Need a teambuilding event that's suitable for both men and women? That taps into the talent of left-brainers and right-brainers alike? That was the challenge that Beth A. Cooper-Zobott, director, conference services, Equity Residential, Chicago, and Kathy Vance, regional education director, Denver office, had at Equity's western region conference last summer.

Equity Residential is the largest owner of rental apartment communities in the United States, and it brings together property managers — nearly all women — with property maintenance people — nearly all men — for an annual conference. At the western region meeting at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colo., (known for being the hotel where The Shining was shot), Cooper-Zobott and Vance did a teambuilding event called The Equity Grand Prix — a vegetable derby! They scheduled the derby for an hour and 45 minutes, right after the general session.

“Each team gets a bunch of different vegetables and materials (carving knives, construction paper, and toothpicks), and they have to build a minicar out of them and race it down a ramp,” says Cooper-Zobott. “Prizes were given for best construction (those that didn't fall apart while racing), farthest distance, fastest down the ramp, etc. Those who weren't actually carving the car had to come up with a team cheer, team name, car name, etc.,” she adds. “Our goal was to work on communication. We tried to put an equal number of men and women on each team, from different properties and states, so they could share knowledge, best practices, and benchmarking.”

Cooper-Zobott and Vance enhanced the spirit and fun by theming the ballroom as well. “It's easy to theme out a room with NASCAR or Indy 500 décor, such as black and white checked flags. We played Beach Boys and ‘Speed Racer’ music,” says Cooper-Zobott.

“Everyone got very competitive and wouldn't allow anyone to steal an idea. Some people got frustrated, but those who were great whittlers or who worked on soap box derbies with their kids really got to assert themselves! Everyone really got into it.”