The 007 theme song was playing as we stepped into the Juniper room at the Essex Conference Center & Retreat in Essex, Mass. A woman dressed in a black and animal print outfit peered down her sunglasses at us (it was a dark and rainy day), gave us a mysterious smile, then continued arranging some envelopes, Polaroid cameras, and various other paraphernalia on the table.
We were an eight-person group of meeting planners (and one journalist) who came to experience TeamBonding's most popular corporate teambuilder, Spy Game, and we were ready to rumble. TeamBonding's lead facilitator, Kevin Prentice, posing as Professor X, divided us into two groups, then outlined the scenario: The morning's activities were the final exam for us, the graduating class of the Spy School. My group, the CIA, faced off against the now-defunct Russian KGB. The point was to save the world from the ultimate weapon of mass destruction (unspecified) by figuring out what country was harboring it. But first, we had to follow the clues, exercise our intelligence and creativity, and perform numerous dirty tricks.
When we opened our briefing package, out poured the tools of the spy trade: coded messages, top secret passwords, audiotapes, bugging devices (stickers to plant on the other team when they weren't looking), and assorted other bits and pieces we had to assemble into some sort of working spy device. While I can't give away classified secrets, suffice to say we discovered we probably should keep our day jobs as we decoded, searched, sabotaged the other team — and laughed liked hyenas. The dastardly KGB ended up winning the competition as a whole by a hair. But we all learned a lot about each other, and worked on our problem-solving and prioritizing skills, among others.
TeamBonding frequent customer Liberty Mutual has used a different slant on the program: First, the facilitator administers a Myers-Briggs personality test. Then, without telling participants which type they are, participants are broken up into some teams of all the same type, and some of differing personality types. “The same-type teams tend to do terribly because they all bring the same skills and approaches to the table. They get to see that teams with diversified personalities tend to do the best,” said Prentice. Other insurance clients of TeamBonding include John Hancock, Kemper National Insurance, Met Life, Mutual of Omaha, Nationwide Insurance, and Sun Life of Canada.
The minimum size for the program is 12 participants (we were a special case), and the maximum is 250. Spy School is one of many programs TeamBonding runs out of its Canton, Mass., and San Diego, Calif., offices. The company can bring its programs just about anywhere in the U.S. or abroad. For more information, go to www.teambonding.com.
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