- Associated Press - Sunday, July 13, 2014

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - Mixing work and play can lead to better productivity.

That’s why it’s not uncommon to see grown men and women jumping on trampolines and climbing ropes at Leif Ericson Day Camp or even learning the sport of curling.

“We try to introduce activities that are out of everyone’s element,” Karla Santi, a partner at Blend Interactive, told the Argus Leader (http://argusne.ws/U46Nd7 ). The staff of 17 at the Web strategy, design and development business recently went curling.

“Nobody even knew the rules,” she said.

The only real rule was to have fun and embrace something new.

“We could all be silly and be bad at something together,” Santi said. “It was competitive but not.”

After some recession-related cutbacks, several businesses in Sioux Falls increasingly tout the importance of team building for employees. Activities vary and often include a community component or additional training.

When people work hard, it is important to balance that with play, executives say.

While none of the companies can list a monetary return on investment for team building, they say it fosters teamwork, stronger communication and content employees. That adds up to better company productivity.

Getting to know each other outside of work helps at work, Santi said. That’s one reason Blend has lunch catered into the company kitchen each Friday. Workers sit around one big table and can talk about things other than work. Blend designed its office to have a full, homey kitchen and other collaborative space.

“I feel like communication is critical on projects. When you know the people well that you work with, it’s easier to communicate,” Santi said.

At ethanol giant Poet, with more than 300 employees in Sioux Falls and 1,700 companywide, it’s important that people have the chance to get to know each other instead feeling like strangers who happen to work at the same company, executives said.

Without an emphasis on training in smaller groups, department team-building events and community service work outside the office, the company likely wouldn’t have the same warm, friendly atmosphere that senior vice president of human resources Colleen Stratton sees.

“If team members spend time together, they find their department works better and the company tends to grow and flourish,” she said.

After one department did the Leif Ericson ropes course more than a year ago, employees came back with a new appreciation for each other because they had to work together to complete tasks on the course.

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