Put your heads together

Team building activities can encourage trust and collaboration

A Pedal Tavern fits up to 16 people.

Imagine that you and 10 other people are trapped in a small room with 60 minutes to solve various clues and puzzles as your only way out. Panic and chaos ensues until one person starts delegating tasks and communication in the room starts to flow. You put your heads together and manage to unlock the room with 15 minutes to spare.

Now, imagine those 10 other people in the room are your co-workers and escaping that “locked” space was actually an exercise to strengthen trust, leadership and communication abilities as a group.

Escape the Room Milwaukee, located on East Erie Street in the Third Ward.

Escape rooms are emerging as one of the many corporate outings Milwaukee employers are using as team building tools. The activity allows participants to emerge as leaders, collaborate as a unit and complete a task efficiently – skills that are crucial to working professionally in a team – and of course, have some fun outside the office.

Escape the Room Milwaukee, located on East Erie Street in Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward, has hosted more than 100 local businesses since it opened in May 2016. Half of those businesses came specifically for team building purposes.

The facility has four themed rooms, with the largest holding 12 people. During the 60-minute challenge, seven “clue masters” monitor the rooms and give participants clues to escape. Teams in separate rooms compete to escape in the shortest time, but the team building aspect of the experience happens inside the locked room.

“What makes escape rooms unique is that there are elements of several different activities put into one challenge that engages different parts of the brain,” said Michael Gull, general manager of Escape the Room Milwaukee. “When you put a bunch of people together in a room, communication, leadership, compromise and working together is necessary.”

Whether it is an escape room outing or a more formal, corporate training program, team building can create a productive work environment which is crucial to a company’s success – especially as the younger generation entering the workforce puts value in the employee experience and positive work relationships with co-workers.

“(Millennials) say that they want to make an impact and that they want to work with great people,” said Mitch Gold, senior talent management consultant at Right Management, the management consulting arm of Milwaukee-based ManpowerGroup. “That is where the need for team building comes from.”

Paddle Tavern boats travel along the Milwaukee River, stopping at bars on the way.

As a consultant who assists companies in workforce development, Gold believes effective teamwork is more important than ever before. Small businesses that have experienced layoffs and consolidations need strong, independent teams to make up for the lack of managers at the organization, he said.

“Bigger teams have to be much more self-managing because there is less time to go through multiple layers of permission to get decisions made and tasks completed,” Gold said. “Teams now need to be more empowered to take action and make things happen.”

For large, corporate companies, team building often takes the form of official training programs that define the organization’s mission and help employee teams reach their goals within that mission.

Milwaukee-based Brady Corp. provides an optional training program to support all employees in developing within the company’s six core values. Brady started the program just more than a year ago and has used it to train 936 employees. The two-hour training sessions are provided in-person or virtually and are discussion-based, with interactive activities among employees.

When team members are trained together, they can directly apply the program’s content to their department and discuss specific issues, said Jesse Pilachowski, director of global organization development at Brady.

“The goal is to create consistency and understanding in what is expected of you as a Brady employee,” Pilachowski said. “It shows employees that their development matters.”

A group of Brady’s managers lead the program to make the training company-specific and focused. It also provides all-around benefits.

“We are developing others and also, developing ourselves as we are delivering the content,” said Kate Venne, director of corporate communications at Brady, about her training role.

Formal or informal, the drive behind corporate team building comes down to speed, efficiency and effectiveness, Gold said. These are skills that every member of the organization can take away from a team building experience and bring back to the workplace.

Gold recently visited Escape the Room Milwaukee as part of a Right Management team training. He said the experience encourages teams to be more self-reliant and efficient, and the time component stimulates the added pressure of quickly accomplishing team tasks.

A Pedal Tavern fits up to 16 people.

However, a running clock isn’t necessary for every type of team building activity.

Fore! Milwaukee, an indoor golf course and bar located on North Water Street, works with about 60 local companies per year for corporate events – many centered on team building. Teams at each of the four golf simulators can compete in a round of golf by hitting a ball at a screen that reads the shot and shows its distance on a virtual course in real time.

“The competitiveness really comes out,” said Fore! owner Tim Grogan. “Our corporate clients really get to know each other better than they would at a company event at the office.”

Golf experience is not necessary for a round at Fore!, which allows for an accessible, inclusive environment and more focus on the team building aspect of the event, Grogan said.

Team building activities can be as simple as stepping out of the office and doing something enjoyable as an organization.

During the summer months, a ride on the co-owned Milwaukee Paddle Tavern or Milwaukee Pedal Tavern provides that experience for both local and visiting companies.

To some, paddling down the Milwaukee River while drinking a beer might seem more like play than work, but it gives co-workers a chance to connect outside of the usual office setting.

Recently, a national franchise company rented six Pedal Tavern bikes when its franchisees visited Milwaukee. Each location had a bike and it turned into a competition, said Derek Collins, managing partner at Pedal Tavern.

“The real advantage is that you’re sitting next to your peers and working together to make something move,” said Redmond Tuttle, co-founder of the Paddle Tavern.

Regardless of a company’s size, Gold stands by his belief in the importance of team building to improve as an organization. He said it is up to team members to apply team-building lessons to everyday work life and hold each other accountable to do the same.

“It comes down to the need to be transparent,” he said. “Conflict doesn’t feel good but when conflict gets in the way, it is important to put in place a process like team building to deal with the issue and ensure the team is performing effectively.”  

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Maredithe has covered retail, restaurants, entertainment and tourism since 2018. Her duties as associate editor include copy editing, page proofing and managing work flow. Meyer earned a degree in journalism from Marquette University and still enjoys attending men’s basketball games to cheer on the Golden Eagles. Also in her free time, Meyer coaches high school field hockey and loves trying out new restaurants in Milwaukee.

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