You have one company…but two offices. In different cities. With different staffs, cultures, sensibilities, you name it. The only guarantee: Your office is the cool one, the one that really runs things. The other office? Oh, you mean those slackers?
This intra-company competition is kinda weird, and not very productive; so, how do you turn that competition into something that might approach camaraderie?
Don’t Settle for the Ordinary
Watson Adventures founder Bret Watson remembers the conundrum well, from his time as a top exec for a TV magazine publishing company. His New York office was awesome; the folks in the Pennsylvania office…not so much. Didn’t they just handle the tech and the listings? The ones who always sounded frustrated on the phone?
It all changed when the CEO began to insist on full-company retreats: picnics, meetings, seminars with outside leaders, and team-building exercises with trivia quizzes and games. In other words: Actual Human Contact.
Bret says the staid, procedural stuff—the endless sessions of folks from each company describing “what I do”—made for very long days. And one seminar led by a guy who learned business lessons by “starting with zero, then making millions and then returning to zero again” was a head-scratcher.
Find What Really Works
What really worked, however, were the games. Insisting on teams mixed with folks from both companies led, in time, to cooperative thinking, fascinating and funny answers, and, crazily enough, trust. The company picnic’s baseball game—even with teams from each office competing—seemed more fun when trading mitts between innings, and learning the ways employees at the other office ride their own. And a full-on, spirited, even a little bloodthirsty annual tug of war with a long rope, impartial judges, and bragging rights brought to the fore that workplace axiom: Past a certain point, beer does not help.
Not everything worked, of course. At the annual picnic’s raffle for stupid things like company t-shirts and $10 gift certificates, those items seem less stupid when your office doesn’t win anything good, year after year. (Bret insists, though, that 20 years later he is in no way even the tiniest bit bitter about never winning that fondue maker. No, he wouldn’t have used it, but that’s not the point!)
But more than anything, the insistence on continuing to meet every year led to the one great advantage of any team building exercise: familiarity. At one seminar, as 30 employees circled the room, the outside leader announced, “OK, pick the one person from the other office you have the least in common with,” which led to some immediate pairings, a great deal of laughter, and, quickly, friendships. As time moved on, smaller in-office meetings became more productive. Even a bad seminar is a team builder when you’re experiencing it together.
The trick is to find the right methods to gather the troops, make sure everybody is on point in as organized a way as possible, and keep trying. The effort will create greater productivity, followed by Facebook friendships and long trails of jokey remembrances. Unless it’s about fondue makers; that stuff’s not funny.