The company outing. It's probably just a bullet-point on your job description, but this high-visibility event speaks volumes about your organization — and you. The company picnic should be unforgettable — the good kind of unforgettable, that is — so why not skip the wiener roast this year and try something unconventional?
Whether your company culture fits an adventurous, high-stakes outing, a community-centered day, or a family-oriented fiesta, here are some ideas to turbocharge your annual social.
Think big. Think adventurous. Think activities that bring out the office Indiana Joneses. How about swimming with sharks? Team Shark Inc., Redondo Beach, Calif., www.teamshark.com, will get you up close with those mysterious sea creatures. “It's a one-day event with a twofold focus,” says John Manley, Team Shark president. Manley, a shark biologist, has led shark adventures for almost eight years. “First, we'll have groups in a snorkeling shark cage — we're about 15 miles off the California coast in about 2,000 feet of water — and I'll be outside the cage in scuba gear, luring sharks close. Second, we'll try to bring sharks on board the boat whenever possible. We have a tagging and education program. … They [attendees] can help measure, research, tag, and release the shark. Or just pet the shark. Or just watch.”
Team Shark has hosted law firms, Hollywood groups, and other corporate clients. The company normally needs six months to set up a private charter and can take about 30 people at once. Standard fixed cost is $3,000, so per person costs depend on the size of the group. Weekends are booked a year in advance, but weekdays are more flexible.
“This is aexperience that's not classic,” says Manley. “It's not in the classroom. We'll have people help to navigate the boat, work the chum line. There are lots of rights and wrongs, and we'll let participants figure those out as a team.”
If sharks aren't your cup of tea, think about a game of paintball between employees and management. Talk about teambuilding. Players have to work together — or suffer the stinging consequences. The game, similar to the playground staple capture the flag, pits two teams armed with paintball guns against each other. Playing in an outdoor or indoor arena, the teams attempt to capture one another's flag and return it to their home base. When a team member is splattered with a paintball, he or she is out. To find the arena closest to you, check out www.paintball.com.
Other ideas to add adventure to your company outing:
If your company is looking for something more civic-minded for its annual outing, consider an event that mixes in a philanthropic mission. Often area food banks are happy to have groupsto sort and repackage nonperishable foods. Typical time periods are four-hour shifts on a sorting line, with volunteers taking one of several posts (sorting, selecting, repackaging). Follow that with pizza and soda, and you have a day out that builds team spirit and helps the community, too.
Or consider environmental conservation. Mark Landon is executive director of the Sousson Foundation, Templeton, Calif., a nonprofit organization whose mission is to involve Americans of all ages in preservation of our national parks. A typical corporate program takes place over a weekend and is divided into two segments. “Half of the time is spent working with the park service in conservation programs,” says Landon. “The rest of the time is spent on VIP tours of the park. You'll learn about the park's history, go on hikes, and, in some instances, explore caves.”
Although no formal teambuilding activities are built into the corporate curriculum, the volunteerism in itself builds team awareness, says Landon, and the foundation will do everything it can to integrate the group's mission into the program. “You'll go out and capture the essence of what you might learn on a blackboard. And then you'll learn how to bring that back to the office.”
Programs take place in many national parks, including Yosemite, Hawaii Volcanoes, and the Channel Islands. One of the more popular volunteer programs in the past year is helping to plant a Memorial Forest to the victims of 9/11 in Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks in the southern Sierra Nevada near Three Rivers, Calif. The project seeks to plant 25,000 containerized seedlings throughout the parks. If the seedlings are to survive, they must be planted before they outgrow their containers — in two or three years. Cost is about $300 per person, depending on length of stay, and includes meals, accommodations, and more. At least 60 days of advance notice is needed.
Other ideas for adding volunteerism to your company outing:
Gather a team for a cancer, AIDS, or other benefit walk.
Help serve lunch or dinner at a homeless shelter.
Build a house through a volunteer agency such as Habitat for Humanity.
When the company outing includes the whole family, find something everyone will enjoy. Amusement parks can be just the thing. A favorite of Ohio-area residents is Cedar Point, which offers groups a 20 percent discount on tickets. In May, the park unveiled the world's tallest and fastest roller coaster, reaching speeds of 120 mph. Water cooler talk, indeed. You can search for parks in your area at http://themeparks.about.com.
If you're thinking about a day at the ballpark for your company fun, consider the minors. Minor League Baseball has a hometown, laid-back feel, with fun, sandlot-style play. Many of the stadiums rival the big leagues, and group rates, scoreboard, P.A. welcomes, prizes, and stadium picnics can usually be negotiated. Check out www.minorleaguebaseball.com.
For something completely different, consider a venue like the Davis Mega Maze, an eight-acre cornfield maze in Sterling, Mass. Teamwork is a necessity as co-workers negotiate the miles of pathways. Tents and cookouts can be arranged.
Other family outing ideas:
You can't just approach management with some wild idea for a company outing, like tobogganing the Himalayas, before you've done your homework. First, determine the reason for the outing. Does the company want a teambuilding educational element included, or is this simply a time for employees to have fun?
“We'll form a committee from numerous departments, review past events, and figure out the goal of the outing,” says Paul Plagenz, CMP, events specialist, Royal Neighbors of America, a life insurance agency for women based in Rock Island, Ill. “Once you know what the message is, you can plan the location.”
Questions to ask yourself: “What would people like to do, especially if they are giving up their own time?” suggests Karen Emanuelson, CMP, Tower Travel, Oakbrook Terrace, Ill., which handles corporate events. “Who will be attending? What has worked in the past? What can we afford to do with our budget and still meet our objectives?” And remember that time is of the essence, too. To accommodate a large group, many venues need advance notice of six months to a year.
“Per-person cost varies depending on whether we are catching a movie during the day, so the ticket will cost $6 with another $6 for snacks, to $100 per person for a shopping trip,” says Sondra Williams, executive assistant/membership services coordinator, American Benefits Council, Washington, D.C., an advocate of employer-sponsored benefit programs. Once you know your budget, find out what people like to do by asking, either by survey or word of mouth. “Get as many people involved as possible, from as many departments and on every level of management,” says Plagenz.
And then the rest is like planning a meeting. “Research options for destination, venues, themes. Contact possible suppliers for bids. Choose vendors. Negotiate. Prepare (and deliver) an announcement or invitation. Prepare a project timeline. On the day of the outing, get there early and oversee setup and carrying out of event. Do post-event analysis or survey. Reconcile final budget,” says Emanuelson, ticking off her planning points.
Overall, the emphasis, even in the planning, should be fun.“When we wanted our president to take us to go see Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, we created a PowerPoint presentation with text that scrolled up like at the beginning of the movie … . It was so cool — or at least we thought so,” says Williams.