The team’s the thing. Although nothing can replace excellent management skills and a respectful work environment, more and more companies are getting their employees out of the office and into team building experiences. Their aim is to create strong teams, composed of people who trust each other and who enjoy working together.
But before deciding where to go for team building experiences, there’s an image problem managers need to overcome. The notion of spending a day away from the office might seem extravagant or even a waste of time. Kelsey Kupferer, coordinator of the University of Missouri’s Venture Out outdoor team building center, knows otherwise.
“A lot of people think team building is hokey, and I get it – everybody is underpaid and overworked, and we only have so many hours in a week. We all have a thousand emails in our inboxes and we all want to get home to our families,” Kupferer says. “Here at the university, we are constantly using internal and external feedback to research how we can make the Venture Out experience something that has a lasting impact where people leave with tools they can use to work better with their teammates the rest of the year.”
Team-building exercises come in a variety of sizes and styles. At Venture Out, the experience might include climbing a 60-foot tower. It could mean baking a cake with coworkers at Back 2 Basics Cooking; being part of a team that tries to figure out an antidote that prevents people from turning into zombies at Columbia’s Escape Plan; or making a wooden project and sharing a drink at the Confetti Company.
Can an afternoon away from the office really make a difference? Improving communication between people is always good practice. The same goes for increasing empathy and understanding. “The research is really clear that if you are the type of company or boss that really invests in your employees by taking time to get out of the office, to have alternative experiences where your group can get together in a fun, safe environment and have conversations about what can be done to make your workplace better, those companies have happier and more productive employees,” Kupferer says.
Venture Out, University of Missouri – Columbia
At first glance, the Venture Out high ropes course looks like a giant Lincoln Log playground or a boot camp obstacle course. Just five minutes from the university campus, several raw timber towers, linked together with steel cables, rise more than 45 feet above the grass. This combination of wire and wood is known as the Odyssey High Ropes Course. Another set of logs, dubbed the Alpine Climbing Tower, stands by itself, featuring a platform 60 feet off the ground. Intimidated? Don’t be: Plenty of people participate in the university’s team building activities while keeping both feet on the ground, at all times.
Venture Out staff can guide groups through more than 100 team-building exercises on the firm ground beneath the towers. “A lot of people do our Team Challenge Course, which is all on-the-ground challenges. Others combine it with a high ropes course for just those people who want to. Some people will look at our high ropes course and say, ‘yes, can’t wait, sign me up for that,’ or they’ll say ‘absolutely not. I’m not going to do that,’” says Kupferer, Venture Out coordinator.
A major misconception people have about Venture Out is that its team building activities are designed for athletes or daredevils who like scaling 60-foot towers. It’s actually more of an outdoors playground and educational center where thoroughly trained staff help companies and organizations – and their employees – reach personal and organizational goals while having a good time.
Team building exercises are customized to the needs and goals of the organization and the people that comprise it. Of course, safety is the first priority. Any time participants are in the air, they are safeguarded by either being on belay or secured at the end of a rope to keep them from falling.
“On the Alpine Tower, participants work together to set and accomplish individual goals. The Odyssey Course is our newest and most popular course. It’s a team building obstacle course where participants have to physically use each other in order to traverse four horizontal challenges. And then they zipline to the ground,” Kupferer says.
About 150 groups each year take part in team building activities at Venture Out. These groups range from eight to 200 people each. Depending on the activities they choose, groups spend anywhere from an hour to a full day at the site. Throughout their experience, a facilitator debriefs the groups after they complete every challenge.
“Our goal is that everyone who goes through a Venture Out program learns something they can use back at their office, in their organization. We’ll present your group with a challenge, you’ll work through it together, and the things you learn will help your team work better together all year,” says Kupferer.
For more information, or to request a quote, click here.
Back 2 Basics Cooking
The routine of daily office life can make for stale interactions between employees. But at Back 2 Basics Cooking, those relationships can be nourished and freshened up. Cooking together is an activity that can break barriers down while building up rapport and morale. Ashley Nichols, owner of Back 2 Basics Cooking at 2011 Corona Road, in south Columbia, is part cook, part social coordinator. “My goal is to have people get to know each other better outside the office, have a good time, and eat something healthy,” she said.
Her commercial kitchen has room for groups of up to 14. The change in environment – from office setting to commercial kitchen – sets the stage for new experiences. “For most people, it’s the first chance they’ve had to experience a commercial kitchen,” Nichols says.
The kitchen is a gleaming collection of stainless steel appliances and counter tops, all of it super-sized for commercial production. It includes a couple ovens, a gas stove, refrigerators and enough pots, pans and assorted other whisks, bowls and buckets to produce a gourmet feast.
Nichols provides team building experiences, a heavy dose of fun, and a healthy meal. Clients create a customized menu, then work together to prepare a meal. “While we’re waiting for the food to cook, we do activities to help them get to know each other better,” she says.
Not only is the food selection customized, but so are the experiences and the client’s goals. Sometimes the activities include blindfolding one person and letting a partner be that person’s eyes. (Of course, hot items and sharp utensils are kept out of reach.) Other times, it might mean playing ice-breaking games, such as listing favorite places to visit, or foods or activities. The idea is that people learn things about each other that they might not have a chance to talk about at work, or that people who work remotely have a time to get to know their long-distance teammates.
“My goal is to have people learn something about someone they didn’t know, even after 15 years of working together,” Nichols says.
Sessions last about three hours, which includes meal preparation and time to enjoy the healthy food the group creates. For more information, click here or call (573)268-2248.
Confetti Craft Company
If Confetti Craft Co. had a tag line, it would be Crafts with a Twist. And that twist would be lemon or any of the other ingredients that go into their alcoholic or non-alcoholic drinks. Or that twist could be a twist of fun.
Everything about Confetti Craft Co. is bright, colorful and inviting. Its space at 1200 E. Broadway is as well designed as its array of craft projects that participants can complete. With its spacious white walls, its naturally lit storefront and wooden tool boxes at each of the work table, the space seems designed for fun and light conversation. A stocked bar, with traditional countertop and bar stools is located along one wall, not far from a display of the 21 DIY projects that can be made on site.
Michelle Nickerson, owner of the company, which has been open since December, wants to provide a place for friends, colleagues, families or dates to work on projects and have a good time. Making the setting even more congenial, she offers a line of her original cocktails and a selection of wines and beers. What’s not to like about the concept?
Several local companies have already discovered Confetti Craft Co., Nickerson says. Groups come to break out of the rut of office work and give employees a chance to relax and enjoy themselves. There’s some team building going on, but mostly, there’s a lot of fun and people getting to know each other better while they work on projects.
“DIY has exploded right now. Our goal is to combine giving people something to do and be creative,” says Nickerson.
Nickerson’s 21 project kits come complete with all needed supplies, required tools and instructions. Her project menu includes several woodworking projects, jewelry making, pillows, wall hangings and a leather passport holder. For dog lovers, there’s even a handmade leash project.
Nickerson has room for up to 68 participants at a time. Typical groups range from six to 12 people, she says, and last two to three hours.
For more information, click here or call (573)424-3624
Escape Plan, 314 Nebraska Ave.
Getting out of the locked rooms at Escape Plan doesn’t take a Houdini. It takes a lot of creative thinking and an equal amount of teamwork. “Think Sherlock Holmes, not something scary, like the movie Saw,” says Lauren Davis, Escape Plan’s owner.
The plain white building that houses her company’s operation on Nebraska Avenue is staged for three different games – Harley’s Ride, Meat Locker and Double Agent. The idea behind Escape Plan is more complex than merely finding a hidden key. Four to eight people are locked into a room together and they have an hour to figure their way out. The catch? Each room is an ingenious puzzle, that can be solved only a piece at a time. Clues are periodically provided over a computer monitor attached to the wall.
In Harley’s Ride, the main room is set up like a grungy biker’s bar. A deck of cards and a can of beer are on the counter, the walls are decorated with biker gang flags and bandana hats. An adjoining section of the biker’s bar setting is designed as a motorcycle garage, with tools scattered on the floor, a set of old tires in one corner and walls decorated with license plates.
In Double Agent, the team works in a spy’s study, set up like an ordinary office with bookcases and other sitting room props. In Meat Locker, the setting is a hospital room, with a zombie’s body on the floor. A virus is killing people, turning them into zombies, and the team has to find the vaccine that can save them from a horrible fate.
For corporate users, managers are strongly encouraged to come on-site with their teams and to monitor their interactions from the control room. Davis sits with each manager and shares her own observations, based on having seen many different groups work either successfully or stressfully together. Sometimes, managers don’t care to observe, instead sending their groups over for team bonding.
Either way, it’s an engaging and fun experience for participants. So far, the success rate for solving the puzzles is about 20 percent, Davis says. But the experience isn’t all work. The lobby is set up as a reception area, where teams can start off with a catered meal or local beers and wines.
Participants may come reluctantly, unsure of what to expect, but they leave enthusiastic. “A lot of times teams aren’t initially excited. They’re here because a manager scheduled them. But the second they get in the room, they get pumped. It’s not childish. It was made by adults for adults,” Davis says.
For more information, click here or call (573)489-2890
Other Team Building Opportunities
Eco Zipline Tours, New Florence
About an hour drive from Columbia, Eco Zipline Tours offers a variety of experiences, and all of them provide a bird’s-eye view of Missouri woodlands, seen while zooming along a zipline. Different tours take riders anywhere from 1,000 feet to a mile through the air and up to 225 feet above ground. For some of the tours, riders zip together in a group.
For more information, click here or call (314)456-1444
For sports lovers, a trip to the ballgame is a sure-fired morale booster, as well as a way for a group to have a bit of a bonding experience. Discounts for some selected games amount to 50 percent for groups of 20 or more. On Friday and Saturday games, the discount goes down to only 10 percent.
For more information, click here.
Going to a Tigers baseball game is a lot easier and less time-consuming and expensive than going to a Cardinals’ game. Tickets for the Tigers are an affordable $5.
For more information, click here.
Logboat Brewing Company, 504 Fay St.
Few employees wouldn’t enjoy spending an afternoon or evening sampling beers and snacking at a picnic table on the lawn at Logboat Brewing Co. In addition to the local beers and pleasant surrounding, there’s always a chance to play a few games of cornhole, a cross between beanbag toss and horseshoes. Regardless of who wins, tossing the beanbags into the holes is a team sport everyone can enjoy.
For more information, click here or call (573)397-6786
The Canvas On Broadway, 706 Broadway
Groups that sign up for The Canvas can expect to enjoy a drink, an art lesson and the satisfaction of having learned to paint a pleasing picture. Up to 50 people can take part in the experience at the same time.
For more information, click here or call (573)443-2222
Lazer Lanes, 3412 Grindstone Parkway
The main attraction here are the 12 high-tech bowling lanes, featuring pins that glow beneath florescent lighting, strings of flashing lights and immense TV screens at the end of the alley. For those who want to try out laser tag, a 3,500-foot arena can accommodate up to 20 people, who target each other in a dimly lit room. There’s a large arcade area with pinballs of all sorts, and a bumper car zone that might help employees release a little aggression.
For more information, click here or call (573)447-6021