From communicating with horses to building boats, innovative team-building activities are reinventing business travel.
By Joe Yogerst
Business travel doesn’t have to be limited to meals, meetings and the traditional icebreakers. Unique team-building activities allow co-workers to share new, exciting experiences that ultimately inspire them to work better together.
“High performing organizations need three critical ingredients to function well,” says Jim Cain, Ph.D., author of “Teamwork & Teamplay.” “A worthy task (the job), the opportunity for growth (increasing knowledge and skills) and healthy relationships in the workplace (social intelligence). Team-building programs in general address what is often the most challenging of these three ingredients—building healthy relationships.”
Catrina Vargas, recreation manager who oversees team building at Hammock Beach Resort in Palm Coast, Florida, agrees that it is a key component to any organization. She explains that in addition to fostering camaraderie, team-building events also help individual participants discover more about themselves and their work style. “Not to mention they provide amazing memories and a good time, which motivates and ignites passion into the organization,” she says.
Team-building staff members across Salamander Hotels & Resorts properties are continuously collaborating and developing fresh ideas to add to their activities menus. “Whether it’s shooting a recurve bow for the first time or learning about the area’s involvement in the Civil War, people are eager to learn and try new things,” says Kari Bowman, recreation director at Salamander Resort & Spa in Middleburg, Virginia.
Here are just a few of the unique opportunities for traveling co-workers to get out of conference rooms and into new, inspiring environments.
Salamander Resort & Spa
The Amazing Nature Race takes advantage of Middleburg’s historic and outdoor traditions. It challenges groups to flex their physical, mental and creative strengths through solving clues, discovering locations and completing active challenges to earn points on the quest for victory. Teams are created by a random draw of bandanas and there are no team captains—everyone competes on an equal basis.
Spanning 20 acres, the Tree Top Zip Tour also takes advantage of the lush Virginia countryside, providing a bird’s-eye view that energizes and inspires. The activity encourages participants to venture beyond their comfort zone and helps teams bond. The route includes a series of rope bridges and zip lines ranging from 90 to 670 feet in length, which allow participants to reach speeds of up to 40 mph.
Another unique activity, which can be combined with the zip line experience, is Equi-Spective. Resort Equestrian Director Sheryl Jordan, who has studied the relationship between horses, humans and nature for more than 40 years, has been fine-tuning this program for more than two decades. The main focus of it is studying the animal’s ability to relate to humans as well as other horses; participants interact with their equine partners and learn how to communicate with horses. The program helps develop essential business skills such as empathy, observation and verbal communication.
Nite Lite Putting is one of the most popular team-building activities offered at Innisbrook Resort, which is located about 30 miles from Tampa on Florida’s gulf coast.
“Most groups that come to Innisbrook, especially conventions, will be in meetings during the day and then will have some sort of social/team-building dinner or party in the evening,” says Bobby Barnes, the resort’s director of golf, who adds that Nite Lite Putting gives people a fun, physical activity to do after a long day of meetings and dining. “It also leaves a lasting impression with the participants—putting in the dark on a colorful, neon glow-in-the-dark course is not something people do every day. As a result, it tends to be the activity that guests remember the longest and tell their friends about when they get home.”
Beyond golf, the Build a Boat Regatta is another favorite team-building activity at Innisbrook. Participants have to quickly design and build a small watercraft that a person can actually float in. They must also decide which one of the team is going to skipper their cardboard-and-duct-tape creation across a swimming pool.
“It’s one of the events that really requires everyone to equally provide input, whether intellectually or physically,” says Michael Rolnicki, director of recreation at Innisbrook Resort.
Located near the Orlando metro area, Reunion Resort is surrounded by 2,300 acres of lush landscaping and a nature preserve, providing plenty of space for a variety of cutting-edge team-building activities.
The resort’s Marshmallow Challenge asks teams to build the tallest marshmallow tower using a limited array of supplies. Designed as an icebreaker, the activity also requires critical thinking, cooperative learning and creativity—and some knowledge of physics and engineering doesn’t hurt.
After the ice is broken, begin building trust with the Minefield activity, another of Reunion’s offerings, in which teams must guide one blindfolded member through a simulated “minefield” to find “grenades,” while at the same time directing that team member to “destroy” enemy combatants. By doing so, participants improve listening skills and communication, as well as group dynamics.
Hammock Beach Resort
Culinary competitions are quickly becoming some of the most popular group activities at Hammock Beach Resort. In addition to testing cooking abilities, the events foster business and interpersonal skills. As the teams work together to prepare the tastiest concoctions during the Great Chili Cook-Off and Build a Better Burger Contest, they also have the opportunity to practice their marketing skills by generating buzz about their dishes. Alternatively, they can participate in an Iron Chef event, where must-include secret ingredients are introduced at the very last moment.
A popular after-dark activity is glow-in-the-dark Night Spiker Volleyball. It can be organized as a tournament with set teams, or a more casual free-for-all. Another fun outdoor activity is Hammock Beach’s highly competitive Sand Castle Competitions, which supply teams with building and sculpting tools for an activity designed to expose the creative and engineering talents of team members. Meeting organizers work with the resort’s team-building staff to develop appropriate and relevant sand castle judging criteria.
It’s a Kick
FootGolf at Reunion Resort combines the signature courses of the property with team-building fun.
Played with a full-sized soccer ball rather than a tiny white orb, FootGolf offers an exciting way to experience the undulating fairways of the Reunion Resort’s award-winning Tom Watson course.
“It’s the most popular due to quick playing time, taking just 90 minutes to complete a full 18 [holes], and offers our guests … a unique experience … to still play on our Tom Watson signature course [in] a different way than golf,” says Paul Barrett, the resort’s golf tournament sales manager.
Just like regular golf, the game features tee boxes, bunkers, hazards and scorecards for nine or 18 holes. The main differences are the cups (which are 21 inches in diameter), the ball (a size five soccer ball), shorter holes and the fact that the players kick the ball instead of using clubs.
The goal is simple: get the ball into the hole with the fewest amount of kicks. “Sometimes, the sport attracts soccer players,” Barrett says, but you don’t have to be a soccer player to participate or master the activity. “FootGolf is also about touch and precision, just like golf, so some players have a great feel around the course and can end up scoring very well.”