Big teams? No problem

Studies show and experience confirms that small teams work better than large teams in team building events. Opinions vary on the ideal team size, but generally experts agree that between five to seven members per team works best for most tasks.

But sometimes circumstances dictate larger teams. While organizations can still pull off enjoyable, effective team building events with groups in excess of ten or twelve - we've done it for groups of twenty or more - these large groups require some adjustments on the part of all concerned.

Here are five key adjustments to make when conducting team building events for large (more than twelve member) teams:

1. Multiply team roles.

Team titles (like “runner” or “communicator”) are usually geared toward making sure everyone on an ideal-sized team has a role to play in the team’s success. But coming up with fifteen or twenty separate jobs and titles is a stretch for even the most experienced Game Director.

Instead, double up. Have two runners instead of one. Add a “team historian” to help the “scribe.” Instead of a “cheerleader,” have a “cheer squad.” Use your imagination.

2. Multiply team tasks.

If your team’s goal is normally to build one bike, make them build two. A one-mile relay can become a two-miler, and so on. Keep everyone busy and involved.

3. Re-evaluate and adjust the agenda.

Make sure you have at least one activity early in your schedule that requires participation by the entire team. The objective is for the entire team to bond, not just a subset that is willing to “take over” the agenda - often with willing acceptance by those sitting out.

4. Be prepared for arguments.

Few activities can sustain continued participation by every member of a large group for any length of time. Also, larger numbers increases the chance that personalities will clash. Thus, the larger the group, the greater the likelihood for conflict - within teams, across teams, and between participants and game directors.

Squabbles within teams usually can be managed by the individuals or teams themselves, but keep an eye out for conflicts that could lead to teams breaking down or causing other individuals to check out. Work quickly to help teams defuse issues that arise and get the team back on track.

Some participants may disengage from the activity and engage in anti-competitive activities with participants from other teams. For example, in a bike build, they may “steal” tools or parts from another team. Be extra vigilant and work quickly to stamp out such activities. Hefty “fines” (time or point penalties) usually works well to discourage that behavior.

Others may feel that arguing with Game Directors might help their team find solutions to the puzzles or challenges. This makes the Game Director’s job much more challenging. Again, be quick to adjudicate and make sure that any assistance or clues offered to any one team is shared with all of the other teams at the same time. I usually don’t even respond directly to the individual making the challenge but instead I address the entire group, first repeating the question or challenge and then providing my response.

5. Add Game Directors and Assistants.

This may seem obvious, but some team building companies simply don’t have the staff or foresight to staff up as the group’s numbers rise. We find the most success with one game director for every 4-5 teams of 5-8 players, but expanding team size increases the complexity of the games almost as much as increasing the number of teams. Providing assistants to the game directors allows for better support for each player, which helps the teams succeed.

Large-team events can succeed, with a little foresight and planning. Experienced team building firms know how to make the adjustments and make your event work for you.


Seven ways to make team building game rules fun

No matter what type of game you play, be it for team building purposes or just to show the neighbor kids that you can still out-maneuver them at two-hand touch, it’s best to start the game with a clear understanding of the rules. The last thing anyone wants is for the game to break down with arguments or to end acrimoniously because people understood the rules differently.

But “laying down the law” can put a real damper on a game right at the moment that energy for the game is at peak - at the beginning. That can put a real damper on the fun. This is particularly important in team building, when any number of the participants may be there against their will and are only half-believing the event could possibly be enjoyable in the first place.

A good game director can keep the rule-giving portion of the game fun - and therefore keep the energy of the group high - by following a few simple guidelines (dare I say rules?):

1. Engage her personality.

The person leading a team building game became game director for a reason:  she knows how to have fun, and help others have fun. Why then do so many game directors check their personalities at the door when it comes to laying down the rules?

The answer is simple:  they don’t want to mess up. Clarity is valued above hilarity at this crucial moment. She doesn’t want game participants to later cry foul, that it was the game director’s fault that people messed up.

My perspective on this is, simply put, the opposite. A dime will get you a dollar if someone in the group misunderstands the rules, no matter how clearly you state them. In fact people are more likely to remember the rules if you make them laugh than if you don’t.

So, a good game director will let her own personal funny shine through. She’ll crack her favorite jokes, let her guard down and allow herself to be seen as an interesting human being. It’ll be far more memorable - and isn’t that the point?

2. Share the rules in writing.

This is cover for rule #1. No matter how goofy a game director gets when stating the rules, he can always recover from misunderstandings by reminding participants to read what’s on the page in front of them.

3. Demonstrate rules in a silly way.

Recently we held a search party event at the Kennedy School in Portland, a former grade school converted into a brewery, pub, theater and B&B. One of the rules was, “No sharing.” I covered the rule thusly:  “This was a grade school, not a kindergarten. Since we skipped kindergarten, we’ll pretend none of you learned to share. Perfect!”

They laughed, then read the rule written on the page. The whole thing took five seconds.

Later, when a participant had the opportunity to “steal” an answer from another team, she took great pains not to do so.

4. Go through the rules quickly

Nobody showed up to your company’s event to sit through a long exposition of rules. The game director should get ‘em over and done with, already.

5.Keep the rules to a minimum.

All people need is the basics on how the game is played and how to win. The rest of it is fluff. Game directors should skip the fluff - it'll same time for the funny stuff.


6. Don’t take the rules too seriously.

The point of the game is to have fun, right? And since the game starts with the rules, that’s a fine place to start having fun.

I like to mess with the rules by inserting some clearly arbitrary, never-to-be-enforced frivolity in them... that keeps the participants doubting. For example, we tell participants that they’ll be penalized ten points from their score if we catch them ÆöΓÚÑ the €ÝãΔ èÇœΠÞ more than once.*

Nobody’s ever wanted to challenge us on that.

7. Don’t take the game director too seriously.

Game directors have a job to do. That job is to make participants smile. I know of no better way than to smile myself. When I do, I find my own fun quotient going up - and that of the game participants as well. Game directors must lead by example, i.e. by having fun!

* Redacted “for security reasons.”


Build Teams and Communities the CSR Way

Corporate Social Responsibility, or CSR, is a buzzword getting a lot of play lately. But what is it and how can it be used in team building?

According to CSRAward (, “Corporate social responsibility is about how businesses align their values and behaviour with the expectations and needs of stakeholders - not just customers and investors, but also employees, suppliers, communities, regulators, special interest groups and society as a whole.”

It is, in other words, when a for-profit institution gives back to the community in a meaningful way, paying attention not only to its own profits but to the “quadruple bottom line” - the economic, social, cultural, and environmental impacts of its actions.

Organizations manifest CSR in a variety of ways. Eli Lilly, for example, devotes its entire worldwide workforce for a day to community service, such as volunteering for Habitat for Humanity. Siemens initiated a ‘Turtle Walk’ to educate the public and take steps to protect endangered Oliver Ridley turtles.

Such activities not only benefit the community, but also the company. In fact a key benefit of CSR is the improved morale, sense of teamwork and connection to the community felt by staff who participate.

For this reason as well as to pay closer attention to the bottom line in a tough economy, companies are increasingly choosing to integrate its CSR activities with team building activities. Firms recognize both the intrinsic and economic benefit to the improved communication, coordination, morale and teamwork that team building provides.

The key to successful CSR-integrated team building is:  make it fun. Employees should walk away from the event feeling good about the event AND their team.

Events like “Freewheel” (aka build-a-bike), where staff work together to build a child’s first bike, not only provide a disadvantaged child with their first-ever bike, but also provide the employee significant gratification when they see the surprised smile on the delighted child’s face. Events like “Play it Forward” allow an organization to spread the charity among several worthy recipients while giving the employee some fun (and sometimes downright wacky) out-of-the-gift-box activities.

CSR team building can be both rewarding and fun. There is almost certainly an event appropriate to your company - and your community. To find out how, contact Run Brain Run.


Avoiding Lame Morale Events

We have all been there - those lame attempts by managers trying to place a "band-aid" over the real issues within your organization. Morale events are supposed to be great fun, but lately, they're not even close. It's more like corporate re-runs of the same dull tricks: pizzas for lunch, bowling, movies, or wearing Bermuda shorts on casual Fridays. Doing the "same old, same old" every quarter just creates boredom and dread. Playing it safe never ever provides stories. "We went bowling." Yawn!

In these times, we are lucky to get these perks at all, but that doesn’t mean it has to be boring. A fun outdoor event such as a scavenger hunt or "alias and alibi" type of game can help boost morale in two important ways. First, competitive games like these offer colleagues a chance to build real relationships. By allowing them to play together, they might learn that an annoying boss or co-worker is actually pretty cool, or at least dependable under pressure. While not becoming bosom buddies overnight, a mutual respect and understanding will develop creating less stress and tension between office workers.

Second, competitive games (such as those offered by Run Brain Run) inject fun and something different into the group dynamic to create good fun and memories. Good morale events create stories that live on within your organization. And if you did a game with HD video, you can pop the recording onto YouTube and be the envy of the office or other departments who chose not to participate.

Competitive, fun team building games offer a chance for colleagues to build and establish relations and injects something new and fresh into the mundane world of team building. Try it out for yourself. You will be having fun in no time.


Event Planning at the Kennedy School

We're finishing up on the final reconfirmations for a Search Party scavenger hunt through the Kennedy School this Friday. Even though we've run this game many times, the same questions always come up. Here's some thoughts on how to make your Kennedy School scavenger hunt a successful one:

  • Starting and ending location. No matter what, when booking with us, we will always reserve a private event room so that we're not crowding into a public space.
  • Food & Drink. Not only do we cover the private room reservation, but we always provide limited sips and nibbles before, during or after the game (depending on your preference). If you want more food or want to have a full lunch/dinner before or after, just ask us for additional choices ranging from deli trays to carved roast stations!
  • Drinking during the game. We assume you're talking about the fresh (Bull Run!) drinking water that is in abundance all over the facilities. No? Well, we can add an open bar, no-host bar, or even provide drink tickets for game players to grab a fine McMenamins' beer made on the premises or a killer glass of wine from the Edgefield Winery while your group in the middle of running their amazing race.
  • Hours. Outside of our game area, there are limited facilities open in midday hours Monday through Friday. We always advise the meeting planners to pay attention to which restaurants are open before or after the event. The one facility that we always are asked about is the Boiler Room. The hours on the Kennedy School website are not always right. Here's our information as of the day of this posting: Monday–Thursday, 4 p.m. to 1 a.m.; Fridays, 2 p.m. to 2:30 a.m.; Saturdays, 12 noon to 2:30 a.m.; Sunday, 12 noon to 1 a.m.
  • Something special. If you already have a wedding or another event setup at the Kennedy School, consider booking with us; we'll be the talk of the group!

No matter what, imagine the fun you and your guests will have at the 1911 Kennedy School, a building rich in history and ambiance. Just don't get sent to the Detention bar.


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