- The Washington Times - Monday, September 18, 2000

On a rainy day in August, the mana-gers at the two Marriott hotels in Crystal City were-n't doing their jobs.
Instead of run-ning the front desk, catering to hotel guests or organizing conventions, they were on a scavenger hunt.
The managers broken into nine teams had only a little time to develop a strategy before being sent out into the city to find and do dozens of quirky things.
Throughout the four-hour scavenger hunt the employees were getting their pictures taken on a carousel, in a dentist's chair and on a courier's bike, answering nearly impossible trivia questions, tracking down members of Congress and collecting souvenirs like a brochure from the MCI Center, a taxicab receipt or map of the National Zoo. They even had to create and sing a song about their adventures.
It was all part of a day of team building for the management-level employees at the Crystal City Marriott and the Crystal Gateway Marriott, where recently employees have come and gone and new faces were in leadership positions.
Thanks to a competitive job market and intriguing technology start-ups, workers not just in the hotel business are being lured away from one company to start at another with enticing benefits, higher pay and a carefree work-place environment.
Companies are now trying to come up with ways to enhance relationships between employees and management, communicate better, problem-solve more effectively and have fun doing it.
"It's about camaraderie," said David Friedberg, area director of marketing for the Arlington-area Marriotts. "You can just see [the improvement in morale]. Not too often with fellow workers can you sing a song and get silly."
Those days of sitting in a board room being lectured about working together and accepting employee differences are numbered.
Instead, corporations are spicing up their team spirit in unusual ways from corporatewide scavenger hunts and cooking classes to outdoor challenges like ropes courses, rafting and kayaking.
Team-building exercises "give people a break from their routine," said Nancy Needhammer, a business and leadership coach in Olney. "It helps people understand their talent and strengths so both they and the business can grow."
And more and more companies are catching on.
Capitol Services Inc., which organized the Marriotts' scavenger hunt, has had an increase in corporate team-building events within the past two years.
"It's so important in today's job market to help team morale," said Jill McGregor, president of Capitol Services, a destination management company that usually caters to conventions providing all types of services for the attendees.
The Alexandria-based company organizes about 10 to 15 team-building events a year, but scavenger hunts are the most popular, Ms. McGregor said.
Since many times the groups are gathered together from all over the country, it's a way to get them to explore Washington but also work together toward a common goal, Ms. McGregor said.
The meeting planners want more than a cocktail reception for their guests so the team-building exercises are added to help create "camaraderie and keep them focused on a team goal," she said.
Team-building exercises aren't anything new, but they are getting more attention and more creative.
"I think its a culmination of lots of cultural changes that an organization faces like the global economy and increased comp-etition," said Davita Crawford of Haymarket, Va., who works with team building, consulting and human resources for companies. "My experience is how creative a company is willing to be is a reflection of the culture inside the organization.
"Some folks associate fun with not [being] productive or not learning," she said. "But the more fun and engaging it is, the more involved [a person will be] in the experience."
Outdoor adventure companies such as Outward Bound, which organizes programs all over the country, and Darnestown-based Upward Enterprises Inc., have special corporate-designed act-ivities and events.
Upward Enterprises founder and President Mark Hardie said the No. 1 problem companies are trying to correct is miscommunication. When a team is on a ropes course or any kind of challenge, whether its mental or physical, they are forced to communicate to be successful.

Climbing high

The Ropes Challenge Courses operated by Upward Enterprises are by far the most popular program for clients.
The 6-year-old company has designed and operates three ropes courses at the Butler Montessori School in Darnestown, Smokey Glen Farm in Gaithersburg and the Pavilions of Turkey Run in McLean. The courses are constructed with wood, ropes and cable in trees and the activities vary in height from 18 inches to 50 feet above the ground.
On Sept. 21, about 30 employees at Ford Motor Co.'s regional sales office in Chantilly will be the first group to use the Turkey Run course, which was completed in August.
"People don't really get to know each other when they are in the office," said Mark Baker, a zone manager for Ford who organized the event. "This is a way of doing something outside the box."
Mr. Baker, who took a ropes course instruction class in college, said the course is a way for the office to discover their "strengths and weaknesses."
A large majority of Upward Enterprises' clients are institutions like high schools and colleges, but corporations have been a growing segment for the business in the past few years.
"Every year we've gotten busier," Mr. Hardie said. While the ropes courses can be used by any age, many of the companies have a younger generation of workers and are technology oriented like Equinex and Aerotech, Mr. Hardie said.
The adventure company has a "Corporate Connection" program that's customized to meet the needs of the group from improving communication skills and leadership development to awareness of self and others, building trust and self-esteem.
"Companies want to provide an avenue for individuals to work together to get to know each other and create awareness of their own patterns," said Michele Hatfield, who works part time for Upward Enterprises and designed the Corporate Connection program.
Every company has a different agenda.
Many of them want the one-day adventure to correct their workplace problem and that can't always happen in that short of a period of time, Mr. Hardie said.
"If you do not revisit that [problem] area, you'll go back and keep doing it," Mr. Hardie said. "But you can get a lot done in one day. You can get a newfound respect and knowledge of the people you work with."
The activities like the ropes courses are just a "metaphor" for what goes on in the workplace, Mr. Hardie said.
"It has to be recognized for what it is," said Howard Weizmann, managing consultant for the Washington office of Watson Wyatt Worldwide, a human resources consulting firm. "There may be team behaviors that emerge, but if you're involved in a specific task not related to your business task it doesn't tell you how to perform that business task better."
However Mr. Weizmann said these team-building activities do help workers gain trust among themselves.
"Anything that builds trust for a group is good," Mr. Weizmann said. "That's a prerequisite for a team."
All the employees, including the boss or top manager should take part in these activities to be the most effective, Mr. Hardie said.
"It's best when whoever is running the show is crawling in the mud with the rest of them," Mr. Hardie said.

A teamwork recipe

No matter the level of difficulty an activity has whether its physical or mental companies are engaging in these activities to get their employees to work together.
Culinary classes have become a another popular team-building activity around the country.
Sur La Table, a Seattle-based kitchenware retailer, has had more than 100 classes at some of its demonstration kitchens around the country, providing classes for such clients as Charles Schwab, American Airlines and Kaiser Permanente.
Doralece Dullaghan, corporate promotions manager at Sur La Table, said she expects the same kind of interest at its Pentagon Row location when it opens at the end of January. Groups can work at its 753-square-foot kitchen to create an entire menu.
Usually the menu is broken down into segments and groups within the group are each responsible for a part of the menu, which would then be served to the rest of the group.
Mrs. Needhammer and Ms. Crawford, along with gourmet chef and writer Leslie Pendleton have created a local partnership, "Ingredients for Success," that will incorporate cooking and behavioral tests that figure out strengths and weaknesses.
"Cooking gives people a break from their routine," Mrs. Needhammer said. "It's new way at looking at behavioral styles and see how that plays out when they prepare a gourmet meal."
"Ingredients for Success," which hasn't actually started yet, will not only focus on cooking, but whatever creative activity fits the corporation from watercolors and finger paints to writing song lyrics and creating dance steps.
"People tend to lose themselves when engaged in an activity," said Ms. Crawford. "They drop their defenses."

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