Next level teambuilding

As employers look to cajole their staff towards higher productivity levels, many are turning to teambuilding activities to boost engagement and teamwork. HRM Asia sheds light on some of the quirky and unusual options available.

Say the word “teambuilding” and images of cold function rooms, communication coaches, and generic ice-breaker exercises may come to mind.

This traditional formula was once the only effective approach for building stronger bonds between employees, improving staff engagement and developing a more inclusive company culture. But not anymore.

“Companies have become bored of doing the same old classroom-based trust exercises and generic teambuilding games,” explains Gavin Barnes, Director of Corporate Development at Mega Adventure, an obstacle course-based theme park specialising in outdoor teambuilding sessions.

More than ever, having an enjoyable time while nurturing cohesion has become the top priority for companies during group development programmes. And they are exploring new and innovative avenues to achieve these objectives.

“Clients are looking to expand comfort zones, encourage intelligent risk-taking in a safe environment, and break down barriers that may exist in a corporate environment,” says Barnes.

Steven Chung, head of events and programming at Sentosa Leisure Management, also notes that clients want to get out of the typical hotel ballroom setting for teambuilding events.

“The most successful and memorable events are the ones that do not feel like a day in the office,” he says. “So having fun is always one of their foremost criteria.”

Elton Lee, CEO of Village Singapura, a teambuilding organiser that offers throwback role-playing activities, agrees that companies are now seeking a broader range of experiences.

“The trend is to look for activities that allow everyone to bond while having fun,” says Lee. “Employers want to see their employees smile and laugh during the exercise.”

Drama mama

Lee reasons that clients are demanding more creative activities because employees have become more sophisticated and discerning.

“Customers don’t want to participate in the same activities twice,” he says.

Village Singapura transports participants back to 1930s’ Singapore through its innovative live role-playing games.

Although the skit-based games are fresh and fun, they do not compromise on collaboration and learning.

The company’s most popular activity is called “Village Drama Mama”, and it sees participants form teams and put together skits based on Singapore’s history.

First, participants have to compete against each other in yesteryear activities such as identifying Indian spices; learning Chinese paper-cutting; mastering Chapteh – a game where participants have to keep a weighted shuttlecock in the air using only their feet; and balancing stones.

Participants then form teams and use what they have learned in a group skit. Midway through the skit, teams will encounter a surprise situation that threatens to disrupt their storyline. Faced with this crisis, they have to stay in character and improvise as a team to stop the plot from being interrupted.

In another game, participants act as merchants, rickshaw pullers, or migrants who have just arrived on the island. The Great Depression has struck and players have to find jobs and overcome challenges in order to survive.

As memorabilia, participants also take a group “retro-selfie” at the end of the exercises.

Lee says the activities are conducted at its Chinatown facility, a shophouse building cleverly modelled after a 1930s Malay “kampong” hut.

The company has worked with organisations including DBS Bank, Exxon Mobil, and the Ministry of Manpower since it opened its doors last year.

“We are seeing strong interest and have received many enquiries about our role-playing games because of their unique nature,” says Lee. Village Singapura also works closely with HR departments and employers to develop customised programmes that work with their individual budgets.

“We identify the issues they face as well as their organisational goals, and design an activity accordingly,” Lee shares.

Elevated experience

Mega Adventure’s Barnes says his clients are specifically looking for teambuilding opportunities that offer a fresh and fun experience that also fosters knowledge-sharing and team bonding.

“The majority of groups come to us to have fun, improve team cohesion, and to provide a platform for their team to relax and get to know each other better in a unique environment,” he says.

Mega Adventure does just that, taking teambuilding, literally, to another level.

Located at the top of Imbiah Hill on Sentosa, its large facility boasts three treetop obstacle courses, a free fall simulator, a rock climbing wall, and a 450-metre zip-line course.

“All these features that we offer on our grounds mean the majority of our programmes cannot be replicated elsewhere,” says Barnes.

One of Mega Adventure’s most popular activities is its very own “Adventure Race”.

“Several providers do have their own version of The Amazing Race (reality television competition),” he acknowledges. “However, ours is the only one that incorporates aerial activities (such as obstacle courses) at our park, beach activities, as well as other attractions on Sentosa Island.

“The option to include other locations on the island has proven to be a big pull for our race.”

Barnes says the race checkpoints and challenges are located near the main sights and attractions on Sentosa Island, including the Luge and Skyride, Madam Tussauds, and the Merlion statue.

After all the checkpoints and challenges have been cleared, teams finish the race by gliding down the zip-line back at Mega Adventure Park.

Fun in the sun

Barnes says the company’s other unique offering is its full-day outdoor programme, which has been rapidly gaining popularity in recent years.

The programme combines all the amenities and features available at Mega Adventure, giving participants a full day in the sun, while having fun together as a team.

“Traditionally, full-day programmes have been half a day in a function room, followed by outdoor activities at our park,” Barnes says. “More recently though, groups have been requesting full-day outdoor programmes.”

“That’s because without fun, learning and development can become very stale,” he explains.

The company also recently started to incorporate more activities and games at checkpoints, emphasising cooperation between team members.

“Our activities keep people wondering about what to expect, and set out challenges that people must overcome as individuals and in teams,” shares Barnes.

“Teams that are able to relate to the lessons from these safe and controlled environments are able to take them back to work, apply them, and increase productivity.”

Mega Adventure also offers customised packages for companies that might have different needs.

“There is no one-size-fits-all approach to teambuilding, which is why all of our programmes are merely templates that can be moulded to fit the specific requirements of each team,” Barnes explains.

Sentosa Leisure Management, which oversees all operations on the island resort, also has its own corporate teambuilding package that promotes employee cohesiveness by merging the elements of fun and sun.

The programme, named “The Sentosa Imbiah Challenge”, incorporates a mix of challenges from television shows like Survivor, Fear Factor, and The Amazing Race. Participants have to work hand-in-hand to complete tasks at various stations all around the island.

Chung says the company talks to its clients first to get a clearer idea of participant demographics, before suggesting activities that may suit their requirements.

Increased engagement

Companies around Singapore and Southeast Asia are becoming more and more aware of the benefits of non-traditional teambuilding activities.

“Companies are slowly realising that employees are their most valued assets,” Chung says. “Keeping them energised, entertained, and engaged not only boosts morale, but invariably enhances productivity, as it helps co-workers work better together.”

He says Sentosa’s teambuilding revenue has almost tripled in the last two years.

Lee concurs that there are significant positive effects that come from creative teambuilding activities.

“Unconventional activities are better able to leave an impact on their employees as the conventional ones may lead to disengaged participants who may have already experienced the same thing,” he suggests.

“Clients tell me that long after the session, their colleagues still talk about the role-playing games, like the time someone acted as Sir Stamford Raffles or as the funny lion in their skit,” Lee shares.

He adds that successful teambuilding also helps to retain top talent and reduce attrition rates, by reinforcing a close-knit culture and fun working environment.

“Well-designed teambuilding can help colleagues get to know each other, especially after a restructuring,” says Lee. “Business results are delivered as a result.”

Barnes agrees that creativity is often the major difference when it comes to teambuilding.

“In an age of high turnover, there is an emphasis on talent retention,” he explains. “It has been identified that an engaged workforce that has pride in their company and the environment at work will remain together, and perform exponentially more efficiently.”

He further adds that the advantages of customised corporate teambuilding programmes are multi-fold.

“The beauty of specialised corporate team building is that the benefits can be whatever the organiser wishes them to be,” he notes.

“The guaranteed benefits focus on team bonding, communication, and engagement; and programmes can be designed to include specific activities and challenges within each activity, to work towards previously outlined benefits.”

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