Mid-Atlantic Events Magazine
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Trends in Team Building

July 8, 2019


Team building experiences today are nearly as diverse as the groups for whom they are created. There’s truly something for everybody, from working together to craft a shared meal to ziplining over animal exhibits to taking to a battlefield or even escaping from a golf course!


The creativity and uniqueness of these specialized team building programs generates a lot of buzz and excitement among employees and groups. Bringing coworkers together for a fun-filled day or night of team bonding is a great way to open lines of communication, get them all laughing together, experiencing moments, overcoming obstacles, and sharing in victories.


These experiences allow members of a group to work together and get to know each other in a way that’s not often possible back at the office. Groups discover and uncover hidden strengths within themselves and among their coworkers that may not have been on display otherwise.


The Great Outdoors For those looking to engage in outdoor adventure high off the ground, Elmwood Park Zoo (EPZ) in Norristown, PA offers the excitement of Treetop Adventures, says EPZ marketing associate, Chelsea Nejbauer.


"Treetop Adventures features challenge games and zip lines that span up to 50-feet above the ground in the trees of Elmwood Park Zoo - not to mention it’s Pennsylvania's only location to zip line over live animal exhibits,” exclaims Nejbauer. “Team building at Treetop Adventures gives you and your fellow team an opportunity to work together as you complete a course in the trees amongst other various group activities."


Team building at Treetop Adventures requires groups to rely on their communication, problem solving, group decision-making, and teamwork skills in order to accomplish goals and complete challenges, Nejbauer states. “Treetop Adventures believes that stepping outside the workplace for team building engages employees and allows them to form a stronger bond making it the ideal destination for organizations, schools, camps and teams!"


For those interested in winding down with a cold beer after a day of ziplining, Treetop Adventure participants ages 21+ can enjoy a Happy Hour special during day functions, lounging at the Zoo Brew Beer Garden after completing the adventure course.


"At night, groups can zip the zoo in the dark with Treetop Adventures’ Night Adventure,” notes Nejbauer. “Groups can experience all the thrills of the zipline and ropes courses with the added challenge of darkness, navigating through a section of our Treetop Zoofari course equipped with a headlamp."


For attendees who prefer to keep their feet on the ground, a trip to Bluestone Country Club in Blue Bell, PA would be a great choice for team building activities that are anything but ordinary.


"Being outside immediately changes the environment of being in a cubical or in a board room. It opens up so many more possibilities for team building than when surround by brick and mortar,” observes Kristofer J. Fair, CMM, general manager for Bluestone Country Club.


"We have a unique concept that combines an ‘Escape Room’ with a golf course,” he explains. “It’s about two hours long with multiple challenges to conquer with fun mixed in along the way. In ‘Escape the Course,’ your team doesn’t have to know how to play golf. Your staff will have to rely upon one another to mix thoughts with trust. They are grouped in foursomes and will encounter laughter and learning along the way. In the end they will be closer, trust one another more, and learn about themselves."


"Our 'Escape the Course' is by far the most innovative team building program available in the Philadelphia area,” asserts Fair. “Our team building is more about goals than it is nine holes of golf... Three-person slingshot golf shots, blindfolded putting, on course challenges such as your cart being locked until your team solves a challenge. You will need input from everyone on the team before the nine holes come to an end. Your group will leave energized, closer, and more appreciative of one another."


Trust is by far the number one goal to any team building function, Fair explains. “With trust comes respect and loyalty. Corporate team building isn’t a game - it is a real psychological practice of seeing possible solutions from a 360-degree viewpoint. Learning that one person doesn’t have all the answers in an organization is so important. Understanding that it’s the team that matters. And realizing that there is always a solution."


Teams that are close are more engaged and work more effectively together, he adds. This increases employee engagement, lowers turnover and increases the bottom line, which is something that everyone wants.


Bluestone County Club is a one-stop group destination that combines food, beverage, team building, full-service, locker-room service and even free parking. According to Erin Calpin, senior marketing manager for Camelback Resort, her destination property stands out from other meeting options in the area because of its the wide array of adrenaline-inducing, outdoor adventure activities.


“Meetings and events of all sizes are drawn outside of the conference rooms and team build right on the mountain, literally,” says Calpin. “Racing ziplines from 1,000-feet to one of the nation’s longest at 4,000-feet, soaring from the summit of Camelback Mountain. Mountain Segway tours. Over 100 aerial challenge course obstacles in our TreeTops Adventures. Pennsylvania’s favorite ski area. The largest snowtubing park in the USA with out-of-this-world, nighttime Galactic Snowtubing. Aquatopia indoor waterpark. And Camelbeach, the state’s largest outdoor waterpark."


She explains that outdoor adventure activities provide the opportunity for a group to form a bond over a common experience. “When someone on the team is pushed out of their comfort zone, the experience provides an opportunity for their team to give support when and where needed - all in a fun, yet challenging environment."


"We consider our five TreeTops Adventure courses new each and every time someone visits,” Calpin notes. “There are elements on the course that you’ll encounter a different way each time. Want an even bigger challenge? Scale the course backwards. Camelback’s adventure guides can ensure fun, new challenges with every visit, at varied skill levels. There also are many ground games with ropes, string and even human chains that foster teamwork."


She further notes that Camelback is not a mega-sized conference center. “Instead, it is the right fit for a niche group of companies who expect and enjoy the highly-personalized attention they deserve."


Culinary Collaboration


Team building helps groups to break away from the boardroom and build a cooperative spirit among employees and coworkers.


Corporate and team building opportunities available at Skytop Lodge in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania include its Adventure Center and Treetop Adventure Course, award-winning golf, hiking and biking trails through the scenic Pocono Mountains, archery tag and paintball, wilderness survival and more!


Skytop's wide selection of team building adventures also includes a number of culinary team building opportunities and activities.


According to Christy Ranallo, director of sales and marketing for Skytop Lodge, "We are excited to say that we offer everything from culinary based events where teams create and prepare dishes for a four- course lunch or dinner to cupcake wars, from cocktail challenges to our newly added Barista class where you learn the art of coffee and how to create the perfect cup of brew. We will happily customize any F&B team building event."


Team building is an important outlet for groups, as it helps bring coworkers together and truly form cohesive bonds in a way that many other work activities cannot.


Ranallo observes that, even if a company holds weekly meetings, they often don’t have enough time to step out of their day-to-day operations and collectively work together in ways that will bolster team unity. But in a culinary setting, to be successful, the group must work harmoniously as a team toward one goal.


Ranallo adds that she has seen an uptick in organizations who want to engage in more bonding activities in recent years. “They are wanting to go outside of their comfort zone with events to take in first time experiences together as a team, such as a clay bird outing or an Amazing Race adventure, which is our most popular event."


Skytop’s Amazing Race is a team building activity where groups of five engage in every kind of challenge from mental to physical. “We have groups returning from last year asking for the same event, but they challenge us to top it, and of course, we love the challenge… it’s in our nature,” asserts Ranallo.


“Our newest team building activity includes a community centric event,” she continues, “where we give back to our local pet shelters. Your group will make everything from dog beds to pet toys to cat scratch pads. It’s pretty amazing to see our furry friends being taken care of, too.”


As for the main benefits of participating in a team building event, Ranallo says that, in the short term, participants feel that connection with each other as a team. “It’s sometimes easier to communicate when you are with smaller teams, but as a leader, you have a much larger team back at the home office.”


Which leads to the longer term, where Ranallo says the hope is that the group goes back to their day-today and reflects on those moments of feeling vulnerable. “Think to yourself, how can you lead your team with the same mindset of taking people out of their comfort zone and understand that it’s a long-term goal,”


she explains. “Some will fail and some will succeed, but it is important to take what you’ve learned and create an environment in which they feel as though they are on the same team and moving together toward the same goal."


In suburban Philadelphia, a destination that has found great success in the realm of culinary team building is Normandy Farm Hotel and Conference Center in Blue Bell, PA.


According to Laura Marra, corporate planner for Normandy Farm, the property recently revamped all of the culinary team building activities it offers to guests. Its newest offerings consist of the following team activities: The Farmer’s Market; Pan Asian Cuisine; Bakers VS Fakers; and the Make a Cake Challenge.


“Our Farmer’s Market theme is perfect for groups that are a bit more health conscious and really focused toward that ‘farm fresh’ experience,” observes Marra. “In Bakers VS Fakers, the guests get to compete against our pastry team to create the best cookies. It is the perfect activity to let out some secret creativity… Having such a variety of offerings allows us to accommodate all types and sizes of groups. From savory to sweet, we’ve got it all!"


The culinary team building offerings at Normandy Farm provide fun and unique activities for guests as they learn to work together in a casual environment. These offerings provide employees with an opportunity to experience cooperation, channel communication and mitigate any problems that may arise in a quick and effective manner. Generating this rapport can be extremely beneficial in creating a strong company foundation, Marra asserts.


"How an individual portrays his or herself in a professional environment might not fully reflect their talents or personality,” she adds.


“Putting people in a variety of unusual situations through different experiences allows them to express these hidden abilities and traits that otherwise may not come out in their normal day-to-day positions."


"My colleagues and I were able to participate in an ‘Escape the Room’ activity together,” Marra continues. “Seeing the way that each of us used our personal strengths to compensate for one another’s weakness allowed us to better understand each other and use our team’s skills to our advantage."


In addition to its culinary offerings, Normandy Farm also recently formed relationships with several local vendors as a way to offer an even larger variety of team building activities to guests. “This has given us the opportunity to venture out into new markets and provide more options, which is extremely beneficial - not only to keeping our current clients returning - but to catch the attention of new clients, as well," says Marra.


"Two of my favorites are ‘Axe Throwing’ by Throwhouse and ‘Murder Mystery Dinners’ by Without a Cue Productions,” she explains. “Axe throwing is such a unique and fun experience for groups that are looking for a more active and physical challenge to bring their employees together. Though it is one of our newest offerings, it is definitely one of the most popular and attention grabbing."


"The Murder Mystery Dinner is an activity better suited for groups looking to enhance their dinner experience with a little role playing,” Marra continues. “Though I had never experienced an activity like this, our team was lucky enough to participate in their ‘Slaying at the Sapphire Club’ portrayal. It was such an entertaining way to see our colleagues in a different light; especially when our CFO was ‘murdered’ and fell to the floor!"


Whenever a group partakes in a team building activity, it becomes the “talk of the office” for the next few days, Marra explains. She says it gives coworkers a topic or reason to talk and sparks more conversations with each other than they had beforehand.


While creating more conversation and discussions among an office would be considered a short-term benefit of experiencing a team building activity, it also has the long-term effect of giving employees a sense of commonality and therefore creates stronger bonds throughout an office.


“This effect eventually turns into a very beneficial aspect of an office by having stronger relationships and emphasizing communication across channels and yielding a more satisfied and productive team."


Leave it to the Hershey Destination Services team at Hershey Entertainment and Resorts in Hershey, PA to use chocolate in a variety of unique ways as part of its team bonding activities. Hershey Destination Services is a service exclusive to Hershey Resorts meeting and conference planners, and offers a number of team bonding activities that involve food and/or drink.


For example, there are Wine and Chocolate pairings at The Hotel Hershey, which are an educational, yet fun, team bonding experience. Participants learn the ins and outs of wine, chocolate and how to pair the two. It’s particularly ideal for groups who do a lot of entertaining, as participants take away a new “hosting” skill after learning the tastes and flavor profiles of different wines.


Another offering is Chocolate Martini Mixology at Hershey Lodge. In this entertaining social event, participants learn how to create Hershey’s signature cocktails, including: the Hershey’s Kisses Signature Chocolate Martini; Hershey’s Special Dark Martini; Hershey’s Chocolate Caramel Martini; and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Martini.


These are lighthearted and fun filled sessions, observes Lauren Imes, director of Hershey Destination Services, “Every time I walk by a room where Chocolate Martini Mixology is happening, people are laughing.”


Cupcakes and Cocktails at The Hotel Hershey is a team bonding activity that pairs various sweet treats with cocktails as part of an interactive program that’s well suited for after lunch or after dinner programming.


Through their Fruit and Vegetable 500, teams are equipped with fresh fruits and vegetables, wheels, and cutlery, and are challenged to work together to create a race car that meets race specifications. As the program moves along, teams have the opportunity to earn accessories for their cars by correctly answering trivia questions. Teams then head to the track to see how their cars run with both toy wheels and produce wheels down a 32-foot track.


Of course, Hershey also boasts a Chocolate Challenge, where the group is broken into project teams, supplied with a generous amount of Hershey’s candy products, and challenged to build a completely edible structure. It sounds easy, but this activity is full of challenges designed to get the team working together in new ways.


Finally, Special Truffles and Tastings at The Hershey Story Museum is inspired by Milton Hershey's own candy-making apprenticeship and his flair for experimentation. In the Chocolate Lab, teams explore the unique qualities of chocolate through playful, hands-on experiences and interactive demonstrations.


Attendees make their own truffles using a classic dark chocolate ganache center, white or milk chocolate coatings and can finish them off with a choice of toppings. While the truffles are setting, guests enjoy warm drinking chocolate samples from several countries in the cocoa growing regions.


By the People, For the People


Another unique form of team building is one that exercises the mind over all else. Both the creative side and analytical side of the brain need to be stimulated and challenged, says. Angela Sontheimer, chief operating officer for The Lincoln Leadership Institute at Gettysburg, PA, which offers a range of unique ways to do just that.


"We feel our programs are so effective because they combine emotional learning with intellectual learning,” explains Sontheimer. “By blending these two learning styles teams are able to become a bit more vulnerable with each other, make connections and strengthen their ties. In our experience, when teams learn emotionally together the lessons are ones that stay with participants forever."


Sontheimer says that the programs offered by The Lincoln Leadership Institute are so impactful in large part due to the stellar faculty they employ. Included among these instructors are industry thought leaders, renown historians and some of the nation’s top military elite. “Their lessons on team building are invaluable!"


"We also use a blended learning style of class room, experiences and always finish with a comprehensive debrief that brings the experience full circle with direct applications to their work lives,” she adds. “It’s creative and extensive… Finally, our programs are fun!"


The Lincoln Leadership Institute offers multi-day immersive experiences for teams. These experiences use the lens of history and the world of motor sports to examine modern business issues and bring teams together to bond and gain consensus on key issues.


“Our programs are based in Gettysburg, at the Alamo, in Normandy, and Pearl Harbor, as well as at VIRginia International Raceway,” notes Sontheimer.


“In each program, teams come together to experience emotional and intellectual learning, spend time enjoying meals together, and work on enterprise-wide issues of leadership, followership and strengthening relationships."


She says that their most popular offering is their Transformational Journey from Gettysburg. “This program uses the hallowed battlefields of the Gettysburg National Military Park as our classroom to bring groups together in a shared experience. During their time with us, teams experience several case studies and spend time together both in the classroom and walking the grounds. Case studies focus on positioning for strategic advantage, leadership versus management, and having courageous conversations.”


“Each session also includes an intimate audience with a former Navy SEAL in which they relate how they have built and led teams tasked with some of our nation’s most challenging military missions," Sontheimer adds.


Though these experiences are vastly different from each other, all have the same mission and purpose - to bring attendees closer by having them overcome challenges together through teamwork and cooperative thinking. Each member of the team plays a part in finding a solution and demonstrates value in a way that isn’t always easy to see in day-to-day operations within the workplace.

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