Startup. Gen X. Millennials. Employee engagement. That should be enough buzzwords to last us a decade. Yet none of our 30+ employees let out a single groan about Bananatag's team building experience at Tough Mudder Whistler.
Tough Mudder is an endurance race with military style obstacles and, as the name suggests, a lot of mud. It's notoriously difficult and toys with people's fears, whether it's heights, water, getting dirty, or claustrophobia.
The catch? In order to get through any of the obstacles, you're going to need a hand from a few members of your team because it's impossible to get through it alone.
We're a small company that solves big company problems with employee engagement.
Even though we're small, we're not immune to the these challenges -- we also struggle with similar issues every company faces.
At Bananatag, collaboration is encouraged and promoted. We have tools to bring us together and to make doing our jobs easier, but our offices are still a four-hour drive apart, one in Vancouver and the other in Kelowna. That geographical distance is tough to bridge.
If you haven’t met one of your coworkers in another office or haven't had a meaningful conversation with them, you might not be as empathetic to their requests or needs...they’re just creating more work.
By the end of Tough Mudder weekend, our employees were more connected, they actually knew each other in different offices and departments, and everyone came out of the experience having a ball (albeit, with a few bruises).
So... how did we manage to do it?
Step 1: Be organic
When we had the idea to
force invite our employees to Tough Mudder, it happened organically. One of our coworkers in the Vancouver office saw an ad for Tough Mudder and sent everyone a link on Slack: "this looks like fun!". Simple as that, the idea was planted.
We took an event some were already interested in, that also fit our need to bring our two offices together, and turned it into a team building party. The lesson: listen to your employees, as it's likely they already have some terrific ideas.
Jumping in with an open mind and letting go of expectations that come along with corporate team building lifted off a lot of the pressure that everyone must become best friends. This also made it feel genuine and authentic, rather than a stiff event forced on employees.
After a tiny bit of reluctance, everyone was signed up and our Tough Mudder experience was starting to come together.
Step 2: Plan inclusively
Having the event plan accessible to everyone was central to keeping employees in the loop and excited about the obstacle course. Rather than Tough Mudder being just another event in everyone's Google Calendar, we had a dedicated Slack channel called #toughmudderquestions.
Our team could ask questions, send GIFS, express excitement (or ultimate terror) and those planning could gather necessary information to make sure the event was a success.
This channel acted as a constant 'hype up' tool for the event and even brought our employees into the excitement.
Step 3: Destroy their egos
One of the challenges of employee bonding is having employees let down their guard. One of the ways to do that is to jump around in some mud. Even the most athletic people saw it as a test.
Tough Mudder is challenging, a little uncomfortable, and also the perfect opportunity to embarrass yourself. For employees to connect and engage, the formula might be to step out of the comfort zone.
In other words, make them feel a bit vulnerable by putting them in a position where they're not 100% confident. It's okay to for employees to feel a little uneasy, as long as something will make up for that uncertainty in the end and they experience a true sense of accomplishment.
For a big team-centric event like this, wanted to make our employees united as a team. In came our banana suits, the official Bananatag uniform. How exclusionary would it have been climbing up the high, muddy walls of Tough Mudder without one? We needed an identifier, something to unite us all. ProTip: the sillier, the better.
Step 4: Accomplish something
There's mud. There's sweat. There are even a few tears. Participants have to give each other piggy back rides, crawl on each other's shoulders up a human ladder. The eight kilometre obstacle course is bound to give a few people a scare and make them question their physical ability.
Tough Mudder and similar events are so effective because it's a team effort. Finishing the obstacle course as a unit gives everyone on your team a sense of accomplishment they might not usually get doing individual tasks at work.
Set a goal to stick together. Communicate that goal to your team so everyone feels a sense of ownership to the challenge and do it. Don't forget your rallying cry: BUNCH UP!
On top of the overarching challenge of Tough Mudder, we added a separate challenge, specific to the Bananatag team: everyone has to carry an egg with them throughout the course. The bananas with their egg still intact, win a prize. That prize was a bottle of Advocaat, a traditional Dutch liqueur made from sugar, brandy, and... eggs. See the connection?
Step 5: Throw a kick-ass party
Having experienced together, connecting, helping each other over obstacles, it's important to take advantage of the fact that everyone has shared an experience. The physical challenge of Tough Mudder intensifies the reward of finishing the obstacle course as a team.
Once you've made your employees exhausted and beaten after completing a military-style obstacle course, throw a kick-ass party at the end of the day to wrap up your event and give everyone something to look forward to. Make sure to include good pizza and beer.
Besides being really fun, there's a lot more importance to the party aspect than it just being a good time. Employees will want to reminisce and connect about the days activities -- this is crucial to solidifying that connection.
Set the party up for success and let the real team building happen organically.
It's been a few days since we completed the obstacle course as a team and we can't wait till Tough Mudder 2017. In fact, we already submitted our order for 300 banana suits.
Catch you in the mud!