise his top performing employees.
“One year we went to Las Vegas, got picked up by helicopters and landed in the Grand Canyon for a picnic. Another year we drove NASCARs, racing around the track at nearly 150mph. In 2015, 100 employees including myself signed up for the Tough Mudder assault course. It cost around $100 per person but it was definitely worth it,” he says. “Experiences like jumping from a great height into icy cold water take you out of your comfort zone and you’d be amazed at how those types of experiences make people work better together.”
Not everyone’s cup of tea
The more extreme kind of team-building exercises aren’t for everyone however. Amelia Bowman now works in the oil industry in London but used to be a television producer.
“I’ve had my fair share of team-building exercises but the one that will forever stick in my mind involved everyone being told to karate chop a piece of wood in half with their bare hands in the middle of a circle of onlooking colleagues. I was one of the ones who was unable to break the wood. It was extremely humiliating and far from boosting self-confidence and generating a sense of team work, it had quite the opposite effect.”
It was extremely humiliating
Rob Briner, professor of organisational psychology at the University of Bath is also sceptical.
“It can be counterproductive; some people would rather just get on with their job or spend time with family. Companies should spend a lot more time working out what the actual problems with their employees are. I think one reason team-building events are so popular is that they’re seen as an activity that people will enjoy so it’s hoped they will hit lots of buttons; improving morale, improving communication and so on. Unfortunately I think the trend in corporations is on having more fun rather than removing stress and team-building events are part of this.”
It can be counterproductive… Companies should spend a lot more time working out what the actual problems are
Bowman is prepared to keep an open mind however.
“When team-building events are done properly there can be positives such as breaking of cross-disciplinary boundaries,” she says. “It can be good to meet folk from other departments and discover that they are actually quite nice. This enables a far more cordial manner of working. I would also add however that this outcome can also be readily achieved by simply going down the pub!”
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