TeamBonding: 20+ Years of World Class Team Building

Looking to build close-knit, quality relationships among your employees? Are you wary of team building activities after some awkward experiences? Don’t worry: TeamBonding has you covered. TeamBonding believes in “harnessing the power of play” to create activities which build strong bonds among even the most stubborn of co-workers. This company has true expertise in innovative programming, totally customizable to your needs, to create a one-of-a-kind experience for your group. Also, we ❤️ TeamBonding because they do awesome charity events.

“We do not quit playing because we grow old, we grow old because we quit playing.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

TeamBonding Highlights

  • TeamBonding works with your organization from the very first stages of planning to create an experience that works best for you.
  • Since the needs of our workplaces are constantly evolving, TeamBonding is committed to staying on the cutting edge of best practices. This means that innovation is to your program.
  • One of TeamBonding’s biggest assets is how customizable their programs are. They have worked with groups as small as 15 people, and as large as 1200! TeamBonding’s talented staff can provide a few hours of activity or an entire day of experiences. And best of all, they can come to you! Their goal is to make the experience work with exactly what you want to accomplish as a company.
  • The wide array of programs offered by TeamBonding makes them unique in the industry. You can choose from escape games, high-tech scavenger hunts, music-oriented events, culinary programs, charity-based activities… Where else could you do anything ranging from “Escape from Werewolf Village” to “Corporate Project Runway”. What do all these activities have in common? They are high energy, totally engaging, and designed to build strong, lasting bonds among your team!
  • TeamBonding led over 900 events last year; they are true experts at crafting great experiences for your group!

How to Find TeamBonding

TeamBonding is based in Boston, and has offices in New York, Chicago, Dallas, Phoenix, and San Francisco. The company provides event services nationwide, and they’ve even created events as far away as Singapore! You can plan to do your activity at locations ranging from outdoors, to hotels, to your office!

TeamBonding Activities

TeamBonding not only offers a wide array of options that can be customized to fit your needs, but they also are constantly developing new activities! Here are a few of the options available:

  • Live-Action and Escape Games: Corporate groups love the exciting live-action, escape, or scavenger hunt games. These activities utilize technology and the environment around you to create fast-paced experiences that require problem solving and team-work!
  • Charity Events: There is nothing quite like working together to give back to your community or making change in the world. Whether you are building bikes for children, or creating care packages for soldiers a world away, these activities not only bring your team closer together, but also allow them to go on a powerful emotional journey together. TeamBonding can introduce you to some amazing existing charity partnerships, or can connect with your favorite charity!
  • Innovation Lab: How do new programs get developed? With YOUR help! At a special price and with twice the adventure, your group can be part of the Innovation Lab. You might be the first group ever to try a brand new activity!

Interview with David Goldstein, Founder & CEO of TeamBonding

Check out our interview with David from TeamBonding below, about how the company got started and how they create unique, hands-on experiences that bring people closer together.

Interview Transcript

McKenzie: Today, I am really excited to be interviewing David, from TeamBonding. It’s really great to be talking with you today, David.

David: You as well. Thanks for the call.

McKenzie: So, my first question for you is really simple: what is TeamBonding?

David: I can answer that question in many different ways – but the simplest way is that we are a nation-wide corporate team building company that offers, at this point, somewhere between 90 and 100 different options, designed for clients looking to bring their teams closer together.

McKenzie: Okay, very cool. How did you get started with team building?

David: So, I’ve been – TeamBonding is a little over 20 years old. I’m an entrepreneur. So I guess, in that scenario, my first business was a murder mystery dinner theater. And so, at the time, the murder mystery dinner theater was in Boston, but I also licensed it so there were 21 similar dinner theaters licensed to me all over the US, and a few other places around the world. And it was a public dinner theater, but it also had a corporate side. The corporate side kind of led us into a different world of corporate entertainment, and corporate entertainment was kind of a nice crossover into team building. So we were doing customized corporate murder mysteries, and then we started doing team building events, and then when we did enough of the team building events, it was one of those things where it was like “wow, I really like this business, I like what it does, I like what it feels like, I like what we’re able to do with it, I like working with the corporate clients.” It was just a lot easier than working with the public clients. So we created a number of different team building events designed to – some of them were things they were familiar with at the time, others were new and different. So we kind of needed a combination of things that companies were familiar with, like scavenger hunts – the one at the time was a limousine scavenger hunt – and new things that they hadn’t heard of. So we created a business – we created TeamBonding, with the idea of offering enough of a selection of programs, not necessarily for what we wanted to offer, but to meet the needs of what clients are looking to accomplish. So that’s always how we started. It isn’t “hey, we are a scavenger hunt company”, or “hey, we do this”, it’s a little bit more of “what are you looking to accomplish?” And once we determine that, we can help them figure out the best solution that we have.

McKenzie: Yeah, absolutely. So what does that process look like? I imagine, you know, somebody from the company – like in human resources – comes to you and says “we want to put on this event”. It seems like y’all have a really diverse array of options available to them. How do you develop the best plan for each specific company you work with?

David: Well, it’s two ways. So there’s the ongoing effort to continually explore new trends and new activities and new programs. And then there’s the sales process, which is a little bit – I’ll tell you a little story. I used to have two sales people when I first started. And one of the sales people would say “Sure! You want a scavenger hunt? Here are the scavenger hunts we have. You want a cooking program? Here’s the cooking program we have.” The other sales person would say “Why do you want a scavenger hunt? What are you looking to accomplish?” And understand a little bit more what the client was looking to get out of the experience. And once she determined what the client was looking for, then she would- if the scavenger hunt was one of the things that made sense, then by all means, she’d send the scavenger hunt – but she’d send options that fit a little bit better with what they were looking to accomplish. So it’s a little bit more of a needs assessment in the beginning. It’s more consultative than sales.

McKenzie: Yeah, absolutely. So you’re starting with their goals, basically, then developing from there.

David: You’re starting with their goals, and as the owner of the company – there’s no incentive for them to sell one thing over another – because it’s all about the client getting what they want. And if they get what they want, they’ll use us again. You know, trust us, and we build a relationship from there.
McKenzie: Yeah. So what are companies usually looking for from activities like this? Do they usually have kind of the same goals, or do you work with a lot of different needs with different companies?
David: Well, we work with a lot of different needs with different companies. Because the needs change as the time of year changes. So this time of year, you know, we’re in the middle of kind of company kick offs. You know, beginning of the year, sales meetings, conferences, things like that. In the spring, we’ll get a little bit more into interns, and then we get into summer outings, and then we get into holiday parties, so it really depends upon the time of the year, and the client, and what they’re looking for. And also the kind of a group, whether it be an onboarding type program with new employees, or whether it’s- they’ve combined with another company, so they need a little bit more of ‘getting to know each other’. Our model has always been to have the right programs to meet the needs that they have. And it’s worked. It’s something to the point – I think we did somewhere around nine hundred events last year.

McKenzie: Wow. That’s a lot.

David: It is a lot of team building events. It’s a lot of any kind of events. It’s bigger than we ever thought it would be when we started. But it’s a very enjoyable business to be in.

McKenzie: Yeah, I imagine so. I imagine it’s a lot of good energy a lot of the time, because you’re working towards really positive goals, it seems like.

David: Yeah, I mean it’s- everything we do is not so serious that there’s not fun involved. There’s a lot of fun involved in both planning it and delivering it. So the client is getting, and the team is getting, the benefits of both.

McKenzie: Yeah. So how do you develop what activities are available? Is it always the same set of things, or do you add new ones? Or take ones away periodically?

David: That’s funny- we just finished that. I think everything, at least in the way we do it, it’s kind of like the 80/20 rule. Are you familiar with that? You do 20% of your programs 80% of the time.

McKenzie: Right.

David: So what I actually just did, is I went through our programs and looked at what we’ve done over the last couple of years, and I got rid of the bottom ten, so I could add new ones. Not because we couldn’t have capacity to add new ones, but I didn’t want to clutter it up with things that just weren’t working, or that we hadn’t done in a while. So I took out ten, and added ten more. So then some of the new ones are a little bit more what I think the trends are going to be, and what I hear about, and what I think people want to do. So, if you look at some of the other interviews you’ve had, for the most part, we’ve done some part of all of it. It’s a matter of trying to match the right program. And to come up with programs that not only anticipate their needs, but try to stay not too far ahead. If that makes sense.

McKenzie. Yeah, absolutely. So you mentioned trends in team building activities. Where do you think trends are going as companies evolve? What are popular activities right now?

David: Right now, popular activities – there’s kind of a combination of tried and true, and- we just added an innovation section of the website, which is where- you know, clients are funny in a way: they always want the latest, greatest thing. And you say, okay, this is what we’ve created for the latest, greatest thing, and they say “okay, great. Now what I need is references from the last couple of companies that have done it.” So we need a place to put new programs where we can test them out before charging full price, to make sure that it was good. So right now, what we’re working on, we’re working on escape room games. Escape room type events. And that, I think, is a trend just everywhere. What’s different about our approach is – you go to an escape room that you’re typically locked in, for you know, 8 to 10 people. We’ve done it in a way that instead of them coming to us, we can go to them. So we can bring the escape game to a bank or a ballroom or even a hotel, using the hotel rooms as escape rooms.

McKenzie: Oh really- that’s interesting.

David: So, it’s looking at trends and seeing different twists. And because we’ve been around so long, we’ve seen a number of different twists. Scavenger hunts have gone from Polaroid cameras to iPads. Cooking has gone from, you know, fairly simple chili cook offs to very complicated Iron Chef kind of programs. So the next thing I think that is coming up, other than technology, is- there will be virtual reality, in some way, a little bit more involved in team building.

McKenzie: Yeah, absolutely. Cool, so- it seems like a lot of these activities are pretty active, like the outdoor activities y’all have listed. How accessible are these programs? Do you ever require a certain skill level? Or ability level?

David: Well, it’s interesting – what we have now is designed for everybody. So, even if people can’t participate in the corporate Olympics, or outrageous games, there’s something that they can do to be involved with their teams. Whether it be scoring, or team captain, or some way to be involved. We’ve always gone to be extremely accessible to everyone, but we’re making a change coming up – we’re adding a new division, a new company, which may be good for a separate story. So we’re going to be adding adventure activities. And those are not going to be as accessible.

McKenzie: Right, a little more challenging.

David: A little bit more challenging. You can look at Tough Mudder, and some of those things that people are doing out there. We want to have things like – we’re going to have things like axe throwing, and giant stand-up paddleboards, and mobile rock walls, and things like that that are a little bit more physically challenging. So that’s a departure for us as far as being- as far as everything being, what we have now, is more accessible. Not that the other one will be less accessible, but it would just be a little bit more specialized as far as who we are targeting.

McKenzie: Yeah, definitely. So, let’s see. What demographics do you think these activities are best for? Do you think it could be applied to pretty much any demographic that comes to y’all?

David: Nowadays, there are four- what do you call it – four different groups of people working in the workplace. So because millennials are working with baby boomers, and Generation X, and all of the people that are working together, I think team building needs to take into consideration all of these groups and figuring out how they can communicate and how they can work together, and what they need to hear and what they need to say, just so they can continue to be productive. It’s more generations that have worked in one work force than have ever happened. And they’re very different, as far as their motivations and such. So coming up with programs that meet the needs of all of them is one of the things that we’re constantly kind of seeking out.

McKenzie: Yeah, I imagine a huge part of what y’all do is building those links between people that come from very different – very different walks of life, I guess, but all have to work together in one cohesive work setting.

David: Yeah, absolutely. Because we all work differently, whether it be technology, or texting, or- you know you have to come up with something that is inclusive, just like what we are offering. Because companies have to deal with that on a day to day basis.

McKenzie: Right, for sure. So I know you have a lot of different events available, but like on average or generally, what’s the duration of one of your team building events with a company? How long would something like that take?

David: An average program is 2-3 hours. We are typically brought into an agenda, you know, late in the planning. Where it’s like “okay, here’s the meetings, here’s the lunch, here’s what we’re going to be doing as far as speaking, but we have this three-hour thing – let’s do some team building. So then it’s not only matching up what they need, to accomplish what they’re trying to do during that meeting, but it’s where they are. The venue definitely adds a lot to what we do.

McKenzie: Do you offer any events that are site specific? Like, they need to go to a certain place to be able to do them? Or can y’all bring your team building activities pretty much anywhere you go?
David: We’ve tried it a number of different ways, where we’ve created venue partnerships, like the ice sculpting was at an ice bar, the museum hunts are specific museums, but people seem to like the flexibility to taking us to where they’re going to be.

McKenzie: Yeah, I’m sure that’s very – I mean, especially if they have a whole rest of the day planned, like a big bonding adventure, it makes sense that y’all could come to them – that would be convenient.

David: Exactly. For the most part, we’re not – it’s not like they choose a team building event and build their agenda around us. It’s usually the other way around.

McKenzie: So how many people do you need to have a good team building event? Like, can you work with small groups or larger groups? What’s kind of the range of size you work with?

David: Typically we’ll work with groups as small as 15. We do have a “do it yourself” that we have on our website for people that either don’t have the budget or don’t have the group size, and either they can download programs or we can ship something to them. The other part of it is that we’ve done as many as 1200 as far as large groups. But that’s a little less team building and a little bit more corralling.

McKenzie: Sure- I can imagine that can be hard to navigate. What kind of activities can you do with groups that large?

David: We just did an indoor scavenger hunt at one of the Gaylor hotels, so scavenger hunts are good in places like an indoor facility like that, or in a city like the Las Vegas strip, we’ll do a large event there, and then within that, there are themes – you know, Amazing Race scavenger hunts, we’ve got a new one coming up with kind of a Monopoly theme, a charity scavenger hunt, so there’s a lot of different things within the different events. For large events, it’s usually – you’ve got to keep simultaneous groups working. It’s our own little pyramid, where we’ve got the lead, and then we’ve got sub-group leaders, and then team leaders, and it’s a lot more staff and stuff.

McKenzie: Yeah. No, absolutely. So a lot of your activities are led by facilitators, right? Can you talk a little about their experience, and what kind of training or preparation they have to go through to work with your company?

David: Sure, yeah. When we first started, as we talked about earlier, I had a theater company. So our original facilitators were actors. And actors were amazing in the sense that they could entertain a crowd like nobody can. They were also flexible as far as their time frame. But as we did more serious work, and with bigger companies, the actors didn’t see the whole picture. So facilitators – or, our facilitators – are trained to handle multiple audiences. The audience that you’re performing or delivering to, those that are part of the activity, the venue that you’re at, the client that hired you, potentially the meeting-planner that hired them. So there’s multiple audiences that they have to be aware of at any given time, as far as who they’re trying to keep happy. So in some sense, they are trainers with background in development and such, in other cases, depending on the activity, they’re disc jockeys. Because they understand that there’s a lot of people you have to keep happy, and how you keep them happy, by balancing, whether it be the sound, or whether it be the stuff, there’s always ways to keep everybody on the same page. So we still have some actors, depending on- for some of the lighter activities, like the scavenger hunts or things like that. Depending on the program or the size of the program, we have a – how do I say it – I guess we have a nation-wide staple of facilitators we’ve been using for years. So we’re not flying people all over – we have people, typically where the clients are hiring us for.

McKenzie: yeah. So I know that there are going to be a lot of factors that go into this – into pricing. But I was wondering, do you have an average price-per-person that your activities usually cost? Or does it vary a lot depending on what activities it is?

David: Because we’re not kind of a one trick pony, we have- everything is based on the number of people, the activity that they’re doing, the level of facilitation. So a chef that does a culinary program might be more than an actor that does a scavenger hunt. So it typically starts at about $2,500, and it goes up from there.

McKenzie: Right, definitely. Awesome. Is there anything else that you would be interested in going deeper into, or that we’ve missed, or that you would like to say about TeamBonding?

David: One thing I didn’t talk about is probably my favorite part of what we do. Right after 2008, during the Recession, we had a – just like anybody else – business almost came to a complete halt. And what took us out of the complete halt, was charitable team building events. So in a typical team building event, you’ll be doing an event for a particular group, and that’s the audience. But in a charitable team-building event, you’re doing something in a team building event with a group that gives back to the community. So we have a whole lot of things that either build bikes for children who have never had bikes, or cancer care kits for people who are going through chemotherapy, or Toms shoes – we paint them and decorate them for people in different countries, so the whole charitable team building offerings are another real component of what I think is the best of what we do. It’s a trend that is not as new as it once was, but I think it’s staying really strong, because it’s- you know, you’ve heard “win-win”, this is what I call a “win-win-win”. Because, you know, you’re building a team, and you’re giving back to the community, so – the first time we did one of these, we were giving teddy bears for kids with Down syndrome. And the facilitator came back and said “David, you will never believe it, but at the end of this event, everyone in the room was in tears.” And I said “well, you have the only job of anyone I’ve ever met that if that happens, you’ve done your job.” Because that really – it gets, the emotional impact of these type of programs, whether it be a soldier coming and talking about what it feels like to receive a care package when they’re in Iraq or whether it’s the cancer care- which is actually inspired by my brother’s battle through cancer, for what it means to get the book or the card or the project or the stuff that will help you. That’s probably the coolest thing that we do, and I want to make sure we don’t miss that.

McKenzie: Yeah, absolutely. And I’m sure for the participants in these activities, you know all of them going through that same emotional journey together too, I’m sure brings them very close together, because they’ve had this shared experience of getting to do something really powerful

David: It really is. It really is the best of what’s come out of this business. You know, the scavenger hunts and the other stuff are fun, and they have their purpose, but the charitable programs are just amazing.

McKenzie: Yeah, absolutely. Well, that’s all of the questions I have for you for today, thank you so much for taking the time and talking to me!

David: Alright, McKenzie!

McKenzie: Alright, have a great day.

David: You too – take care.

TeamBonding Reviews

Want to check out what other organizations thought of their experience with TeamBonding? Here are some great reviews. If you’re interested in reading more reviews, you will find these on their Clients page and Facebook page!

“We had about 350 to 400 people attend and I’ve heard wonderful things about it so far. Everyone seemed to have a great time and the games were a huge hit! Your staff in particular were especially professional, thorough, and very kind to work with through the entire event planning and function that evening”. –S. G., Financial Executives International

“We were absolutely delighted with the School for Spies program. It exceeded all our expectations. Without exception, everyone in attendance participated. No one felt awkward or embarrassed. No one felt silly or singled out.” –J.G – Goldman Sachs, New York City

“We heard nothing but great things about our Charity Bike Build! It touched a lot of people and they were truly surprised when the kids came through the door. We look forward to future events!” –A.L. – The Dolben Company, Inc.

“The event was great. Our lead was great. It kept a fun atmosphere and everyone really enjoyed it. We received a lot of good feedback the next morning. We appreciate your help as usual. Great job!” –Siemens

Have You Attended a TeamBonding Event?

If you’ve worked with TeamBonding for a corporate event, then we would love to hear about your experience! Did you do a fun scavenger hunt or participate in one of their charity oriented activities? What was your experience like developing a customized experience that served your organization’s individual mission and values? How did your team grow closer from their programs?

Essex Woods Meeting & Retreat Center: Escape the Ordinary

Last week I was searching for “team building in Boston” and I found Essex Woods Meeting & Retreat Center. This article includes information about Essex Woods’ rich history, including how the business evolved from it’s original purpose as a spiritual retreat center to its current focus on team building, corporate training and company retreats.

Essex Woods’ Highlights

This section is a quick summary of what I learned about Essex Woods and specifically the highlights, AKA “why you should do your next team building event at Essex Woods.”

Because…

  1. The venue is best for groups of 26 to 30 people, but can accommodate up to 50 for an overnight stay;
  2. Essex Woods can accommodate larger groups up to 125, but for daytime only visits;
  3. Your group will have exclusive access to the facilities, i.e., Essex Woods does not double book dates;
  4. The team at Essex Woods is smart and passionate, they care about you and your team a lot;
  5. They work with you on any special dietary needs to make sure the nut allergies and gluten free folk in your group can eat too;
  6. There are great indoor facilities for meetings and workshops and awesome outdoor facilities for rope climbing, kayaking and other sports;
  7. There is a Fire Circle for getting in touch with your deepest team connections;
  8. Essex Woods is open all year round.

Alright, let’s go into the details…

How to Find Essex Woods

Essex Woods is located 45 minutes outside downtown Boston, Massachusetts, close to beautiful Essex Bay. The recommended route from downtown is via MA-128 N, but there are several comparable routes. Here is the Google Map with directions from Boston to Essex Woods, 1 Conomo Point Road, Essex, MA 01929. You will know when you arrive because of the beautiful architecture and unique art installations.

Essex Woods’ Facilities

When I think about a company retreat, I imagine a luxury hotel out in the mountains as one option and something more “campy” as the other option. Both types of retreats have their pros and cons, but Essex Woods appears to be the best of both worlds. Essex Woods is like a luxury cottage, with well maintained facilities both indoors and outdoors.

The indoor facilities at Essex Woods include various meetings rooms, a lounge, sleeping room for up to 50, a hot tub and sauna. Outdoors, there is a brand new rope course, kayaking and a fire circle (s’mores included). There is dining space both indoors and outdoors.

The landscaping at Essex Woods is beautiful. The enterprise began as a non-denominational, spiritual retreat center and then for many years was a wedding and reception venue. Recently, a new owner acquired the center and decided to stop hosting weddings so the business could focus on company team building, workshops and retreats. The scenery is still “wedding photo ready” and is a perfect place to capture photos of your fun company retreat to show off on your blog or careers page.

Team Building Activities at Essex Woods

When you take your team to Essex Woods for a company retreat, you have the option of facilitating your own activities or working with a facilitator. Your choice of activities include:

  • summits and meetings in the meeting room;
  • a rope course that requires collaboration and team work to complete;
  • kayaking to help relieve stress and get fun, physical exercise;
  • the fire circle, with games, songs and s’mores;
  • workshops and training, including how to function better as a cohesive team.

Essex Woods is in the process of hiring expert facilitators for a variety of important themes. Currently, you can book workshops with Adrian Wilkins on the Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team or Gibrán Rivera on leadership and creativity. If you prefer, you can run your own team workshops at Essex Woods. Here are some suggestions:

  • sexual harassment training;
  • health, wellness and spirituality;
  • building cohesion from confrontation;
  • unleashing your creativity;
  • brand or compliance training;
  • new employee on-boarding;
  • safety and product training;
  • positive psychology and “how to be happy”;
  • how to make better decisions faster;
  • company goals & mission;
  • advanced problem solving;
  • how to make lists 😀

A good way to determine what your training workshop should be about is reviewing your employees’ quarterly reviews and seeing what they want to improve or are challenged with. If you notice a pattern of people feeling isolated at the office, you can lead a workshop on improving communication. If many people on your team feel spread thin and like they are juggling too many tasks, then you can lead a productivity workshop to teach them tools and processes to make their work easier.

Featured Team Building Activity: The Fire Circle

One of the unique activities at Essex Woods is a fire circle, a safe venue for a powerful fire. The act of gathering around a fire has brought people together since the “invention” of fire, and gives your team an opportunity to bond with activities, songs, s’mores and more. Notice that Essex Woods’ doesn’t call this a fire pit or bonfire. I expect the choice of wording is intentional, as the word circle connotes harmony, cohesion and completeness.

Interview With Adrian Wilkins, Owner of Essex Woods Meeting & Retreat Center

Adrian Wilkins and I jumped on a call to talk about Essex Woods’ history and unique approach to team building. Adrian is an experienced entrepreneur, owner of Essex Woods and an Authorized Partner of the 5 Behaviors of a Cohesive Team. Adrian’s expertise and passion is in building teams and working with people, which is clear when he talks with pride about his own team at Essex Woods. You can see Adrian’s full profile here.

Listen to this interview to learn more about Essex Woods’ unique history, it’s mission to help build better teams, and it’s world class facilities. We also discussed some of the common challenges teams face in today’s work environment and practical solutions for overcoming them.

Interview Transcript

Michael: The first question I have for you is about yourself. So you said – tell me a little bit about your history with this business.

Adrian: Sure, yeah. Well, first of all, my own personal background I have, I was an entrepreneur, opened and started, built and sold a number of small businesses. Then about 20 years ago I became more interested in coaching other people in their businesses than running my own, at least in the way that I have in the past. And I do a lot of work around my own personal growth and personal development. Took some courses, did some additional training and started a business coaching and consulting.

The way that I got involved with Essex Woods is one of the programs that I helped facilitate was an emotional reeducation workshop that was held at the Essex Retreat Center, the Essex Woods and I’ve heard that it was ultimately going to be sold and I wanted to continue the business because I thought it had a lot of value. And so back in January of 2016 I purchased the business.

Michael: Wow, okay. So there’s a lot there I’d love to unbundle a little bit.

Adrian: Okay. Sure.

Michael: So can you tell me a little bit more about your background as an entrepreneur?

Adrian: Yeah, I started a retail chain back in 1986, I was 28 years old, built it to 12 locations and sold it. And I went on to purchase a printing company but I found that I was relatively successful in business but it wasn’t what really excited me. What really excited me was building the teams that I had within the businesses and helping people sort of understand why they do what they do.

And so as I said, what I did is I made a decision, I sold the printing business and made a decision to start a kind of a hybrid of a coaching and consulting business where there was some training and some expertise brought from owning businesses but working with people more as an executive coach before people were really doing a lot of executive coaching and brought those two worlds together.

And as part of that, I also worked with a therapist upon the North Shore in Massachusetts running emotional reeducation workshops for people that were trying to accelerate their personal growth.

Michael: Got it. So when you were in your – it sounds like early to mid 30’s you said “Okay, this business thing is great and I’m good at it but I really like the people part of that, I want to double down on that.”

Adrian: Absolutely.

Michael: I love that and the presence of mind for that and I expect it works really closely together with what you’re doing now with the company retreats and meetings etc. I’ve got a very specific question though which is what is emotional reeducation?

Adrian: Yeah, so a lot of people will do some kind of personal growth whether it’d be therapy or coaching or whatever they decide to do and they’ll still find that they are still – even though they now understand why they do what they do, they find themselves having a difficult time making the actual changes in their life. And so we do a weekend-long workshop where we help people kind of release traumas in the body or really learn where these things came from and actually change them on a more physical-emotional level than is typically possible with the traditional modalities.

Michael: Got it. So I’m missing a step because you had this expertise in business, you started a retail chain etc. but then to go to emotional reeducation, I understand with the therapists involved but how did you approach kind of teaching that and facilitating that?

Adrian: Yeah, I think what I really did more than anything, well, first of all, I had participated in those workshops for a number of years and then learned as I went along but I also did a lot of different trainings along the way that anything that I found that was helpful I participated in those and learned as much as I could. And that really was a learning on the job.

Michael: Right. Are there any other kind of workshops or self-improvement learning that you did over the years that really stand out that you’d recommend to other people?

Adrian: One that I do currently that’s very relevant is something by Patrick Lencioni, he is a famous author in business. He has written a number of books but probably one of his most famous books was called “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”. And he developed a training called “The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team” through Wiley Publishing. And I became an authorized partner and certified to teach that training. I had actually been teaching it for a number of years, with that knowledge and they formalized the process a few years ago. And earlier this year I became an authorized partner. It’s a very powerful training for leadership teams in really any industry to help them get leverage out of the organizational health of their team.

Michael: Right. I remember we actually worked through “The Five Dysfunctions” a few months back. Yeah, we haven’t kept up with it as we should but I remember that I got crystal clear on things like communication, do you feel comfortable like speaking your voice and challenging other people? Things that perhaps you might otherwise see as confrontational but in hindsight you realize oh, well, that’s actually part of a productive business.

Adrian: Yeah, it’s actually counterintuitive because I think a lot of companies look for harmony and although you don’t want people emotionally fighting in the company, to conflict is a very important piece. And Lencioni’s model basically starts with having trust and it’s a different kind of trust than most people think about. And then he moves into what allows conflicts because you now feel safe to disagree which fosters more powerful commitments and then which when you have commitment people are then willing to be held accountable and then really having an attention to results of the company and not the individual.

So it’s a very, very powerful model and if it’s implemented fully which is I think the challenge most people will read the book, talk about it a little bit but they don’t really will roll up their sleeves. And so what we do is we do a 2 day program where a leadership team can come in and really learn and apply the 5 behaviors and when they do that the results are exceptional.

Michael: Got it. What’s a specific example of how they go from kind of reading the book, being involved with it but then actually applying it in their business?

Adrian: Sure. So you know I just did a training with a company and the owner is a great guy, very open, very progressive and when he got finished he came back to me and he said “Wow, we’re having conversations we never had before. We’re having disagreements we never had before. Issues that we would get pocket vetoed are no longer getting pocket vetoed. People are actually speaking their displeasure with the idea in advance, we work through it and then we move on. So our meetings have been a lot more productive and we’re actually getting traction on the things that we said matter to us.”

Michael: Awesome. I want to dig into that, those kinds of like best practices and applications a little bit more but first I really want to focus on Essex Woods so that I can…

Adrian: Sure.

Michael: …promote that and give it the attention it deserves. So in a few sentences can you tell me what is Essex Woods?

Adrian: You know, Essex Woods is currently a meeting and retreat center. It has an incredible history, it was built back in the 70’s truly by a group of hippies that were creating a spiritual retreat center and then went on to become a commune where families lived and then became a photography school with a person who actually apprenticed with Ansel Adams. It’s got a tremendous history and energy to it.

About 5 years ago in addition to doing retreat so even longer, back around ‘09 when the economy got hurt they decided to expand and do weddings and it kind of diluted the brand and there was a lot of question as to whether or not it would continue. The owner of the property was getting a little bit older and said “I don’t know if I’m going to keep doing this or not.” And I looked at it and said, you know, this is such a special place, it has an incredible energy to it that I really don’t want to see it go away and I thought that it was totally in alignment with my purpose and what I believe in and doing all kinds of things that I like to do.

So I offered to buy it which I did and the first thing we did is we actually stopped doing weddings, not because we have anything against weddings but it really wasn’t in alignment with the brand. And we really focused on finding great facilitators, you know, improving the center. We did some enhancements and remodeling and cleaning it up, that kind of thing. We have a ropes course on the property, we expanded the ropes course so that team building can be done on the ropes course. We also have a fire circle around 17 acres. We have a separate building with a hot tub and sauna for relaxing at night. We can sleep close to 50 people. We have our own dining rooms.

So it’s an amazing space, 17 acres of land. When people come it’s only 45 minutes from Boston and yet when they drive up the driveway they invariably will say “I can’t explain it but I feel so calm when I come here.” And that really is the essence of Essex Woods is it creates an environment for really powerful change. And that can be on a personal level, on a business level, in a team building environment, it can be for college retreats. Anything where people’s commitment is to their own and their company’s growth.

Michael: That’s interesting. It sounds like you’ve really been able to retain the original idea of it being a spiritual retreat but perhaps reframing it to be more accessible to other groups.

Adrian: Yeah, because there is no one spirituality that it follows, it’s just really more about communing with nature and being in an environment where everyone who’s been in the building has been committed to a deeper learning.

Michael: Right. Now, you decided to let go of the weddings business and you have a beautiful property. In my understanding weddings can be a major revenue generator for a lot of businesses. Can you tell me a little bit more about that decision?

Adrian: Sure. Yeah, it was actually immediately a 50% drop in revenue but it just as much as it was a great space for doing weddings when we really looked at it and thought about it and thought about it we said how does this line up without our vision of personal growth? And it really didn’t. It was a difficult decision in one way in the sense that financially obviously it had impact but it was an easy decision knowing what we were committed to doing.

Michael: Incredible. I think that’s a bold decision but I love to hear when businesses make these because it does sound like it’s been a correct one for you. Can you tell me a little bit more about your team? Who runs Essex Woods?

Adrian: Well, we have a business manager, Christine, we have Cecilia who is our events coordinator. We have a number of other people that are support to it. But the people that are there are the same people that were there before I bought it and I expect they got to continue. They’re terrific people; they really, really get it.

In fact, shortly after I purchased the business – just to give you an example of the kinds of things I think are amazing – I was calling into the office to speak to Christine and I got her on speakerphone and she said to me “I’m in the car with Michael” – was the name of person and that was a client that spent the weekend there with their group. And I said “Oh, okay.” And she said “Well, their car service for whatever reason didn’t pick them up and they needed to be at the airport so I just figured I’d give them a ride on the way home.” So from Essex to Logan Airport is not on your way home. And I said “Okay, well you call me when you’re all done.” And she called me later and I said to her that “It was awesome that you did that, Christine.” She said “Well, like why wouldn’t I? They needed it and I was there so it’s no big deal.” And that’s sort of how they treat all of our guests and I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have the people that I have.

Michael: I love it. It’s so great when you can rely on your people like that. And I hear you and giving credit to them and their kind of willingness and empathy and helping out the guest. I’m interested in how you have helped cultivate that further. Like what do you do for own kind of team building and team integrity and communication, etc.?

Adrian: Yeah. We meet regularly, we have a 5 behaviors workshop plan for ourselves and the challenge there is that I don’t want to facilitate it because I can’t. There’s a lot of open communication. I think the gift that they really bring is that they treat it like it’s their own and they think I’ve done a good job at it striking that balance between leading the team and staying out of their way. I think if I were to be too much in the way, that would be a problem and yet they do need to understand where we’re going. And so I think all I’ve really done is help them understand where we’re going and they’ve done the rest of it.

Michael: Right. Fantastic. All right. I want to dig into Essex Woods and the team building retreats, how that business has evolved. You mentioned the specific examples; you mentioned the rope course, the ability to sleep 50 plus people overnight. What does a typical retreat look like for a company?

Adrian: You know, it can really vary. Most of the time, a company will come to us knowing that they’re looking more for the space to hold their own retreat and they’re not actually looking for facilitation services. So they may know they’re having an annual board meeting or whatever they’re doing and they’ll say “Hey, look, we need space, we need food, we need meeting rooms, we need some options for hour and hour and that kind of thing. And that’s all they’re looking for.

In other cases they will come and say “Hey, look, we really want to do something special and the ropes course sounds great” and we’ll bring in our facilitator for the ropes course and we’ll do that. Or they’ll say “What we really want is we’re having some dysfunction on our team. Do you guys do that?” And there’s a case where I might step in but we’re also in the process this year of putting more and more talented facilitators on our team so that when someone comes to us and says I need help with creativity, we’re stuck. That we’ll have the right person that’s great at facilitating that. I mean I can do the 5 dysfunctions work or the 5 behaviors work but it’s not the only option out there. So we’re growing that slowly because we really want the right people, it’s so important to me that anybody that’s associated with us is well above average. But it’s getting there.

Michael: Right. When you hire a people do you look that – how to put this? – do you look for certain personality traits and an ability to learn? Or are you looking that they already have the hard skills for what you want them to teach?

Adrian: Well, yeah, I think they have to have it for what they want to teach. I’m really looking for that person who says I’ve been doing this for a number of years; this is the kind of group I’m incredibly successful with. I promise you that your guest or your client will have had a powerful experience. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t – if someone came to me and said I really want to learn how to teach the 5 behaviors that I wouldn’t help them or if I wouldn’t help them teaching them some team dynamics work. But if I’m going to recommend somebody I need to know that they have it down.

Michael: Got it. So…

Adrian: And usually those people come to us from a company that brought a facilitator in that they knew about and you just keep getting rave reviews about that person then we’re likely to reach out to them.

Michael: Got it. What does the kind of booking and scheduling process look like? So imagine, I’m a big company based in downtown Boston, I’m interested in doing retreats so I have contacted you. What are the next steps?

Adrian: Sure. Yeah, it’s pretty easy. First of all, our rates and our availability is online so you can jump onto our website and get an idea what things cost and then you can actually look to see the dates that are tentatively open. I think the important things for most people is to get in early enough. In another words, what happens our cycle looks like is a year out we’re not particularly booked. 6 months out we’re more booked. 3 months out we really start to book a particular month. So right now we’re booking January and February. November and December are pretty much what they’re going to be. So I would give people – I would encourage people to book early.

And then it’s as simple as picking up the phone, calling Christine, saying I want these dates. Once they do that we send out an agreement that explains what the costs are, what’s included, what’s not included. And basically we include everything: all [inaudible 18:21], food, everything is included.

And then once they have signed an agreement with us then our event coordinator, Cecilia will reach back out to find out about things like food allergies, when they’re coming, when they’re leaving, what specific needs do they have, is there anything that we need to know in order to make their visit a positive one.

Michael: Got it. Great. I think that’s very clear. Now I’d like to come back to the part of the conversation we were talking about, kind of best practices and challenges the teams face. So when groups come to you you’ve mentioned the 5 dysfunctions, you’ve mentioned some other challenges that they may have. What are the top 2 or 3 reasons that people are booking a retreat like this?

Adrian: I think most of the time it’s because that they know that they need to be working on their business not in their business but they need to take a step back and gain some perspective that they need the phone to stop ringing, they email to stop and really slow it down and ask the difficult questions which is difficult to ask when you’re answering all those emails and phone calls and have deadlines etc. It’s really that opportunity to unplug and I think when a good facilitator comes together with a great environment, the leverage that a company can get is phenomenal.

Michael: Right. Definitely. So with that in mind, with these groups coming in, do you find that you’re working with kind of entrepreneurs and managers that are a little bit higher level, that are a little bit more kind of self-aware about the challenges that they’re facing?

Adrian: Yeah. You know, that’s a little hard for me to answer because I know the groups that I’m involved with, absolutely that’s the case but in some cases we’ll have team building for a group of college students. And we just had – we’ve had probably this year a dozen of the major colleges come and do retreats with us. So it may not be quite at the same level. Then you’ll get nonprofits who have a tendency to be much more self-aware and there’s a lot more depth. Then you’ll get corporations where it’s really, there’s depth but it’s really about results. So it varies depending upon the group. Our only, not condition but our guiding principle is that there’s some level of personal growth happening.

Michael: Right. Got it. All right. Just a couple quick questions to wrap this up. One thing I made note of is you’re all-season, correct?

Adrian: Absolutely. Yeah.

Michael: Awesome. So you book people throughout the winter. Although do you see many around kind of Christmas and the holidays or does it slow down at that time?

Adrian: It’s funny, we’re booked up solidly for Christmas for the month of December. They say in the past it has been slow but they’re seeing more bookings happening at this time of the year then they’ve noticed in the past so I think that something is changing. We are looking at adding amenities for the winter like we have lots of trails, we’re near the ocean so we’re looking to doing some snow showing, we’re toying with the idea of adding outdoor skating rink for people to use when they’re here. Like I said we have the fire circle that gets used all year round, the hot tub, the sauna. So we’re geared for the winter but absolutely I would say that our busier seasons are from spring through late fall.

Michael: Got it. Okay, I think that wraps it up pretty well. You’ve given me kind of a ton of information about the business and the teams etc. Is there a suggested group size; minimum and maximum?

Adrian: You know, I would say that a great group size for us is about 25-26. And certainly smaller groups like a lot of the 5 behaviors work ends up being 8 to 10, 8 to 12 people. But one of the things we do with the center is we offer exclusivity to the group that’s there. So what we don’t do is we don’t put two groups in at the same time if we can because we really want that experience to be a special one.

So what can happen is if the group size is too small it can have an impact on the cost per person. So at that 25-26 level is great, I would say even less than that is fine but not a lot less. And when you get up closer to 50, it’s fine, we’ve even had bigger groups and we have outside resources to increase the numbers that we can handle, like local lodging but I would say that that’s probably – the range is in that 25 to 50 range.

Michael: Got it. All right. Before we wrap up, anything else that we kind of didn’t cover, could have gone a little bit deeper into, anything else that you’d like to kind of talk about or share about your business?

Adrian: Yeah, off the top of my head Michael, I can’t think of anything. I think your questions were helpful. It helped me reflect but so no I think that’s pretty good.

Michael: Awesome. Thank you. Thank you for chatting with me.

Adrian: No problem.

Essex Woods Reviews

I wanted to get other perspectives on the experience Essex Woods provides for company team building and retreats, so I searched for “Essex Woods Reviews” on Google. The reviews are mostly positive and are available on Yelp, Facebook, Trip Advisor and Google.

Here are some of the more informative reviews that I found…

This one from Yelp talks about Essex Woods’ ability and willingness to accommodate special dietary needs:

A beautiful location with all the amenities you an ask for. The Essex Meeting and Retreat Center was a perfect spot for our strategic discussions. The staff was 100% supportive and accommodated all of our special requests and needs. We had several different dietary needs and all were met to perfection! All of our questions and needs were exceeded. We strongly recommend Essex – affordable, accessible, eco-friendly all with a staff that aims to please.
– Amber B., Yelp Review

This one from Facebook talks about the positive outcome of doing a training workshop at Essex woods:

My team and I had a great experience at Essex Woods. Adrian Wilkins helped facilitated a session with our leadership team of nine people. The time spent was well worth the investment. I’d recommend the experience to any team looking to build trust, accountability, and commitment within their team.
– Gregory R., Facebook Review

And this one from Trip Advisor reviews the accommodations for overnight stays:

Perfect for a group retreat. My work group had a retreat here in May, and this was the perfect setting. The accommodations were exactly what we needed for talks, meals, downtime, and fun activities. Everyone in the group complemented the food, and the staff were very helpful with anything we needed. The woodsy, artsy setting was good for relaxing as well as brainstorming. The rooms are very simple mostly with shared bathrooms, but no one in the group seemed to mind.
– Cary D., Trip Advisor Review

Rock Spot Climbing: Multiple Locations in the Greater Boston Area

Today, I interviewed Kat Friel of Rock Spot Climbing about their team building business. We specifically talked about the South Boston location, and how Rock Spot Climbing works with corporate and college groups to facilitate better communication, trust and team work.

You can listen to the full interview below. This articles also includes my research on Rock Spot Climbing, including information about the location, facilities, pricing, demographics, safety information and more.

Let’s get into it…

Rock Spot Climbing Highlights

To be honest, before this call I didn’t know much about rock climbing and I knew even less about how it works as a team building activity. It turns out that not only does rock climbing meet a lot of the needs for a group looking for a fun, physical activity but also has great opportunities for improving trust and bonding over the experience.

Here are some highlights:

  • Rock climbing really is an “all person” sport, Rock Spot Climbing has members as young as 4 and as old as 70;
  • You don’t need a lot of arm strength because rock climbing is mostly about leg strength, “if you can climb a ladder you can climb a wall”;
  • Climbing is a great sport for beginners;
  • Even though rock climbing sometimes gets categorized together with “extreme sports”, it’s actually quite accessible and relatively safe;
  • A typical event is 2 hours, but you can do a longer event that includes more time on the wall, advanced training, team building games, etc.
  • Rock Spot Climbing has facilitators and equipment to accommodate a wide range of disabilities, including specialized training for blind individuals, and a climbing harness for folks with limited mobility;
  • There is a dining area / private room so you order pizzas or do another catered meal after your event. You can do a bar as well, but after your climb!;
  • On the issue of safety, Rock Spot Climbing takes precautions to ensure the safety of your team.

How to Find Rock Spot Climbing

As of November, 2016, Rock Spot Climbing has four locations, including two in Boston, MA, and two in Rhode Island. This review is specifically about the Rock Spot Climbing at 30 Old Colony Ave Boston, MA 02127. You can click that link to determine your route. If you get lost, call the gym at 617-269-2084 for assistance.

 

Team Building Activities at Rock Spot Climbing

Even though team building activities and corporate off-sites have become more popular in the last two or three years, team building has actually been a thing for decades. Rock Spot Climbing has been facilitating team building activities for 10+ years, which has given them the time and practice to develop a high level of expertise.

The basic act of rock climbing is inherently a good team building activity because it demands collaboration, trust and clear communication. Plus, rock climbing is just a fun way to get a little exercise and blow off steam after a tough project or quarter. Your event is augmented with team building elements, e.g., you can add a game where trivia cards about your team members are posted up around the gym so that you first retrieve them and then answer the questions. This trivia game is a great way to learn odd facts about coworkers that may not otherwise come out in regular conversation. You can enhance your team’s visit to Rock Spot Climbing further by reading this guide about rock climbing for team building.

Is Rock Spot Climbing Safe?

I asked Rock Spot Climbing about safety concerns related to bringing your employees for team building at their Boston gym. The company website has a few mentions of waivers, so is it dangerous? Rock Spot Climbing’s answer was clear, “waivers are standard across the climbing industry.” The company shared that climbing is inherently dangerous, because you are climbing up a wall, but they take all safety precautions including safety equipment, training, etc.

You may want to do additional research to ensure the safety of your team. Here is an article about the safety of rock climbing in general and here is a Quora thread where people share first hand accounts regarding safety and some of the risks involved.

Interview With Kat Friel, Marketing Team Lead at Rock Spot Climbing

Interview Transcript

Michael: Alright, so my first question for you is I’ve done some research, I’ve learned all about Rock Spot Climbing, but I’d like you to tell me in your own words what is Rock Spot Climbing?

Kat: We’re an indoor rock climbing facility with four locations throughout Rhode Island and Massachusetts. And our goal in to provide indoor climbing for all ages and all abilities.

Michael: Cool. How did the company get started?

Kat: I’m sorry?

Michael: How did the company get started? Where did Rock Spot Climbing come from?

Kat: It was born out of a gym called Rhode Island Rock Gym that existed in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, the two current owners just met in college, started climbing at that gym, and it came up for sale, they felt potential, bought it, a couple of years later moved it to our current location in Lincoln and then in 2009 we opened our second location up in Boston, and rebranded the Rhode Island Rock Gym to Rock Spot Climbing.

Michael: Got it. I imagine that there are some unique challenges with finding a location for a rock climbing gym and then running it as well, can you tell me a little bit about that?

Kat: I mean I can’t answer too much to that because that’s exactly my role in the company, that’s what the owners do, so…

Michael: Got it, no problem.

Kat: I manage the marketing and that’s my type of stuff, the owners are the ones who do that.

Michael: Good. Let’s take it to more marketing stuff then. And I think the right context for that is when did Rock Spot Climbing start offering team building events, team building activities, corporate events, etc.?

Kat: We pretty much offered them from the start, it’s obviously taken on different forms, and you know we’ve kind of fine-tuned the programming throughout the years. But we’ve been offering our current programs for years. Like I’ve been in this company for ten years and it’s, you know, we improved on it throughout the time but we’ve always offered some sort of team building programs.

Michael: Got it. It does seem to me that team building has been kind of on a lot of company’s radar for the last few decades but it seems even more popular in the last like 3 to 5 years.

Kat: Yeah, I mean we’ve seen an increase in people coming to our company and utilizing our services for that, climbing in general lends itself to being a really good team building activity. Whether people are learning how to belay and therefore having to interact and you know, bring in that trust element to just being on the wall and trying something new together as a group. You know, it was kind of a natural thing that from the beginning we would offer team building.

Michael: Got it. So to make it super clear for people listening or reading the transcript of this, what is belaying, can you tell me a little bit more about the interaction between the team members and how that brings them closer together?

Kat: Yeah, right, so belaying is when one person is essentially holding the ropes for the other person. So it’s a technique, we teach lessons on how to do it, you’re holding – the belayer is holding the rope, they use a belay device that takes the friction and then the climber is attached to the other end of the rope, so as they climb up the wall, the belayer pulls the slots through so the climber lets go, the belayer is essentially holding them back and they can come down when they’re done.

Smaller team building groups definitely do utilize that and we will teach them how to belay and they’ll belay for each other. It is a little bit of a time consuming process to teach. So many groups who just want to belay for a couple of hours will not do the belaying side, they’ll have our staff belay and they’re attending it or just climbing. And they don’t have to worry about learning the technique and making sure they’re safe doing it and all that.

Michael: Got it. I’d like to roll this back a little bit, how do companies find you? How do they know that Rock Spot Climbing even has this activity they can do with their team?

Kat: We advertise it on our website, we do some outreach, I do a lot of health fares, at various companies that people find us there. What we find most often is you know one person in a company or in a team is already a member or is a climber and they see this as a great opportunity to turn their co-workers on to the sport. Climbers tend to get a little obsessed and excited about this sport. So they’ll suggest it to whoever is organizing the team building, the programming and the team comes out and they have a great time, and the next thing we know is we’re booked by three more departments from the same company. So it tends to kind of be a lot of experiential word of mouth.

Michael: Got it. So I think that’s really interesting because a lot of extreme sports or more physical activities wouldn’t lend themselves well to that. I’m thinking of something like cross fit where people are so passionate. But if you brought your co-workers, it might be a rough time. Or…

Kat: Yeah, yeah.

Michael: Or something like motor biking or like cliff jumping, they’re just a little bit too extreme. But it sounds like rock climbing is something that’s accessible for like beginners, intermediate, advanced, it’s kind of good for everybody, is that right?

Kat: Yeah. And I think that’s why – because a lot of people think of climbing in the same category as cross-fit and motor biking, etc. or any of those extreme sports, that are not accessible, it often takes there being an existing climber in the group or you know, someone having brought their tools into a birthday party for them to see for themselves that it really is all ages, all abilities and it doesn’t matter whether you’re a fit, active 20 something year old or a middle-aged not so active person or overweight or whatever that really – there is something there for everybody, something that – we want them to feel good. And our gym specifically tries to ensure that and target those groups and make sure that really everybody can be a climber.

Michael: Is there a specific demographic that it is most popular with?

Kat: As far as our member base, so people who have memberships and come in and climb regularly as their sport and as their fitness, it’s probably around 20 to 40 as an age range, where kind of our key demographic is; young professionals essentially. But we have members in their sixties and seventies who climb regularly and we have youth programs that run for as young as 4 year olds. So we definitely do have climbers of all ages.

Michael: Alright, I’m imagining a 4 year old climbing the wall and it’s pretty adorable.

Kat: I actually started when I was 2 and a half as a climber, so yeah, it’s pretty good.

Michael: That’s cool, that’s very cool. Alright, so if somebody has found you for a team building event, either via their co-worker being a member or one of these health fares that you do, what’s the next step, I mean do they call you; what do they need to know, what do they need to prepare to come and do a team building activity with you?

Kat: Well, we find out what their outcomes are that they’re looking for, what their objectives for the program are. If they’re just looking for the team to let off some steam and have some fun together or whether they really want to work on communication? We’ve had some groups that, it was a team that worked in 2 remote locations and they’d come together once a year. So they did a 5 hour program that included a lot more communication games in addition to just climbing. So they’ve got a lot more of the element in it, but most of our groups just get a 2 hour you know, kind of fun element.

But once we determine that, then we look at schedule, number of people, you know, get a deposit and get going. Once they book it, everyone just needs to do a waiver in advance, wear comfortable clothing and show up ready to have fun.

Michael: Got it, it sounds pretty straight forward. So I heard that the main reason people come to you are either to kind of relax and let off steam, etc., maybe it’s the end of a big project or the end of a quarter or something like this, and then other people come specifically for improvement of communication or collaboration or this kind of thing.

I want to dig into that second one a little bit more because to me, I totally understand your expertise in climbing; I think people may not know that you are also experts in teaching communication, etc. So what does that part of an event look like?

Kat: So again, it’s really customized to each individual group’s needs. But what we see most often is – obviously no wonder if it’s 5 hours event – is that they want to have fun, to let lose but they want the team to really interact together. So one game, program will do. We have, it’s kind of a climbing game show essentially, you know, we customize it to the group, the group leader often will come up with questions, trivia questions, and depending on the goals of the organization, sometimes there’s questions about the company and their history, sometimes it’s questions about just general trivia, that one particular group I’m referring to did questions about people on the other team.

So personal questions, because they were trying to get to know each other more because they worked virtually. So it’s kind of a game showing off your teams, but the clues, the questions that they have to answer are attached to walls around the gym. So you have to have members of your team climb up to get the question. And then the team has to work together to answer the question.

So it’s a lot of – you know, they’re working against each other but they’re also working with their teams, when you do question about the team or about the company, it adds an extra element to it, and at the same time they’re using the climbing skills that they get in the beginning half of the program. So it kind of ties everything together.

Michael: That’s cool. That sounds like a lot of fun. It’s much clearer now. So I appreciate that explanation. You’ve mentioned a few different time ranges. You said some teams come for like 2 hours, 3 hours, some as many as 5. What’s the most typical for a group to come in?

Kat: Our most popular for timing is the 2 hour program. And that usually breaks down to be about an hour and a half of rock climbing which is the climbing where our staff is belaying for them, and then we do a half hour team building game even with the 2 hour program. That one we usually do a game called shark pit which is works on – you know, the teams have to work together to solve a problem, basically getting the whole team from point A to point B while swinging across a rope. So you don’t fall, it’s like playing with a child.

Michael: Totally.

Kat: It’s really fun. But that’s our most popular, I’d say the second most popular is our 4 hour program which is essentially this 4 hour – essentially the 2 hour program and then they can either add on 2 hours’ worth of team building games, or they can learn how to belay and add on one hour team building games.

Michael: Got it, so really a lot of flexibility with how to customize it, etc. Interesting. Okay, so that makes a lot of sense to me. With the team building events, do you have any examples of kind of companies, groups that have come recently and kind of enjoyed it and seen great results?

Kat: I personally don’t have permission from the companies to share their names…

Michael: Sure, no problem, I totally appreciate that.

Kat: Yeah, I don’t want to publish it, because they’re all big named companies and we need their permission to use their names for promotion.

Michael: Got it, I totally get it, a lot of the leads that come in through our sites are Google and Adobe and Oracle and they’re the kind of companies that you don’t talk about unless they say you can.

Kat: Yeah, I mean we’ve had some that came through with a third party that books it and we don’t even know who the actual client is until they show up. “I’m here for the blah-blah-blah family dating.” And I’m like “Oh, I was wondering who this 40 person event was.”

Michael: Got it. Interesting, very interesting. I’m curious about the waivers which as I understand would be a legal requirement but are there – what are the safety issues or concerns that people should be aware of?

Kat: I mean waivers are standard across the climbing industry. It’s – climbing is inherently dangerous. You know, we do everything we can to provide everybody with all the tools and information that they need to have a good time but it’s the lawyer’s make us do it. I don’t know what to say.

Michael: It’s okay, I get it, I’m not going to press that one. It’s more, I’m curious about it.

Kat: As a general thing, I know, our general phrase is climbing in inherently dangerous. And then the safety rules that we’ve set for us and…

Michael: Totally. And frankly, most stuff is kind of dangerous if you don’t follow the rules. For example, crossing the road.

Kat: Exactly, exactly, right. But the lawyers…

Michael: I get it. Okay, so how many people is this suitable for? Is there a range?

Kat: Again, it depends on what type of programming you’re looking for. The more you know, intense programs, I guess, the longer, more involved programs, you can do it better in groups of 25 or less. Just because you can have a lot more of that interaction, you get a lot more out of it, you can be more successful.

The shorter programs we can handle – you know, that’s good for any size, we have had groups over 100, I mean we have a group coming in to the South Boston gym later this month that is 300 people.

Michael: Oh wow.

Kat: Yeah, they’re not running as an organization because they’re large, they’re running a little differently. It’s actually not necessarily a team building activity; it’s a reward activity, so it’s like a special event for this group. And they’ll have like a caterer and they’ll have lots of things going on and our staff will be essentially in station. So everyone who comes in will get an orientation, learn all the safety rules and then they can kind of use the facility as they want and they’ll have our staff around to help them out.

Michael: Right. Do you see like college students and high school students as well or is it mostly corporate groups?

Kat: We do a lot of – actually the group that we’ll do later this month is college age.

Michael: Got it.

Kat: So yeah, we see a lot of both.

Michael: Okay, cool. And what about kind of a very general pricing. I’ll direct people to your website so they can get a real quote but like ball park per person and per event?

Kat: I mean our, at least the most popular one is the 2 hour program that’s $25 per person if you can have over 20 people, it drops down to $20. So that’s our standard event pricing.

Michael: Cool and very reasonable. And then I assume it goes up a little bit as they add the training and the activities, the games, etc.

Kat: Right, that’s for the 2 hour program. If you attend a 3, 4, 5 hour program, you’re adding more of the team building games, the price goes up because A, it’s a lot of programs but B because you know, depending on the needs of the group, we’ll bring in more of our higher level staff for this program.

Michael: Cool. I think I’ve just got one more question before we wrap up. And then I’ll be open to anything else that you want to chat about as well. But the question is you mentioned people associate rock climbing with more extreme sports and that’s kind of a common objection they have to coming in. Are there other common objections that you hear from people?

Kat: I think we most often hear “oh, I can’t do that. I have no arm strength.” Or you know, “I can’t do that, I’m too old. That’s for my kids.” And I think what people don’t realize is that climbing is actually mostly about your leg strength. You have a lot more push in your legs than you lave pull in your arms. So that’s usually the first technique you learn if you take climbing classes is not to use your upper body, and I think people are surprised at how successful they are with it. That it’s not as difficult as they thought it was going to be, that their body actually can do more than they thought, and that it’s ton of fun.

Michael: Okay, so it sounds like somebody even that’s just used to just a very basic level of physical activity would be a good candidate for this.

Kat: If you can climb a ladder, you can climb a wall. And even beyond that though, when we say all ages, all abilities, we mean it. We have trained staff at all of our gyms who have taken trainings for adaptive climbing so we have had climbers who are visually impaired, who have strength – or weaknesses in specific limbs, who don’t have specific limbs. We have a seat harness, that we can set up if a climber has limited use of their whole body and so it’s kind of a hoist we use if they can’t use their upper body, we have special aids for climbers who don’t – who have muscle weakness issues and you need a little assistance with that. So we can literally can get anybody up a wall.

Michael: That’s fantastic, I love that you’re able to accommodate kind of all people, all groups.

Kat: Yeah, we have a lot of groups that come and use us that work with kids and young adults who have various physical disabilities, and they love it. Because it’s such a freeing sport for those people. You know especially kids who often feel left out from sports with their friends, all of a sudden this is something that they can do and they can do it with everybody. So we can definitely accommodate anybody.

Michael: Cool, very, very cool. Alright, before we warp us, was there anything else that you think would be useful to share or maybe we could have gone a little bit deeper into?

Kat: So I mean I guess that this is focused on the Boston gym, right?

Michael: Yeah.

Kat: So that both our Boston gyms do have a space that teams can do meetings or catering or you know, kind of wrap-up sessions, if they’d like to afterwards.

Michael: Great, so do they provide the food? Or do you?

Kat: Either way. We have deals with pizza places, and you know we’re happy to arrange that, but they’re also more than welcome to bring catering in depending on the time of the event we’ve had groups that have brought bars in. It was their first climbing.

Michael: Right.

Kat: But South Boston actually has a private party room, a little lounge area that we can block off. And we’ve had groups that have brought in bars and caterers and had little buffets over there. The group on the 17th will have a caterer set up.

Michael: Cool, so somebody could come in, they could do their 2 hour activity, they could go and have a meal with their team and they could go like their little pep talk training thing…

Kat: Yep, yep.

Michael: For a really full experience.

Kat: Exactly.

Michael: That’s great, cool, well, thank you so much for chatting with me, I’ve loved learning about your business. To be honest, I didn’t know a lot about rock climbing so some of the analogies you made like being able to, you know, if you can climb a ladder, you can climb a wall, that’s really interesting to me. So thank you.

Kat: Yeah, no problem. Thank you!

Rock Spot Climbing Reviews

There are plenty of reviews for Rock Spot Climbing, and I recommend you do a quick Google search to find the reviews most relevant to you. You can also check out the detailed comments on Yelp, Trip Advisor and Facebook. As of 16/11/03, Rock Spot Climbing has 5 out of 5 stars based on 34 reviews on their Facebook Page.

Here are a few helpful reviews I found…

This one is about the difficulty level of rock climbing at Rock Spot Climbing:

I cannot recommend Rock Spot enough. The walls vary from semi-easy to very challenging and the floors are padded to prevent injury. The staff was courteous and very professional and the other climbers were very friendly. I can only describe the overall environment as supportive-multiple times other climbers would give me advice on how to improve and tell me which climbs they thought were best for beginners.
– Alexandra C., Yelp Review

And here is a review specifically about team building:

Great Team Building! Our leadership team went there to do some physical team building exercise. It was fun and exhaustive (for our hands). They have friendly staff who guide you throughout. Great for kids as well I imagine. Don’t fear falling down – they have got it covered.
– Salman K., Trip Advisor Review

One more, here is a review about Rock Spot’s staff:

First time climbing there and I fell in love with it! Every staff member I talked to was friendly and welcoming! Am definitely considering a membership.
– Ryan, L. Facebook Review

Have You Done Team Building at Rock Spot Climbing?

Did you and your team do an event or workshop at Rock Spot Climbing? I’d love to hear about your experience. You can leave a comment below with your review. Please include specific information about your team building activity, the industry you work in and details about the planning of your event. Thanks!

Cashunt: An Unusual Twist on Fun Scavenger hunts

It’s easy to forget that businesses have real people behind them. Not your business of course, YOUR processes and YOUR teams are driven by real people; they collaborate, worry about retirement, eat Chipotle and get sh*t done. But when you interact with other businesses, it’s faceless advertising and “functional interactions.” Could we do better?

I love interviewing the people behind team building companies because they have a fundamentally different understanding of business; they know it’s people that drive every organization, and they work to help improve the communication, collaboration and functionality of how these people work together.

Today’s review of Cashunt is a great example of an idea that thrives by acknowledging businesses are made up of people, and that when you invest in those people they build strong teams and strong companies. I interviewed Chris Damianakos, Head Game Coordinator at Cashunt, about their company team building activities. Chris shared his passion for people, creative ideas and great customer service.

Here’s the review…

Cashunt Highlights

Cashunt is like a mashup between a scavenger hunt, trivia night, amazing race and your favorite circus, i.e., it’s a creative and energetic blast. From the interview with Chris and my research I learned about the advantages of doing a team building event or “Urban Competition” with Cashunt. The highlights include:

  • one game can include 250+ people, split into teams of 8;
  • every event is heavily customized, e.g., a newspaper printout “clue”with a story about your company that you follow to reach the next step;
  • Cashunt is an all ages team building activity, i.e., it’s fun whether you are in your 20s or your 70s;
  • while many scavenger hunts rely on apps and clipboards, Cashunt’s Urban Competition is about exploring spaces and interacting with people;
  • the event is split into a series of activities that are designed to improve your team dynamics, e.g., a time restricted photo hunt that requires collaboration and a trivia portion that shares fun facts about team members;
  • the core event is two hours long, so this activity can easily fit into most work days;
  • Cashunt has a Bad Weather Policy, so if there is heavy rain, snow, etc. you can cancel or reschedule your event without penalty;
  • this is a good choice for a repeat event because the company operates games as unique seasons, with a creative overhaul each year;
  • the event wraps up with an award ceremony, and everyone likes prizes;
  • the whole thing is infused with elements that promote team bonding;
  • it’s really fun!

How to Find Cashunt

As of November, 2016, Cashunt operates in six cities, including Boston, Salem, Charleston, Chicago, Philadelphia and New York City. You can find an up to date list of operating cities and contact information on Cashunt’s website.

Team Building Activities at Cashunt

Cashunt’s main team building activity is an Urban Competition. If your team likes doing scavenger hunts and similar activities then you will love Cashunt. The main difference between Cashunt and a scavenger hunt is the heavy focus on interactive activities. Here are some examples of activities your team will participate in:

  • The 100 Photo Challenge: each “target” is worth a different number of points, so it takes strategy and collaboration to maximize your results. Some teams will rush off to beat the clock, others will split into groups with photo hunt missions and other groups will take a very cerebral approach. There isn’t any right or wrong way to tackle this collaboration, and no real penalties, so it’s a good opportunity to show your team that they can share their opinions, make compromises and still get the work done.
  • Follow the Clues: your team building adventure is a series of a clues and trivia items that lead to the next step. Cashunt incorporates custom trivia about YOUR team, including icebreaker type questions and fun updates.
  • The Coin Rush: often a bonus round to scoop some extra points, each team can find hidden coins along the route. This bonus activity is a great way to encourage exploration and is a series of “happiness boosts” every time you find a coin.
  • The Award Ceremony: Cashunt’s team building activity finishes up with an award ceremony where the Game Coordinator tallies up each team’s points and awards special prizes to the groups. One of the best things about Cashunt is performance is 100% merit bases – the team that collaborates best will win and be recognized for it.

Interview With Chris Damianakos, Head Game Coordinator at Cashunt

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Interview Transcript

Michael: What is Cashunt?Chris: Okay, so what we do is we’ve been around for 16 years. We do this really elaborate premium type of scavenger hunt that really kind of invokes a variety of different elements to the game. So it’s not a typical scavenger hunt where, you know, you just go and find things. Our game is devised by photographs, videos and things that are hidden around the city that teams would need to go and find. There are secrets and I guess the one thing to elaborate is when I mean secrets, you know, all the groups, all the teams receive a game packet and one of the items in the game packet is the initial game booklet. And the game booklet looks a lot like an old comic book.

So with that being said what we do is other than the core challenges that we put in this game we throw in a bunch of cryptic secrets. So something that might look like an article and it just might look like it’s there cosmetically speaking but actually it’s another challenge. So in essence all our Cashunt games but primarily the corporate version, the team building version of it, you know, we advertise it as 6 core challenges but in the actuality from front to back it’s literally like 13-14 different challenges because some of them might require QR codes, we use Tekken involved in these game booklets, others just like simply the naked eye.

But it’s a 2 hour event and it doesn’t get played in sequence so it’s not a scenario where you need to do one challenge in order to get to the next challenge. It’s really kind of like this 2 hour madcap game race where they’re playing the game, where they’re being exposed to the city. We really expose the city in regards to a lot of things a lot of people don’t know about. And you know, it’s comical. There’s just a lot of different elements and like as in any team building type of scenario it’s an icebreaker but we take a lot of elements from pop culture. So old film noir, comic books, the city, board games and we just kind of embed it into one big giant game.

So yeah, so it’s a fun event, we do about close to 350 games a year, started here in Boston like I said 16 years ago, we branched out to Charleston South-Carolina, Philadelphia, Chicago and starting to reform again in New York.

Michael: Wow, there is a ton there and I’d love to kind of unpack it, reframe it a little bit to make sure that it’s clear to anybody listening or reading.

Chris: Sure. Yeah.

Michael: So I appreciate that you’re not just a normal scavenger hunt, it sounds like there’s a lot of other things going on…

Chris: Sure.

Michael: But is it correct to say that you at least present it in part as a scavenger hunt? Because people will recognize some of those core elements of following clues and kind of the teamwork and the rushing around?

Chris: You know, it’s a great question. The one thing I would probably say is when we first started out yes, you could elaborate that it would be a scavenger hunt. Now it’s taken a life of its own. So it’s pretty much what we like to call it kind of an urban game experience because there’s a lot of – you know, in other words I think the best way I can say, the city becomes the game board in some cases. So yes, there are elements of a scavenger hunt but it’s more of a game experience. And I hope that’s going to make any sense but it has just a variety of different types of game elements, one being a scavenger hunt intertwined into this type of product.

Michael: Got it. I think there’s of course a lot of different categories of team building that companies can do. They can do a retreat out in the woods; they could go on a vacation together. They could go and make specialty chocolates or learn how to make pizza.

Chris: Sure.

Michael: Would you say that at least we’re in the same kind of category vertical as scavenger hunts? If somebody is looking into scavenger hunts would they also be interested in something like this?

Chris: Oh yeah. Because the one thing when it comes to the corporate, I mean we have pretty much in the company we’ve done it for them and sometimes on multiple occasions. But we also embed the company’s DNA into the game as well. So there is items like such as company trivia, there is something that we call the missing item challenge that is something – you know, something is missing from their “office” that is related to what they do or it could be very general, it could be very light-hearted.

So we definitely take like I mentioned the DNA of that company and we request for a few or sometimes several aspects of their company that they deliver to us, maybe depending on the size of the group but relatively two weeks or sometimes a month in advance and then we take that element and then we just kind of intertwine it with the games that we currently offer them.

So it depends. You know, every company is very different in our experience of doing this for so long. Some of them just want kind of like a light-hearted approach and enjoy. Others literally – there are some aspects that they’re sending over to us that is literally – they want to kind of… how can I put this? – re-educate or kind of follow through like in the fact that they send trivia questions.

A lot of companies will look at it as just general 10 questions about their company, or whatever. Other companies will actually – I mean there’s this company that I’m not going to mention but the questions were probably the equivalent of an SAT and they’ll really look at it and say okay, I remember specifically where a game has finished and after we presented the medals and talked about the game, who won and whatnot, I remember specifically that the group and I think it was about 12 teams, after we did our thing, after the game was over one of the bosses that were there they were concerned why every team got 7 out of 10 questions wrong. So I mean that’s a little bit extreme because it’s just supposed to be a fun event but I guess sometimes certain companies kind of look at it a little bit more in-depth.

Michael: Right. So of course there other companies, there are other aspects, you mentioned a team, things like quarterly reviews, things like annual meetings to make sure everybody is line so perhaps they were combining the elements of those.

Chris: Right, so yeah.

Michael: I would love to – you’ve touched on different elements of the scavenger hunt game and I would love if we could kind of compact it into one segment of this interview. Can you take me from start to finish what a team building activity, what a team building event looks like for a group?

Chris: Sure, absolutely. So what we do, you know, like literally from the straight out details of the product as well?

Michael: Yeah, let me give you an example. It’s like step 1, they arrive at 11 am, there’s a 15 minute like warm up session followed by…

Chris: Okay. Yeah. Absolutely. I can tell you that. So I went right from the – literally from the inquiry call right up to literally the award presentation. So you know, we get an initial inquiry call sometimes a month, maybe 2 months prior. We get some general information about that company to really understand it. Again, there are companies that were really kind of used to doing it quite a few times. So with that being said they’ll supply us with certain information.

And then what we will then go ahead and do is produce the game. Now, how we produce the game in regards to how many teams we create? We kind of go in intervals of 8. Our minimum is as low as 8 people and it can go right up to – we just had one for 250 players, literally last week. So what we like to do is we take a group and divide them into groups of 8, sometimes maximum of… groups of 10.

What they will then, when they arrive, it’ll be about 20 minutes if anything, maybe around 15 minutes of actual briefing the instructions. They’ll usually come obviously to us premeditated as far as everybody knowing what team they’re on. And that’s primarily for the pure factor of they’re creating the teams, all we care literally the team names. So that way they have people that normally might not communicate with one another during a regular workday and they’ll form their teams. So there’ll be like introverted and extroverted people together just for that dynamic.

And then with that being said we’ll supply them with all the game materials. So they’ll have – we’ll give them the Cashunt game bag, with the logo on the outside, the name of their team will be printed on there. Again, the name of the team is customized. They’ll also appear on the front page of their game booklet as far as the team tags as well. They’ll get either an I-Touch or a Nikon Camera that will be there specifically for the photo and video challenges, the actual game booklet and like I mentioned that’s a lot like an old comic book that will contain the 6 core challenges just typically found in the game, customized team badges, props. Everything is there for them within the confines of that game bag.

So basically what they will be doing is there is 2 hours of gameplay. There is no way of completing this game. So like I said there’s – and the reason that all the challenges in this case the 6 core challenges all have different types of point structures. So there’s a little improvisation in the strategy when ultimately team building comes into play. Ultimately the bottom line is, the team with the most points wins the Cashunt medals for this upcoming year so to speak. So each of our medals are literally collectibles in that you know, repeats have brought their previous medals from when they won at the last outing. But the game is devised by a variety of different challenges. They have a 100 item photo scavenger hunt while they’re looking for a variety of different locations and funny situations that they all have to appear in in order for points to count. All the photographs that all the teams take that day, we’ll send them over to them 2-3 days after.

All the photographs and all the videos are theirs to keep, they’re free, there’s nothing that they have – you know, it’s not one of those things that they have 24 hours to download them, they can do whatever they want with them. And depending on how many teams it’ll also translate to you an abundance of photographs and videos that they can share.

There’s trivia about their company that will lead them to certain locations that are associated with the line of work or their company or it could be simply a write-in answer. There is the missing item challenge where one of the pages in the game booklet is going to resemble, you know, a lot like a front page of a newspaper that will be a headline in regards to something is missing from their company or their office per se where the teams need to go and find. Mind you, our scenario is not like we need a physical item in the company but they would read the article and the article will lead them eventually to a Cashunt bonus card that will represent that missing item for additional points.

And then lastly you have what we call a coin rush which means that we’ve scattered quite a few cash on game coins within the area, teams shall find as many as they can for additional points. There’s video challenges that they have to do for additional points. They get those videos on top of the photographs and there’s a bunch like I mentioned, again, the booklet looks like an old-school like 1963 old comic book and inside we have a slew of secret challenges. One and that’s either inside the book or outside or they’re both. They’re inside the book and outside the book. Some of them might require QR codes, some of them just the naked eye.

One of those secret challenges is what we call Pandora’s Box where there’s a page in the game booklet that looks like a Cashunt cardboard box that you have to zap using a QR code which will unlock 50 other Cashunt boxes, some of them having hidden challenges in there, some of them having points and some of them having what we call zippos which means there’s nothing in there.

So it’s pretty much like I said it’s just a variety of different branches to this tree of the game that we have. After the game is done in typical fashion of a team building event, you know, teams will arrive, they would then continue on to wherever they’re going, mostly dinner and drinks and then we go ahead and tabulate the scores. And with that being said after the we’re done we’ll then come to them, make the announcement of the winners, talk about the game a little bit, hand out those Cashunt medals and then everybody knows how to get the photos and videos. And like I mentioned 48 hours after the event we’ll send all photographs and videos so they can do – you know, every company is different, slide shows, end of the year type of holiday park, whatever the case might be. Again, it’s all free. So just to give you an idea a group that we had this past Friday, it was quite a bit of teams, they had well over a thousand photographs and videos for them to keep so there’s no hidden cost pretty much. It’s all within the package.

Michael: Awesome. I love the level of detail you’re going into but it also, as I’m listening I was like all right, I’ve got 20 more questions now about how this works. This is cool, it sounds like a lot of fun.

Chris: Yeah, it is, yeah.

Michael: The first thing I started wondering was you talked about the initial inquiry call, you talked about how the event is customized, what kind of questions are you asking to the companies, the people that get in touch with you?

Chris: Well, we kind of just – to be honest with an initial inquiry call what I just kind of explained in detail is what I give them just because they’re basically – you know, obviously it’s common that you hear of the game so I can give them a detailed scenario in that regard of the game. But as far as the questions, I always try to get an understanding unless it’s a very common company like a Google or a Ford or whatever you kind of get an idea of what they do but there’s a lot of small businesses well out there that you’re not familiar what they do, especially in tech industry if anything now because it’s very vast.

So I kind of get a little bit of an education about the company and then also get an idea of the age range, how young, how old. Our games are ageless, it’s nothing like – I always say a 70 year old person could probably run as quick as a 20 year old these days. So age has no relevance to us. So we get a little bit of an education via them. And also we always make the client feel as comfortable as they can in regards to our customer service.

So I’m going to give a great example. Our weather policy is outstanding. And in what way? Now, we do this 12 months out of the year and here in New England, you know, you find all different types of weather. So the one thing that we don’t look at is the 5 or 7 day forecast because it’s really not even accurate. But we look at it 24 hours. So let’s say there was a game tomorrow and it was, I don’t know, SONY and they had a game. And let’s say it was a huge game. Let’s say it was like, I don’t know, 25 teams, and they were like almost 200 people. And let’s say the weather was horrible and let’s say it was going to be rain primarily. I’m not like I said downfall just say just a steady rain during their game.

So all the materials have been printed, everything’s been produced, you know, there’s time, there’s money involved in that but the weather has not been great. And so what we’ll then do is we’ll give the client a call a day prior and simply ask them “what do you feel like doing? They say it was going to be rain. Do you want to still play? Do you want to reschedule? Or do you want to cancel?” We throw the ball in their court. Now, let’s say they turn out – again, there have been many times through the 12 month so either from high heat or extreme cold or snow or rain that the client will still say “Yeah, we’re still with it.” Are you sure now? “Yeah, we’re still going to go.”

But then there’s the client that says “You know what? It is going to be pretty bad; I think we might want to cancel.” We’ll just ask them just because of the typical in New England scenarios like “Okay, before you cancel can you just call the day of the game, like maybe 5 hours prior to the event? Just because you know with the weather here, it could say rain tomorrow and it might end up being a nice day.”

But let’s say that you stay with that initial idea of canceling because of the weather, that’s perfectly fine. Okay, totally understood, it is raining, it’s legitimately raining, we want nothing from you. There’s no penalty, no financial penalty like you owe us this amount of money. It is what it is, the only thing we say keep us in mind in the future which is a big plus in regards to – it gives the client that comfort that “oh man, we’re screwed.” It’s snowing out. It’s 20 degrees with a wind chill of 10 below. It’s high humidity. We take that so that way it really kind of makes the client feel that comfort.

The other thing that we try elaborate as well is whatever you’re confirmed for as far as you know, we’re not going to go – so if let’s say someone says I’ve got 20 people coming and 18 show up we don’t charge them for people that are missing. So that’s a key thing that we tend to find out in our history of doing these games that some companies go by the headcount that was set. If you say 20 people and 18 show up they’re still charging for 20 people. Again, we don’t work that way. We work in such a way that, again, it tries to make the customer happy.

So the initial inquiry call is informative on their end, informative on our end so we both understand each other and a level of comfort between us and the client. So that way they’re not worried about any kind of weather situation or lack of an individual not being able to show up or whatever, so we’re totally understanding about that. And that has driven our customer service through all these years, more and more so every year. So yeah, it’s pretty cool.

Michael: Got it. I love that level of customer service. I also love that it addresses what I expect are two of the main concerns your potential clients have. One being, well, this event has elements outdoors, we’re concerned about the weather, what if we picked the wrong day? You’ve removed that fear. And then the other one is, you know, we don’t know how many people are going to come. What if somebody is on vacation? What if some people are stuck at the office working on something? So that’s cool.

Chris: Yeah, absolutely. You know, you have to – I mean it sounds corny but we’re all customers at the end of the day. You’re a customer, I’m a customer, there’s not a person that’s not a customer. Even the highest of highs as far as a business person is concerned, like a CEO, they’re customer. So we know how we want to be treated, you know what I mean, and obviously treated fairly so there’s a friend of mine, a very old friend of mine that taught me one thing and he called it – and I live by this now and I teach this for the people that work for us and it’s called the rule of 500. Which basically means that you treat a customer not so great then it’s going to get to 500 sets of ears literally within hours. And if you treat a customer extremely well, give them a great experience, give them great customer service it’s going to get to 500 sets of ears but on a very, slower pace, you know what I mean? So as the old saying goes “Bad news travels fast” good news travels a little bit slowly but you have to give them that because that way it’s good word of mouth and even though we live in a tech society that old word of mouth moves a lot quicker than ever.

Michael: Do you have a general refund policy if people come and actually do the event and they’re not satisfied with it?

Chris: As far as a refund; you know what? To be honest, we’ve never run into that. The refund policy that we have in a corporate environment as odd as it sounds and a lot of people scratches their heads. Other than a social game, if you’re doing a wedding party or whatever, you do ask for deposits but when a corporate environment comes about we ask for nothing, like zero. It’s like we just need your general information just to book you. So if there’s a scenario where someone wants to book with us and they say “okay, where do we put down the deposit?” You know, there is none.

The key factor of it is there hasn’t been – I’ll be honest, we’re almost at 2,000 games, we’ve never been in that scenario where it’s been like “We want our money back.” We’ve never had it. If there was ever a scenario that we had to refund somebody, again, it doesn’t fall into a corporate field because again, we don’t ask for deposits but if this was let’s say a birthday or a wedding party where they in turn do put in a deposit then at that particular point the only time we would refund a deposit back is in turn again, going back to what we were talking about maybe a few moments ago in regards to weather because it’s an uncontrollable scenario.

So again, let’s say you called up 2 months ago to set the game up for today and the weather is crappy out, all right, there was no money exchanged so there’s nothing that we have to physically refund back, just keep us in mind in the future, that’s what we always say. But luckily and fortunately we’ve never had that scenario where anyone said this was horrible. We never had it.

Michael: That’s incredible at 16 years of business. I think it says a lot about what you’re doing and kind of how you’re treating customers in general.

Chris: Yeah, I mean our philosophy is we try to make it as complaint-free as you can possibly make – yeah, I mean I think it’s the best way. And that’s by catering to them, you know, catering to the client. So in other words let’s just say it is raining and we say “Hey, too bad, you’re playing.” Well, they’re going to be ticked off. You know what I mean? Inside they will – you know, that’s the person that would be like “You made us play in the rain. We want our money back.” Absolutely, that would be understood but we’re never in that position because we throw it back to the clients like “Alright. It’s going to be kind of crappy out. Do you want to do it or do you not want to do it?” And they have the final say.

So we’re not force feeding anybody to do our games or throwing their feet into the fire if you will in regard to that. It’s just we try to make – and again, going back to you, we have 30 people coming, and that’s just a confirmation and 25 show up, and if we said “alright, then we’ll charge for 30,” then obviously at that particular point you would refund them or whatever, charging the correct amount but there are other companies like I said. They’ll say 30, 25 show up and they’ll still charge them for 30. That leaves a bad taste in people’s mouth, I mean that’s just not a good thing. I mean not a good thing at all. I mean I can respect other people’s businesses and if they run it that way. That’s totally understood but in my case why would you want to put yourself in that scenario? You know what I mean? I got too much of a conscience, Mike.

Michael: Totally. I love it. Alright. So you talked about the minimum group size, I believe that’s 8 people. Is there a maximum group size?

Chris: Yeah, maximum can be as high as you want. Whatever – like you know we like to try and cap it in and around 250, sometimes 300, that’s probably what we can handle. But yeah, we go from – you know, even though sometimes we might have – even though sometimes when we say naturally it’s a minimum of 8, there have been scenarios where someone has called up and they’re a small office or whatever, like a small startup and say “Hey, you know I’d like to do this team building event that you’re holding but it’s only 7 of us and you said that it’s a minimum of 8.” Heck, bring it on. You know what I mean? No worries. We’ll take care of you. And we’ll do it like a 4 versus 3. All our games are private so it’s not one of those things that you go and get some members of the public but…

Yeah, so we cater to all different types of numbers. I mean average on a corporate event nowadays is believe it or not, our corporate or office party or like a team-building game is anywhere nowadays believe it or not, 8 to – I’d say average 8 to 60. I mean you do get those big number games but the average is usually between those two areas of pinpoint. But yeah, we’re not one of those things, you know, “we need 20 people or we’re not doing the game for you.” It doesn’t matter. You have 6? Let’s do it! You know what I mean? So not a problem.

Michael: Got it. And I love that you have that flexibility. I want to talk a little bit more about the customization because I’m not sure I totally get it yet. I get the concept, right? You have this cool newspaper piece, you have different like trivia etc. Could you give me a really specific example of a trivia question? I think you mentioned that it’s like trivia and if they get the answer it leads them to a certain clue.

Chris: Yeah. So the way that the trivia is conducted it depends on the customer. So for example there could be general questions about their company. You know, when was the company founded? Who are their founders? So those are really right in questions. Sometimes they’ll be light-hearted. Who’s always late to meetings? Who just had a baby? Who just got married? Those are the light-hearted questions.

Then there could be a scenario where they have a vice president of their company or a president of their company or even the CEO of their company… he or she is at a pub and such a certain location. So the trivia sometimes becomes a clue, where to find them. So you know, John Doe is at The Bell In Hand having a drink. Go take a photograph with them for a 100 points. Or if you’re Staples – go into the Staples and take a picture with the “that was easy” button. Or if you’re at Google go find something outside of your cellphone that represents either SEO or Google or he is wanting to know how much [inaudible 28:26] of Google but Google interns before they – I think interns in general they have to wear what they call a Noogle hat which is that old school little cap like a hat, it’s a cap with a little propeller up, it’s really old school.

Michael: Right.

Chris: So they actually come to us as far as when we do a Google internship when the interns come so it’ll be something that might represent something of that. Like you have to go find a kid cap or whatever. So it could be again, so the trivia sometimes it can be a scavenger hunt, sometimes we embed trivia in regards to the area, to the city. So it just goes into a variety of different – the trivia can be very customized. It really kind of depends a little more about what they want. Some of them was like “Now, we just want to write in answers about our company and just kind of see how they’re answering these.” Other ones could be very light-hearted like I said. Like actually they can have a physical scavenger hunt. They have to go to that location and take a photograph or something like that, that relates to their company or their specific line of work.

Michael: Got it. I love those specific examples. That is much more clear now. Another element that you talked about for the event is the idea of taking up to a 100 photos, right? Like 100 photo scavenger hunt. I heard that number and I go “that’s a lot” and my understanding is the core part of this event is…

Chris: No, yeah. No it’s not, they don’t do 100 of them. They can do as many as they want from that list. Because what it is out of that 100 you have photographs that are worth 25 points and others are 50, the other ones are 100, then there’s 250 and 500. So they actually, again, this game is not a scenario that you have to do let’s say – I’m just saying for the sake of discussion, a 100 photographs in order to move to the next challenge.

Again, they will play – you know, when you have those 2 hours, play whatever challenge you want, however you want. Basically the final outcome is like the team has to accumulate as many point as they can for victory. So basically what ends up happening is those photo scavenger hunts, the photo scavenger hunt aspect of the game is that again, everyone, every item on that list has a different type of point total so they have to as a team try to figure out okay, well, if we take a picture in front of this abstract piece of art in the city they’ll be 500 points so go take a photograph of that or let’s go take a picture of us jumping into the air, that’s 25 points.

So it’s kind of like a level of difficulty as well as the exposure of the city. So it kind of – when it comes to the exposure of the city a little bit is that there might be things that we want you to see. Like literally. So there might be like a really – like what we do each and every year is we re-scout our area because there might be something, a new structure that’s been built or a really cool piece of art. So what we’ll tend to do is put that at a high point value and in essence the players will say like “Oh wow, we’ve got to go to this thing, it’s 500 points. We’ve got to take a photograph of it.” But what you’re doing in the same regard you’re playing a game because remember, all the photographs and videos come back your way but you’re also making a really cool Boston scrapbook in this case. So it’s really we’re exposing the city.

So just to give you an idea, we had a client that worked for [inaudible 32:09] So he worked in the financial district I guess for the last 15 or 17 years and he was amazed that he didn’t know half these things existed in the city. You know what I mean? So we kind of enlighten that and we expose that. So it makes for a really cool thing in that regard. So it kind of has a double-edged sword; you know, make a cool scrapbook while you’re playing this game. So that the points are – the points become a scenario where they’ll lead you to those locations to expose.

Michael: Got it. Is it fair to say that it’s intentionally time constraints, it’s intentionally a little bit rushed to force people to collaborate? Got it.

Chris: Yes, exactly. So basically it’s the old adage of tourism here, right? So some teams – it really kind of depends on their competitive level. Some teams after we’ve briefed them and handed out the game bags, some teams all they see is dust because they’re gone. Other teams work cerebrally. You know, they’ll just say “Hold on, we’re not going to run yet, let’s just kind of dissect this book.” And at that particular point they’ll look at the challenges and then they’ll delegate. Okay, I say we go for this first and we go for that second or I’ve seen scenarios where they’ll delegate like “You 3 go there, us 4 will go…” You know what I mean? So every team is different on how they approach the game but in the same essence they are going against the clock.

Michael: Right. You’ve mentioned this concept of seasons and the core of your product changing. I believe when I checked on your site that you’re in the 17th season now which in my understanding is the 17th year of your business as well. How much does the core service offering change each year?

Chris: So we as far as the games in itself?

Michael: Yeah.

Chris: So what we try to do is we try to change the game a little bit. We try to – like in other words we might take let’s just say this is one of the ideas like for example the coin rush. You know we have a bunch of coins in and around the area. We might take that challenge out and replace it with what we call the secret envelopes. This is specifically something we’re thinking about for next year where there’s a bunch of envelopes in and around the area. And again, they would open them up and either it would be a dud or it would be an actual challenge.

Pandora’s box is a great example of that. That didn’t exist in the last year’s game, it does exist in this year where we really kind of implementing the tech aspect by QR codes. There’s something that we call – so in that regard we always try to refreshen it.

Not only refreshen the game itself but also refreshen the video challenges, you know, there’s some video challenges that we might want to keep, like there’s one challenge that’s called musical snort, where the team would have to sing a melody of a song for 15 seconds just by snorting it out so that’s always comical. We always kind of pay attention to what they enjoy and we keep it in there. But there might be some things that we might want to change, like take the dynamic of the game board as far as the city is concerned, and re-examine it. Boston being such an old city, any day of the week when you walk down that street and you walk down those streets, primarily the historical area, I always say look up, down, left and right, you’ll always discover something.

So we never want the game to be predictable because the factor of it is there have been many companies that have come back to us and it might have been – like there could be a company that completed last year, and they might want to play again this year. Or they played last year and they might not come back to us for two years from now. There are other companies that the management department from XYZ company played and now they just told the marketing department, “Oh wow, we did this game.”

So the key thing about it is we never want the game to be predictable we never want the group come to us and say I know exactly what’s happening here; absolutely not. There will be a twist, there will be a turn, I have seen people really come back to us with last year, the game booklet from two years ago, whatever, put it away. It’s not even valid in regards to that song. Yeah, so the one thing in this type of line of work as far as like what I like to call the act of gaming, is that quite honestly you’ve got to make the game unpredictable and enjoyable but for the most part everyone usually comes with a very competitive spirit.

So even if I have a scenario where someone comes – and I usually say this once in a while. Like when you have a corporate client and it’s not a common thing. So when we’re briefing you always get that, you know, you look out of the corner of your eye and you always say this guy with his arm crossed like “what are we doing? This is going to be silly.” And then what ends up happening is 2 hours later that same person that had their arms crossed and was very skeptical, well, he kind of got reintroduced to his kid side, and then he’ll tell us what he found, how he found it, how many points we got, how he got this thing nailed.

I’m like “aha. Weren’t you the guy that had his arms crossed and was skeptical?” Because at the end of the day I’m like we’re all kids. You know what I mean? Just in grown-up bodies. That’s all of us.

Michael: Totally. And especially I think in the last few years, more and more people recognized that element of play and the need for it, right? To unwind and to get away from the stress of the office.

Chris: I think it is, I think also the key thing is like kind of going back to how the teams are formed. All we care about – whatever you name your teams, but always – we don’t even do it the same, they usually ask us, “do you form the teams or do we form teams?” I’m like “you guys form teams” because the key thing about it, there have been scenarios I can tell you that they could be 2 individuals that could have worked on the same floor of a particular company, one for 5 years, the other one for 4 years and they never even said a hello to each other.

You know what I mean? They probably saw each other during a conference meeting, or whatever, but this kind of game and other types of team building types of activities will force you to communicate and then it’s going to sound corny but that’s how friendships are created, right? So I say it all the time, everyone thinks like high school and middle school, that exists more so than ever also in the corporate level, too. That people say oh my god, that’s Mary, or Bill, I never got to know them, they’re really cool.

Well, yeah, you work together, so it’s another element so it is the epitome of an ice-breaker.

Michael: Totally. I know that when I’ve worked in office environments in the past there was this weird factor where you’d get maybe like 6 weeks or a couple of months in and if you haven’t met somebody, yet it’s actually uncomfortable to go introduce yourself. It’s embarrassing that you don’t know their name yet. And so again a game to bring them together is great.

Chris: Yeah and it’s also cool, like we do an international company so to speak so there’s like a conference and you have people, which is typical, you know, just in general that you have people from out of the state or out of the country, they don’t know each other or whatever, you know, it’s just, there’s just other types of formations you know of interaction or friendships or whatever. Or it is cool, I mean sometimes when someone could say to me, they were introverted this game forces you to be a little bit extraverted. You know what I mean? In some cases. And then you just kind of laugh at yourself a little bit. You know what I mean? And have a good time.

Michael: Totally. I’ve got 2 quick questions to wrap this up. The first one is can you tell me a little bit more about your creative process and the way that you re-develop these new kind of ideas and implement them?

Chris: Yeah, that’s a great question. So I get inspired by a variety of different things. Kind of going back to what we were talking about. So inspiration comes to me by anything. It could be an old movie, like a [inaudible 40:27], comic books, current movies, a game board, a really cool-looking, the cover of an old Vanity Fair magazine. I mean so the inspirations will come from a variety of different avenues. And what I’ve tried to do is take all that old pop culture and all the newer pop culture – to be honest with you the old pop culture is more interesting, and try to imbed it in a cool-looking product. You know what I mean?

So the materials that they receive in their hands, it’s just the coolest thing. So the inspiration comes from a variety of different avenues and trying to dissect it and look at it, how it can make that form of pop culture in the form of a game. So if you watch like a – I don’t know, like what’s a good example, like an old film noir and there is mysteries and I’ll be like “wow, it would be cool to do a little mystery” and that’s how Pandora’s Box came out and so we have like you know 20 boxes you know when everyone is watching these 20 boxes and some of them are duds and some of them are challenges. So it can come from anything. I get inspired really quickly from all different forms of pop culture and then just kind of embed it into the product.

Today there are scavenger hunts out there and there are great businesses out there and I’ve been approached by certain app development individuals, some of them have actually been clients that have played this game and they will ask “Why don’t you ever do this and that?” I’m a firm believer in never say never but I’m a very firm believer that people want to really touch the product. You know I think it’s a – touch it, flip through those pages; really kind of get involved in it. And app is cool but it’s just a little bit more – I don’t know, it’s not – it’s real but not as real so to speak as most of the process. So materials to me is key.

I mean there’s other scavenger hunt companies that do a really good job. I’m not a believer of charging people – we like to call it clipboard scavenger hunts, you know, it’s a piece of paper. And find us some stuff. Really, you’ve got to put some effort into it. I mean make it a feeling, make it eye-catching. And develop it.

Michael: Totally. And I think that can often be the difference between a business that you know runs and a business that thrives. And it sounds like yours really is thriving.

Chris: Right.

Michael: Alright, last question to wrap this up which is just any best practices that you found and applied in team building maybe with your own team, maybe with the groups that you work with, just kind of advice that other companies could follow.

Chris: Take your time with the client, get to know the client, you know, stick around a little bit, talk to them after the game is done, learn from it, so it’s kind of like learn from their experience. And just when the game is over, don’t say thank you very much and leave. Enjoy what you’re doing because if you don’t, it will be very transparent during your briefing or to the conclusion of it. Really love – this game even though we’ve been doing this for so long, it’s passion project and it continues to be that.

The fact of it is that you’ve got to love what you’re doing period. And that will show. And if that shows, then the product enhances a little bit even more because you make it comfortable. But stick around, you know, chat a little bit for ten minutes like you know, usually the key thing about it, I don’t care if I have 10 people or 250 people, there’s one key person outside of making sure that everyone had a fantastic time and everyone enjoyed it. It’s that first person that called you on the inquiry call. The person that actually hired you. And so I usually take that person and don’t say one of those things “Hey, thank you very much, I’m gone.”

“Sit down, hey did you have a good time, what do you feel? How was the experience? What did you hear from other people?” You can tell if I can – I always say you can always tell about the product and the customer service and the connection, I always say at the results. Because if you can blow the roof off the restaurant, or the establishment that you’re in, it always shows that and so it kind of gives you, it still gives me goose bumps when that happens because it tells you how much they really had a good time but you really have to engage with everybody. Make it a little bit more personal I guess, don’t make it that much of a business so to speak. Because business sometimes becomes that and that becomes a little bit more transparent. But take your time with it, enjoy it. That’s the key thing.

Michael: Right, I love that, to cap this off I think that wraps it up pretty well, so thank you so much for this interview, thank you so much for chatting with me.

Chris: Oh it was a pleasure.

Cashunt Reviews

For the most part, I only found VERY positive review of Cashunt. The company has great customer service, and a fun team building activity that has withstood the test of time, so it’s not surprising that it has great reviews. For your own research, you can find Cashunt reviews on Facebook, TripAdvisor and Yelp.

Here are a few that stood out to me…

Awesome Afternoon with Co-workers – We used Cashunt for a company wide team building activity. There was about 100 of us split into 13 teams. It was a gorgeous fall day in Boston and it was an great way to get to know co-workers who you don’t usually spend time with on a daily basis. Everyone got super competitive and into it. We got to be silly and laugh but at the same time being challenged and strategizing together. We all met at a bar at the end to have drinks and laugh about what we all did, while we waited for the results and announcement of the winners. I highly recommend doing this with your team at work or friends. It’s a lot of fun! There’s so many different challenges that kept it interesting and it was great that they included specific trivia about our company too.
– Marcieous, 5 Star TripAdvisor Review

Great Corporate Team Building Activity! – Cashunt was an excellent experience for my company team building event this summer! We had 4 teams of about 6 members each, and unleashed our competitive spirit as we walked (and at times, ran!) around the city to collect points. It was especially great that we got to capture the memories with all of the photos and videos we got to keep as part of our package. It was a great opportunity for the new folks in our work group to get acquainted with Boston, for the more tenured folks to lead, and for everyone to get to know each other better in a fun setting. We did the Boston Hustle which included some questions customized to our company and work group, which everyone loved. The scavenger hunt challenges brought everyone outside their comfort zones in a great way, creating lots of laughs as well as being very informative. The care taken by the Cashunt team down to every last detail was incredible! They helped us make sure the experience would be a legendary one that the group will be talking about for years to come. Thanks, Cashunt!
– midwestNEsterner, 5 Star TripAdvisor Review

My workplace used cashunt as a part of our management meetings to promote group work. Honestly it was a blast! You’re given a camera and a list of things to do in a certain time. The goal is to get the maximum amount of points. For 2 hours we walked, sprinted, posed for pictures, made videos, sought the help of total strangers and much more. It was a lot of fun and I have to say, a great way to build good relationships especially between people who don’t work directly with each other on a daily basis. You also learn a lot about the city that you normally wouldn’t even go to. Our guide, Chris was very quick to give us the results. He’s great at what he does and always has a smile on his face. They then you give you a URL where all the videos and pictures that were taken are there to download for free. I definitely recommend using cashing!
– Abir H., 4 Star Yelp Review

Have You Done an Event With Cashunt?

If so, I’d love to here about your experience. Please share the specifics of your story: how many people in your group? When was your event? Which team building activities were included and which one did you like the most? Who would you recommend this style of team building for? Did you notice any changes in your team after the event?

Community Rowing Inc: Active Team Building on the Charles River

I love team building companies because they are making offices everywhere better. Team building activities improve team communication, collaboration and loyalty. It’s awesome! But there is another type of organization that I admire even more; those that are mission based. That’s why today I’m super excited to introduce Community Rowing Inc., an organization that “changes lives and communities by providing access to the sport of rowing and its profound social benefits.”

I had the chance to interview Patrick Larcom, who is the Corporate Rowing Ambassador at Community Rowing. Patrick told me about the various team building activities Community Rowing offers, as well as more about their mission to build communities via rowing.

I’ve also included some research I did about Community Rowing, photos of their activities and some reviews from around the web. If you want more information about Community Rowing, check out their Team Building Page or Wikipedia.

Community Rowing Highlights

Before interviewing Patrick, I didn’t know very much about rowing as a sport. I kind of thought rowing was just something that super fit Olympians at Ivy League schools did. I was so wrong! It turns out that rowing is actually a very accessible sport and a perfect fit for your next company team building activity.

Here are some of the highlights for choosing Community Rowing for your next event:

  • CRI is mission based, and provides an empowering, community based experience for groups including students, veterans and people with disabilities;
  • that means when you book a company team building activity, you are contributing funds that help build strong people and strong communities in Boston;
  • rowing is actually a very accessible sport, in Patrick’s words, “if you can stand and sit, then you can row”;
  • rowing is a very team oriented sport, you move the boat by working together, and you literally MUST work together well if you expect to reach your goal;
  • Community Rowing also has a beautiful boat house where you can have a reception, post-row workshop or other event;
  • if you prefer to stay at the office for your next team building activity, Community Rowing can bring a set of rowing machines to your office for an all day “row-a-thon” where your team works to achieve a goal like “250,000 metres”;
  • many corporate teams choose to do more than just a one-off activity, and become ongoing members of Community Rowing;
  • rowing is a great, outdoor event that you can do with your team. You will get fresh air and exercise, which makes everyone feel good;
  • it may be a new activity for your team! Many people have done scavenger hunts, trivia nights and workshops, but relatively few have done this kind of collaborative sport.

How to Find Community Rowing

Community Rowing is located on the Charles River at 20 Nonantum Rd, Brighton, MA 02135, USA. The drive to Community Rowing from downtown Boston is about 20 minutes, and there are a number of different routes so you can avoid traffic.

 

I also learned that Community Rowing is portable and can come to you! Community Rowing can bring 20+ rowing machines to your office anywhere in the Greater Boston Area for an indoor rowing marathon. An indoor team building event is perfect for cold, Boston winters and gives your team a chance to bond at work.

Team Building Activities at Community Rowing

Rowing is a natural fit for company team building because you literally must work together to achieve the goal. One person can’t carry the team, and if your employees aren’t in sync then their progress will be painfully slow.

At Community Rowing Inc., you have several options for your team building event, including:

  1. Outdoor Rowing: After a quick reception, a trainer will teach your team the basics of rowing together using indoor machines. Then, when your team is ready you will go out rowing on the river. Includes a competitive race to drive up the camaraderie!
  2. Indoor Rowing: If you prefer, Community Rowing can bring the rowing to your office. CRI will bring 20+ rowing machines to your offie for a Row-a-Thon, where your team works together to hit a miles target. If you like, you can incorporate charitable elements to your team building activity, e.g., “we will donate $1 for every 1,000 metres rowed today.”
  3. Indoor Workshops: Community Rowing has a beautiful, iconic building you can rent for your next reception, meeting or workshop. You can combine elements of the different team building activities by doing training, rowing and workshops.

Interview With Patrick Larcom, Corporate Rowing Ambassador at Community Rowing

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Interview Transcript

Michael: The first question I have for you is, tell me about Community Rowing. What is it as a business and who do you serve?Pat: So Community Rowing is a nonprofit and our mission is rowing for all. So our goal is essentially to get as many people out on the water and enjoying the sport of rowing as possible because we believe it can literally change the world through cooperation, positivity, working together, building relationships and yeah, also having that piece of health and fitness in mind.

And so our commission “rowing for all” serves 3 outreach programs that allow members of those programs to row for free. And so those 3 outreach programs are military rowing, so any active duty servicemen or women and veterans they can come row for free. I actually coach that program. So 2 or 3 times a week veterans come down to the boathouse on our rowing team, they get to row and compete and race and you know, big races around the area like Charles River.

And then our second outreach program is Para Rowing and that includes any rowers with disabilities. So it can be mental or physical and we essentially give them the opportunity to get on the water, learn to row, enjoy the sport and even compete.

And then our last outreach program, definitely not least, is our school-age rowing program is for Boston city school kids and it’s called Row Boston. So with Row Boston any school kid in the city of Boston can essentially come row for free, be part of a team and get assistance with study halls and tutoring, help them get into college and we have a 99% success rate with getting Row Boston athletes into college with that program.

So that’s Row Boston and all 3 of those outreach programs are completely free so any revenue that we bring into team building programs or our free-for-service programs goes towards supporting those outreach programs.

Michael: Got it. I love it. I’d love to unbundle that and to dig deeper into it. Can you tell me a little bit more about how the organization got started? It sounds like it was driven by the mission, not the business portion of it.

Pat: Definitely. So a big proponent of our organization was a longtime head coach Harry Parker at Harvard University and he was one of the first coaches on Charles River. And he had a belief as well as the best of our founders that it should be a sport that’s accessible to everyone, not just this elite sport that only elite universities and prep schools get to access but everyone should have a chance to get out on the water and enjoy the sport and participate.

So they are founders – and Harry Parker himself made a big push to create this organization and so that’s what they did. And for a long time it was just a community-based organization operating sort of fundraising and out of a nice hockey rink down the river and just building up some used equipment and you know, coaches. And you know, over the years we’ve been able to build it into essentially the world’s largest public access boathouse. This is our 31st year of operation and we serve about 5,000 to 6,000 members throughout the year. Any given week we sort of touch and reach 1,120 members in a week. And everything that we do essentially is mission-driven and goes toward that idea of rowing for all.

Michael: Awesome. Why rowing specifically?

Pat: We believe that rowing is sort of the ultimate team sport and essentially the ultimate sport; it was one of the first Olympic sports. And in order to row and row well you have to be in complete rhythm and harmony with 8 or 9 other people and it just sort of when you get it it’s this amazing flow of sort of passion and drive and effort all towards this one common goal to be in the boat and to move better, smoother, faster essentially when a race – overcome certain records or personal records or challenges that you sort of set to yourself.

Michael: Right. Now, you mentioned the 3 specific groups that you serve and it seems to me that none of those groups would necessarily have experienced rowing.

Pat: Exactly.

Michael: Is this sport accessible for beginners?

Pat: Yes. So rowing is super accessible for beginners if you know what you’re doing and that’s essentially what we’ve built our organization around and we have the tools and the skills and the resources to share rowing with anyone and everyone. You know, if you look at our outreach programs, our veterans’ program military rowing essentially serves active duty but mostly veterans who maybe disabled or have unseen wounds from their service. And their age range can go from anywhere from mid-20’s all the way up to like 60-70-80.

So it’s quite a range of participants. And we essentially get them all on a team working together, having sort of a team that they can count on and hold each other accountable just like they’re in a service. But it’s a great team because it’s full of well-rounded experienced rowers who maybe rowed for 3 or 4 years but we also bring in novice military rowers who have never touched or seen a boat in their life and they’re taking their very first strokes ever and so that’s why it’s kind of a fun unique team and opportunity. So that’s military rowing.

And the same sort of applies for our Row Boston program for the school kids. They could live in the city of Boston and go to school every day and they don’t even know that the river exists or that the sport exists and so this is to sort of broaden their horizons and open up their world to more opportunities which is really cool.

And then for Para Rowing, you know, being a disabled person it can be tough at times in our society and we believe that rowing can be very inclusive. We actually have a specific subset of our Para Rowing program that’s called Inclusion Rowing where we combine disabled athletes with able-bodied athletes to practice row and race. And so Top Health Plan is actually one of our partners and they partnered with us to promote Inclusion Rowing which allows university students or high school students with disabilities to essentially row on a normal team as if they were – as if any of their athlete or rower, as if their disability doesn’t even exist which is pretty cool.

Michael: Cool. Very, very cool. I can imagine another question a lot of people would have is about the physical endurance of the sport. When we watch the Olympics it’s about full of very fit men and women. Is there a prerequisite level of fitness required, how enduring is it?

Pat: So more specifically when we bring people in for team-building events, you know, different businesses, groups, corporations we like to say everyone can participate and if you can sit down and stand up out of a chair, have just a general level of activity, you can do this sport. The beauty about rowing is it’s low-impact so it’s great cross training and a good option for people with orthopedic or joint injuries. It’s full body so it’s a great way to sort of get fitter and build strength and endurance and get in better shape because it essentially works every muscle from your head to your toe. And then when coached and run well, like our team-building programs, we essentially hire and use world-class coaches that offer coaching and other programs in our boathouse and along the river.

We can essentially take a complete novice of you know, someone in our team-building programs and bring them up to speed within 2.5 hours. And most of our popular gold package team-building programs last 2.5 hours and within that 2.5 hour window we get them learning to row properly on the ergometer or the indoor rowing machine, we spend time talking about safety and getting in and out of the boat on the dock and then we spend a good 40 minutes, 45 minutes to an hour just learning to take strokes and learning to row on the water and building them up as a team so that by the end of that session they’re actually able to race their co-workers or counterparts in other boats in a little sort of friendly competition, a little mini regatta to end of the day. And that’s sort of what we do and what we’re all about and why we believe rowing is accessible to everyone and everyone should have a chance to row and at least try rowing.

Michael: Awesome. I’d love to talk more about the team-building activities specifically. So it sounds like when a group comes in the first and foremost is the training and getting everybody together, showing them the movements etc. and then you do actually get them in the boats to race. Could you go into a little bit more detail about kind of the prep, the training portion of that?

Pat: Definitely. So for our standard gold package that involves rowing in 8 person rowing shells. And we provide one coach per boat and an experienced coxswain that steers the boat and sort of is in the boat with the rowers and then we also occasionally provide volunteer rowers to help with the learning curve as well as keeping the boat more stable. If there are empty seats we will fill empty seats with volunteer rowers from our community. And so that’s what the gold package is all about. In order to prep people up to actually get in the boat go out and row we start with about a 15 to 20 minute introduction indoors on rowing machines. We have a large community room filled with about 70 rowing machines and that’s where the learning and sort of teamwork begins. We sort of set the stage with the goals to learning a completely new sport.

So there’s going to be a certain number of terms and movements that they need to be able to learn and then you also have to learn how to do that together with your team and move well as a unit. And so we set the stage in our community room with that and so take the rowing through the stroke. We teach them different parts of the stroke, rowing straight that is and then quiz them, challenge them and get them to row together as a group and as a team indoors first and then we take them down to the dock and essentially out on the water to repeat that process and sort of build on that initial learning that we do indoors.

Michael: Right. What point in your organization’s timeline did team-building become an offering?

Pat: So our current boathouse which is called the Harry Parker Boathouse is actually it’s won a prize in Boston for its architecture. It’s quite a unique boathouse that was opened in 2009 and it’s a two-story building. Bottom floor holds all of our boats as well as our sort of lobby and boat repair bay and then the second floor holds all of our event space including administrative offices, coaching offices, a classroom, different meeting rooms, a weight room and our large community room. And so when we opened the boathouse, our current Harry Parker Boathouse in 2009 the space you can see the boathouse from the Mass Pike highway and it’s become quite an icon in the city. And so that sort of brought companies to us initially and people were like “Oh, I saw your mission is rowing for all [inaudible 14:13] company out there.”

So we started doing essentially larger corporate team-building events right from the square 1. I actually started working here in 2011 and a couple of the groups that I worked with when I started were Louis Vuitton and WBUR, one of the public radio stations. And we essentially did large team-building events for them on the order of 10 to 13 boats, 100 to 120 people all learning to row within a couple of hours and we’ve built our offerings for team-building and business engagement from there to currently we have 4 different offerings.

Our basic team-building program which I’ve been describing and then we also have tailored specialty programs that include full day events where we review a 100 business case study on the army crew team as well as the Boys in the Boat book which is a bestseller. We essentially link the themes of the story from the Boys in the Boat to a team-building row. And then we can kind of tailor that from there we run essentially off-site meetings for companies and allow them to sort of meet with their groups and their teams and kind of get the business done but then also enjoy sort of rowing in a team-building event.

And then we also essentially kind of host company outings, private events, weddings, celebrations, just conferences in themselves with our space because we have – in the city of Boston it’s kind of unique to have good parking and the facilities are world-class so it kind of goes hand in hand. So we’re able to sort of bring in business from the Greater Boston area as well as from everyone that sort of in the city downtown, kind of [inaudible 16:27] downtown, the Financial District and Seaport and yeah.

Michael: What are some of the challenges that these companies are facing? That they’re saying okay, I need to do team-building and I’m going to look it up, they find you. What are the most common challenges?

Pat: With deciding to do team-building and finding a good team-building option or…?

Michael: So I’m very familiar with a lot of the reasons for team-building of course. There’s, you know, they want to improve team communication or dynamics or loyalty or get people aligned around their mission etc. I’m thinking which of those do you find to be most common with the companies, the clients that work with you?

Pat: Got you. Our most common is sort of a company outing whether it’s bringing regional or national or global managers or directors to sort of get on the same page and sort of build this camaraderie and this rapport with each other towards their company’s mission and by getting everyone in a boat and learning to row as a team and sort of working towards this completely new sport and developing this drive to work together towards a common goal other than what they’re typically focused on on a daily basis. It can be really powerful in kind of building those bonds that they need to work effectively and efficiently and at a high level. And that’s sort of our typical reason why we see companies choosing rowing.

Then it can be just they want to get out of the office and enjoy a beautiful river and a beautiful weather in the city of Boston. And essentially a company or a group of people that lies in Boston, you know, Boston is rowing, rowing is Boston, especially a sport that is unique and symbolic of Boston. So it’s kind of a fun thing and experience, a unique experience to do.

Michael: Awesome. Yeah. So a variety of reasons. You have the indoor offering, you have the space available for people to do workshops, meetings etc. But for the outdoor sport, is it seasonal? Is it limited by weather?

Pat: Yeah, so our team-building offerings that involve rowing in the water which is what we tend to focus on or sort of work towards, that is seasonal. Being in Boston we do have pretty severe winters. So our season is essentially end of April to basically end of October. So like April to October is our sort of on the water season. Our highest season, our prime time is the summer, June, July and August just because the weather is awesome and it’s a really great time to be out on the water and on the river.

However we do also as we work towards promoting and booking those team-building events during the summer months we also offer indoor, essentially our bronze package offering which is we can bring rowing to the company. We have a trailer that can hold up to 20 rowing machines and we’ve done events in downtown Boston, Cambridge Kendall Square where we bring 20 rowing machines to a company set up in a large conference room and do an all-day rowathon which incorporates team-building, fitness, health and well-being and gets essentially everyone from the company to row for 20 or 30 minutes throughout the day to see how many meters the company can row as one.

And so for instance we did one earlier this year with Top Health Plan. Another group was the Cambridge Innovation Center down the Kendall Square and throughout the day in 20-30 minute sessions we were able to serve about 70 employees and as a group they rowed a total of a quarter of a million meters, 250,000 or more meters. And that can be a great way to sort of beat the weather in the winter months here in Boston as well as linking that to a cause. A number of our events this summer and this year are also linked in corporate citizenship and so if you have a company that’s looking to give back to the community or get their employees to engage with their surrounding community we can set up volunteer opportunities here at the boathouse whether it’s a cleanup project or something that supports our outreach program like para rowing and fixing, pinning lines in the parking lot to help with access to the boathouse for para rowers in wheelchairs and blind rowers and things like that.

And we can link that to both our indoor programs that we do in the winter as well as our on the water summer programs, essentially involve – a typical way we would link our team-building programs with our average programs is we’ll include everyone. We’ll have our veterans come do the full-day rowathon indoors with the company or we’ll have our – including rowers, our para rowers come do it with the company and speak and kind share their story of why they’re in, why they love the sport they think it’s awesome. Yeah, and that sort of ties the full – ties a full circle of our mission and our organization.

Michael: Cool. I love that idea of bringing the rowing equipment to the offices or to the space. I think that’s really creative. That’s a solution that I hadn’t heard of before and if it fits so well with your mission of making rowing a community sport so accessible etc., that’s really interesting to me. And I also love the idea of how collaborative it is that they reach a target together by the end of the day and everybody participates in that. That’s so cool.

Pat: Definitely.

Michael: Is there a minimum or a maximum group size for rowing?

Pat: Being that our mission is rowing for all we like to say that we can handle any group size. It typically, the best small groups would be groups of say 8 to 16 to 24 people. That would be sort of on the smaller end. Then we also can handle full companies or full sections or groups of companies about 100 or 200 people.

Michael: Got it. Wow. Okay, so a couple more kind of technical questions before we wrap up. One would be, are there any common resistance points that companies have to book in a team-building event with you?

Pat: Resistance points might be the time of the year and weather. You know, if they’re flying in for a weekend and it happens to be towards the beginning or the end of the season and they’re not able to sort of have a rain day or rain date, that can be a challenge. But we like to solve that by offering them our most popular package for a reduced costs and we can always tailor it and switch to an indoor event if need be. We actually have a large tent that is at the west end of our boathouse year round that can hold 220 people. And so we’ll do catering and sort of meals and after event get togethers with groups out under the tent. And we can have that as an option as well as just sort of moving to more of an indoor team-building event if weather does become an issue.

Michael: Got it. Does rowing lend itself to some repeat visits? A company that visits this year and may visit next year as well…

Pat: Definitely. With all of our team-building offerings they kind of one lends to the next. A company may start with say the marketing group or the sales group will come out for a team-building row and they really enjoy themselves and love it and so they recommend it to their directors or their executives that “Hey, we should do our whole company outing and it’d be really cool to have everybody from the company out.” And so that could lead to a larger event where we get everyone from the company out and there’s a full day extravaganza, lunch and celebration in addition to rowing.

And then there’s also – we run a corporate rowing league so it’s called the Charles River Rowing League. And a company can put together a team of 8 people and they’ll essentially row one night a week for 6 weeks and at the end there’s a race and a barbecue when all the teams in the league compete for bragging rights and a trophy and some hardware. And so we typically have around 12 companies, 12 teams that participate in that each 6 week session. And so if a company comes and visits a team-building event and they’re local we can essentially recommend “hey, if you really love this and you enjoy rowing you might want to get a group together and come back and enjoy our corporate rowing league.”

And it goes both directions. They actually had a couple of our corporate rowing teams this year love the experience so much that they told their directors in the company and essentially they did an additional one day team-building annual off-site meeting or company outing with us.

Michael: Right. Awesome.

Pat: And so that can happen within the year but it also happens year to year.

Michael: Got it. So you do see those repeats, you see people joining different programs etc.

Pat: Yeah. Definitely.

Michael: As far as kind of similar team-building activities goes, I know that some teams will like at least for a short term put together a team for dragon boat racing or long boat racing and I assume that those people, those groups would be a very natural fit for this.

Pat: Definitely.

Michael: But are there any other kind of activities that would be a good match like if a team has done a scavenger hunt of Boston would they be a good fit to come rowing maybe more so than a group that’s done like cooking lessons together or something like this?

Pat: Got you. Yeah, I mean it definitely is sort of an active team-building event but being that our mission is rowing for all and anyone can do it, I would say we would not limit it. So I think anyone if they’re a group that typically does a cooking class or a paint night or wine tasting, they would still enjoy doing a team-building rowing event and we can always tailor it to the group and we’ve done rowing and beer tasting as an example.

So it’s more like an indoor rowing portion with beer tasting afterwards. But you know I would definitely say if it’s an active company who enjoys getting out and sort of challenging and moving and working together with one another and doing scavenger hunts or doing dragon boat racing they would be a natural fit for rowing, that would take it to the next level.

Michael: Got it. I think last question and then to wrap it up is how does pricing work? You mentioned like gold package, bronze package. I assume there’s a silver one in between.

Pat: Yeah. So we have 3 sort of basic packages, the bronze, silver and gold. And then we also have our specialty packages where we bring in other components like The Boys in the Boat book or an army crew team case study. And so for the bronze, silver and gold it essentially ranges from $95 to $185 per person. And so we base it per person. And we can tailor it depending on the company’s budget and what their interests are to kind of work with them to find a right fit.

Michael: Got it. Cool. So the range I believe you said $95 to about $180 per person.

Pat: 185.

Michael: Got it. And then it can be…

Pat: $95 to $185 per person, yeah.

Michael: Got it. Got it. Got it. And then it can be customized to the individual groups. I totally get that. Cool. Alright. So let’s wrap it up, thank you so much for the shot with me. I feel like I learned a ton not just about your organization and the cool mission but also rowing as a sport.

Pat: Great.

Michael: It does seem to be a lot more accessible than I knew. So thank you.

Pat: Yeah, you’re welcome. It was great to have this conversation.

Community Rowing Reviews

I’ve collected some reviews or Community Rowing so you can get more perspective on what their team building events are like. If you want to see more reviews, check out Community Rowing’s Facebook page, and Yelp.

Here is a Yelp Review about Community Rowing Inc.’s facilities and team:

This place is as good as it gets. Has to be the best in the country. Fantastic new facility with striking architecture and exceptionally well equipeed – Must be 50 erg machines, separate workout room, showers, meeting rooms, and the rowing with 4 docks to launch from on probably the best spot on the probably the most gorgeous river in the country – plus superb coaches and staff – all for a bargain price that you could not match in any sport facility with half the resources. You can row singles, pairs, quads, or sweeps (8 to a boat). Get your workout while the ducks, geese, corcorants, herons and turtles give you the once over. How can you beat that?
– Brooks, H. Yelp User

Here is a review I found on Facebook about how accessible Community Rowing is and with shout outs to individual coaches:

Community Rowing offers a very inclusive, broad-based rowing program with an amazing cast of coaches. You’ll be warmly greeted when you arrive, even if you haven’t been there before. I do Open Sculling with several outstanding coaches: Anna Harris, John Sisk, Michael Baker, Margot Shumway, and Rachel.
– Charlotte P., Facebook User

And this final review speaks for itself:

Great coaches, great team time. Do it! Test… You will LOVE it
– Richard, E., Facebook User

AdVenture Games Inc: Immerse Your Team in a Spy Games Experience

What is the best company team building activity you have experienced? Chances are it was something unique, not the typical bowling or scavenger hunt. What about – without advance notice – being trapped in a room with 20 of your coworkers? No, it’s not a joke. It is the newest way to organize team building activities at your company and I am fascinated. AdVenture Games Inc. (“AGI”) is a team building company that will appear in your office, providing you with theatrical scenarios designed to help your employees bond and work on soft skills.

Being locked in a room with your coworkers sounds unfathomable? Spy Game may get you a bit more excited. Have your CEO kidnapped and work with your colleagues to find clues in order to get him back. It is the newest way to prank your employees while also experiencing team building activities.

AdVenture Games Inc. Team Bonding Highlights

AdVenture Games is a highly customizable experience for your employees. It is designed with team building skills in mind while not boring your team with another meeting and information packet. Here are some of the highlights of AdVenture Games Inc…

  • Super customizable and scalable. Whether you are a small company of 20 people or an international company wanting to have the experience with 600 people. AGI offers a number of games that are very scalable to suit your specific needs.
  • The game style appeals to a wide range of demographics, including younger employees and more experienced members of your team. AGI recommends getting your leadership team involved for maximum trust-building.
  • Give your employees a surprise team building activity. Rather than just talk about team building you have the opportunity to watch and learn how your employees interact with one another under stressful situations. As founder Chad Michael says, “The way that you play this game is the way that you play life.”
  • At the end of the game, the developers debrief the players. The group will discuss the dynamics and situations your employees may not have noticed while playing. Then each team member is sent home with a packet and learning materials to continue to build off of the skills they learned that day.
  • The games come to you! Whether you are in an office building, company offsite, hotel or roaming downtown. AGI can customize the scenario to fit whatever your needs, and they travel everywhere – from Los Angeles to Boston, location is not an issue.
  • Employees keep prizes and tokens they can keep on their desks as a reminder of the fun event and the important lessons on collaboration and communication.

Team Building Activities at AdVenture Games

AdVenture Games has everything from strategic to creativity games. Some games fit companies better than others. Two games companies often enjoy…

  1. Room Escape is a mobile”escape the room” that AdVenture Games Inc. will bring to you. Your employees will be tricked – in good fun – into the room for another boring meeting or motivational speaker, then a video will appear revealing they are trapped. The players then have a limited amount of time to figure out how to escape the room. Prices vary based on the number of participants.
  2. Spy Game involves solving clues to complete a mission. Typically this mission involves kidnapping and the players have to work together to find their missing colleague. However, the team must be careful because you never know who is trying to sabotage the rescue. Prices vary based on the number of participants.

AdVenture Games Inc. Photos

More than just a board game, AGI’s team building exercises get theatrical. Match your colleagues to their roles and maybe run into an informant or two. Trained improv actors assist the facilitators in making this experience as real as possible!

Interview with Chad Michael, founder and lead facilitator at AdVenture Games Inc.

Watch my interview with Chad while we talk AdVenture Games Inc., pranking your colleagues and what companies learn about themselves as a result of this team building experience.

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Interview Transcript

Michael: So today I am interviewing Chad Michael of Adventure Games Inc. Thrilled to have you on the call.Chad: Thank you.

Michael: So the first question I have for you is very simply, what is Adventure Games Inc?

Chad: Well Adventure Games is a national based team building company. We focus mostly on of course fun, but another focus is learning. So we have a combination of both. So not only do we give you a great experience where you could bond together but we want to leave you with some things that can be applied into the workplace.

Michael: Got it. Now the actual activities it looks like are pretty diverse. So it looks like you can customize the experience to what people want but what is a typical event with your company like?

Chad: Most people come to us for our spy game and that is an original program that actually is our flagship activity that most people do come to us for. That is an interactive program that involves a lot of theatrics. We typically will kidnap their CEO or boss or will put together another type of scenario that has to do with the company or maybe it is a information breach or a hack or some sort of a threat and we come in and interrupt a meeting so it comes as a surprise. There is really no way for the participants to even know that it is coming or pre-judge it and we come in and take over the meeting. We put people into teams, they download maps to their smartphones, and off they go looking for informants which are professional actors that we hire at each location. What i love about spy game is that it could be played anywhere. So we have had clients that want us to build a game in their office that never leaves their four walls. We could also play them in downtown or any type of destination locations so that people get a chance to explore the area or get out of their office and we have done them in hotels if they are having their meetings at hotels we can stage it all over the property and this is great at places where it may have inclement weather, or it is too hot, too cold, too rainy etc. So it is very flexible. It does focus a lot on learning. There are a lot of parallels that we draw from the experience that relate to real life. All of our programs come with a debrief. So it is not just a high five, here is your trophy and I hope you had a great day. It is more like, ‘alright lets see how today’s exercise actually applies to how we work together and communicate and how we problem solve under pressure.’

Michael: Got it. There is a ton there so I would love to dig into it a little bit more. Spy games sounds like a cool game. It sounds really unique. It also sounds heavily customized. So I assume it typically starts with a HR manager or training manager maybe the CEO himself calling you up and say ‘hey we want to do this team building event’. Once you decide on spy games, what is the customization process like? Is it a lot of back and forth? Do you have standard templates?

Chad: It is very turn key. Spy game does run kind of on a standard template. But it can be picked up and moved anywhere. I like to think of it like a traveling minstrel show. You know, it is very flexible but the characters can be interchangeable. The customization comes with the location where they want to play it. It is never usually played in the same place twice. Unless it just so happens a client wants it in the same place and also the storyline of the experience, cause it is very storyline drive. Much like a murder mystery it definitely involves the participants that way. Customizations usually come about by how they want us to start off the meeting. Who is going to get kidnapped? Is it a kidnapping? Is it not? So there is a lot of different things we can do. To give you kind of a fun example of something we did recently is our client put on their agenda that they were having to do this 3 hour compliance training and that somebody from their headquarters, from switzerland, was coming in to train them and so we came in and pretended to be that person from Switzerland and we even had that whole accent going and everything and we started the meeting and everyone just thought ‘o man, this is just going to be so awful’. Firstly, because the guy was kind of very dry and very boring and they thought ‘man I’ve got to sit through this for 3 hours’. Then of course our actors come in and bust in and interrupt that. So that is kind of some of the examples of customization we could do for that particular activity. We have others that are fully 100% customized, but this one kind of runs on a platform.

Michael: Right cool, so the end goal is team building but it sounds like this could also be used to prank your colleagues if you choose to.

Chad: The first part of it is definitely is a prank. We did one yesterday for Pepsi Co. and we came into their actual meeting place. Like in their office building and when we came in and busted in and said there is a situation people were definitely alarmed. For about, I would say about 10 seconds they are alarmed like, ‘Woah what is really going on?’ but we do it in such a way that is kind of borderline ridiculous that they immediately know it is a prank. We have another game that full on sets up like a prank. For 5 minutes they are being pranked and that is our office escape. This is the very first mobile escape room that comes to your office or meeting place so you don’t have to go sign up for a time or leave the office or meeting location. We come to you and we set it up where we come in before their meeting starts and we pepper the room with clues and they tell everybody that they have hired this phenomenal motivational speaker. That is going to come in and do some training for them and that is where the prank is. This person comes in and they are really really unprepared and they are awkward and they make… they are tipping things over. You know, sweating from their palms. Just really really awkward and for about 5 minutes this happens to them where they are like really stuck in the room with this guy. Then all of the sudden a video pops up and tells them that they are really locked in the room and they have to figure out how to get out. So it is a really funny kind of set up to that game. And it has been really successful for us. It is one of our newer games. We launched it about 1 year and a half ago. It has been very very successful.

Michael: Right, so I have a technical question about the set up. You mentioned having one of the pranks, one of the set ups, was having somebody to pretend to have a swiss accent and now there is this person that pretends to be a motivational speaker. Do you hire actors? Like how are you executing this?

Chad: Yea, we hire actors. So usually improv actors and even in spy game where they are going around talking to actors they are all improv actors. They are scripted but at the same time they are also improv and they have different quirks and personalities to them.

Michael: Right and the ability to play off the scenario is cool.

Chad: Exactly

Michael: So with the team building events, just a couple staple questions, how long do they usually run?

Chad: Anywhere from 1 to 3 hours.

Michael: Ok and as to what the customer wants and I am also curious about you being able to offer the service to so many markets. Does that mean your team flies in and sets it up? Or do you hire locally?

Chad: Both, so our facilitators will fly in because we don’t just hire any facilitator. They have to be trained with us but the actors are hired locally. So for instance, this week we operated in 3 different cities. We were in Las Vegas, Austin and Orlando and in each one of those locations we hired local actors and because we frequent most of those cities on a regular basis most of our actors have worked several games. So they are very familiar with what we do and in some cases we have to bring in new people and we just train them before the game starts. But it is always local talent and that is always how can keep our pricing competitive. If we flew in our whole crew of 10 people it gets very expensive.

Michael: Yea, absolutely. Even for large companies with healthy budgets it’s difficult to justify flying 10 folks in.

Chad: Right

Michael: Ok, I am of course familiar with a lot of the challenges companies have, why they do team building, etc. What are some of the most common reasons you hear for companies hiring your specific firm?

Chad: You know when people are calling us the buzz word they usually use, it is always the same, is we are looking for something different. We’ve done the scavenger hunts. We have done the minute to win it. We’ve done the ya know, the boat builds, we’ve done…you know …whatever, there is a lot of team building stuff that is kind of generic. I mean yea sure, we have a couple of those generic things in our wheelhouse but they are usually not the ones that we sell. They are just there to kind of pick up the scraps of the people that like us but want something generic so that is usually the reason why they contact us. So they want something different and then they really get sold on the fact that we are going to teach your team some really valuable lessons and that is where we are different then most team building companies. I know there some out there that do offer that but most of them do not and the ones that typically do offer learning it is usually not very interesting. They are usually a bit more flat. With more emphasis on their learning. We are a little more evenly dispersed between fun and learning.

Michael: Got it. So one of these companies that you work with in the past they have done like bowling and cooking classes and scavenger hunts..whatever else, now they are ready for it sounds like leveling up in both the customization of the experience offering something very unique to their employees but also adding almost like an academic element or a more tangible element of team building with the learning. How do you infuse that into the events? How do you make sure people are leaving with the lessons they are meant to take on?

Chad: At the end of the activity we go into, before we announce the winners, we go into the lessons learned and each game has a handout that goes over the different elements that they experience. For instance, the spy game, there is a mole on every team that is sabotaging them and they have to figure out who it is. Well at the end we applaud those moles for playing a great role because they teach us how important it is that everyone share a common goal because if one person wants to do things their own way or has an agenda they bring the whole team down. If those moles go undetected, if they don’t turn themselves in, the team loses half of their points. So it is very detrimental to the team and that’s just one example. Some of our other programs, like our office escape, we talk about things like occams razor and how we tend to overthink things and the simplest solution is usually the correct one. So they actually get an actual tangible document that they can take with them and on the back on all of our programs we offer this really great tool. It is a bullseye graphic and it gives them a place to write down their goals and something they want to envision and create to work together as a team and we give them a token that goes with that they can keep in their pocket, put on their desk to remind themselves of what it is that they learned that day and also remind themselves of the goals they had set on that paper and I actually just got an email yesterday from the tiffany company. We had done our spy game for all of the store directors back in the fall. This one particular store director wrote to me and said the goal setting that we gave them worked. That when they had met me, before they had played our game, their store was really struggling and she asked me for extra materials to take back to her employees and they all decided to join this vision together with this tool and she wrote to tell me that they exceeded it and that they actually, their review was coming and they actually exceeded the expectations the company set for them. So that is pretty cool. That is really really cool actually and that is kind of the end goal we want to accomplish. We want to let people have a great time, bond, get to know each other but ultimately we want you to leave with something that is going to make you better.

Michael: Right, and for them to have a concrete result that will carry on in their company. I love the framing of that. So they have that experience and I expect a lot of the participants are in tuned with they are doing team building, they are collaborating, they are doing more, they are learning to work together, etc. but afterwards you actually frame it for them. This is what you learned and why and then they carry it forward.

Chad: Yea, our kind of tagline when we go into that is the way that you play this game is the way that you play life because it really is the same. How you show up in the game is exactly how you show up in real life.

Michael: Totally, although but that makes me worried about how I play werewolf.

Chad: Hahahaha, but it is interesting to me because it brings out parts of your personality that aren’t always present but that are ultimately fundamentally who you are.

Michael: Right. That’s funny but to be fair when I play werewolf I am just like, “I am a peasant” but I actually am a peasant. So hopefully that means I am an honest person not an effective werewolf player. That’s ok, alright so I have like 2 or 3 more questions I would love to dig in on. When you first started telling me about spy game I was imagining a very collaborative event but then you mentioned points and I am thinking it might be competitive. Is it broken into teams that work against each other?

Chad: In larger groups yes. So it is very competitive and people want to win. It is all point based. So you get points for doing each of the assignments and you get points for answering the question. You know and figuring out the information correct. On top of that when they realize there is a mole on the team, the mole is earning their own points too. Which are contrary to the points that the team is earning. So yes there is that element of competition. When we deal with small teams, you know 8 or under, often asked to be put together and at that point it is a collaborative effort but once they realize there is a mole they realize there is a little bit of competition, ‘wait a minute, we might loose this to one of our own teammates here’. It seems that if they come to us and want something a bit more collaborative so that there isn’t the competition and everybody works together our office escape is perfect for that and we have another one called national treasure. Which can be more collaborative not competitive but it can also have the competitive element if they want to but a lot of times, a lot of our smaller companies do the office escape because they can all stick together, they’re all having the experience together, there is no competition, they are dealing with the time clock. They want to figure this out in the amount of time given.

Michael: Right, got it. But you do have this variety of services so they can choose the one that they like. Who do you find this is most suitable for demographics wise?

Chad: You know, depending on the game. Our office escape tends to do really well with the younger people. They tend to solve it easier than the older people. Salespeople have a very hard time that is anything logistic. A lot of our games that require you to think a lot and to strategize and really problem solve sales people tend to not do well. Sales people tend to do really well on creative challenges almost like the amazing race. Were you run and do stunts and you like take pictures, like whatever. When it comes to actual demographics male, female, age range, really most of our games kind of…I guess there is a broad enough stroke to them that I haven’t really seen where this game just doesn’t do well with older men or this game is really great with younger women. Everyone really seems to really get into it. It really boils down to how successful are they in being able to solve it. Especially our spy game, spy game is hard and the escape room is hard. And we find that people who communicate well tend to score higher and people who don’t communicate well, aka sales people, sales people have historically don’t listen. So any type of listening game is going to be a struggle for them and it shows up in their scores at the end. Does that answer your question? I think I kind of went all over the place on that one.

Michael: No, that is perfect. So it does sound like you accommodate a very wide range of graphics. Which is good but that it is more suitable for some groups. I am fascinated on the insights into sales folks because now that I actually think of it I have seen some people that I work with in the past, not everyone of course, there are some sales folks that do strategize and see the bigger picture, but very very interesting.

Chad: Yea, well it all boils down to listening. I will tell you when I do team building and it is all sales people, when I am giving instructions on the games a lot of people are talking over me. They don’t listen and then they go out in the game and they can’t understand why they didn’t do very well or why it was so hard. Well you didn’t listen to anything that I said.

Michael: Right

Chad: You know and when we do the escape room for them…oh my gosh. You get a bunch of sales people in a room and then try to have them organically come up with a hierarchy within the room it is almost impossible. It is chaos but then we did the escape room for the Mars company and it was all the engineers who build the mechanics for their candy making machines and they got out in like 20-30 minutes. They just know how to organize themselves and organize their thoughts and sales people tend to want to talk. They want their ideas to be heard rather than listen to what everyone else is saying. I would love to write a book on sales people because I watch them and analyze them and they are always the ones that just…they are usually the most fun. Their personalities are always more dynamic and they just…and I think gosh if companies could just teach their sales people how to listen better their sales will go through the roof.

Michael: Right

Chad:You know that is one of the things that I teach, you know, at the end. Especially spy game we talk about the art of listening, the power of listening and sometimes as I tell them this I am watching them not listen to me. It is really fascinating. Yea, sales people I am just fascinated by them.

Michael: I am imagining the type of stereotypical of a sales person. The stereotypical extrovert at a party where they just keep talking to you without actually receiving back. Is that one of the challenges companies are having and why they are coming to you? Cause they have people that aren’t listening.

Chad: They don’t know that. They don’t know that is the reason. But the main reason is, if companies are having problems the main reason is usually there is a trust issue and if there is a trust issue then there is a communication breakdown that is happening within the team because if you don’t trust somebody their word has no value to you. So you are not going to respect them, you are not going to respect what they have to say, cause you don’t trust them and there are a lot of different things…you could dig deep deep and why are there problems with trust? But it usually starts at the top. So it is who ever the owner of the company is or the CEO, or it could be a direct manager, they create their circle of trust. If that trust is not solid then their teams are not solid, they are not going to be communicating well and then when it comes to sales people…when companies are hiring sales people they are usually looking for certain kinds of personality types. And those personality types just don’t listen that is just the way they are.

Michael: Right, so I don’t want to badger the sales folks anymore. I am looking forward to your book, I will definitely read it.

Chad: hahaha I have to do it.

Michael: Yea, totally right? I am curious about the trust element though. Do you usually get the team leader shift involved though so it is not just trust between coworkers? Also trust between different levels of management.

Chad: Well most of the people that come to us, we are not the cheapest team building company in town. We are not the most expensive but we are not the cheapest, so we tend to get the higher level executives especially when they are playing our spy game because that is our most expensive program. So we don’t come to the company and pitch them. We don’t say ‘hey we want to take these different department heads and put them together’. They usually come to us and say ‘this is who is going to be participating’, but most of the time it tends to be the department heads. It is either the department heads or one whole facet of the company. This is our finance team or this is our sales team or this is our operations team. Very rarely is it kind of everybody. I find that when it is everybody…I find that when it is all of these different department heads they tend to struggle to with the games because they are not used to having to communicate with one another. They usually only deal with their one department.

Michael: Right, got it and they occasionally have meetings where everybody is distracted, etc.

Chad: Right

Michael: So you brought up pricing, can we go a little bit into that. How does it work? Is it like flat fee? Is it per person?

Chad: We charge per head but we do have minimum pricing that you have to hit before it goes into that per head pricing. Usually anything under 20 people is tends to be about a flat rate with us. After that it breaks down into per head.

Michael: With a disclaimer that pricing can of course change, can be customize etc. Can you give me specific examples of numbers that you would quote?

Chad: Sure, for instance our spy game is $165 a person. And there is a flat rate of $3,850. That is for us to just show up, produce the event. So if you have a team of 10 people it is going to be $3,850. If you have 20 people it is going to be $3,850 and after that it is per person because typically as the groups get larger we have more staff, we have more actors, if it gets over 80 -100 people we will split the game in two. So not everyone is talking to the same actors but they are having the same experience. So that kind of gives you an example of one game.

Michael: Got it. Some of the other companies that I have worked with and talked to, similar price point. you are right you are kind of on the high end but not the highest. So it sounds like a company works with you could expect to pay between that $3,8.., well actually, you said spy game was the highest so between $3,800 or if it was a very large team $10,000, $15,000, but that is accommodating a lot of people.

Chad: Yea, to give you an example we did one for like 180 people and it was about…I think it was $18,000 but that was for 4 tracks, you know, it was a big production. You know, we have one next week with 600 people and that’s in the upwards of over $30,000. So it just depends. That’s what I love about this business it is very scalable. You know it is just…you know we always love when companies come to us, ‘we have 100 people’. O great, cause we know we are going to have a nice pay check from those but we do have a new thing that is coming up. We have been doing some market analysis and a lot of smaller companies have I would say 20 people and under tend to come at us with very limited budgets and so they can’t reach our minimum. So we do have our minimum like our escape room is a minimum of $1,500. We don’t really make a lot on those but we do it just so that we would rather them have an experience with us and come back to us with a larger team than just loose business all together. So those are kind of our introductory games but we have this app that is coming out because we find that most people will go to escape room but those are $35 a person on average and you can probably go on groupon and get it for half that. So we have developed an app that is a puzzle solving game, like an escape room but it is story line driven, like our spy game, and it is set in historic locations. So we are based in San Diego. So our first game that we are going to build with this is going to be in the gas lamp corridor in San Diego. So you can actually follow the footsteps of a historic character and you go to all the places that he used to go and at each one of these locations you have to unlock a clue that is on your phone and then it will eventually lead you to the final location which is where this missing treasure is or it could be a ghost or whatever the story line is that we have created and at that point you have gotten all the clues to unlock this kind of treasure box on your phone and it opens up on your screen and you see it through your phone like Pokemon Go. So it has that augmented reality element to it and with that coming out we are going to be able to sell that for $35 per person and it is scalable too. So if you say ‘O we don’t have $35 per person’. Well, great, then you can just download it on your own and play it on your own and we will tell you where to start and you know…whatever, but if you want a facilitator to greet you and make sure you understand the app then that is our price point.

Michael: Right, so you are continuing to offer fuller range of services to accommodate more clients, more budgets.

Chad: O yea, cause we are losing so much business because we don’t have something in that price point. I was doing the math, we lost $250,000 last year because we didn’t have something for that market.

Michael: At least, and then you count repeat clients and all people that those clients could have referred. It gets scary very very quickly.

Chad: Exactly

Michael: Ok, I appreciate all of those insights. I have asked the majority of questions I would love answers to and you have given me so much more. I appreciate that. So the last question is an open ended. Is there anything that we didn’t cover? Is there anything we could have gone a little bit deeper into?

Chad: You know the only thing we didn’t really discuss is the customizations we do. We have a program that is designed for companies that want to bring people together to excited them about their brand. Excite them about a new product. Getting people on the same page with the theme of the year, the goal of the year. We call it Apprent Race. It is kind of a cross between the Apprentice and the Amazing Race. It is our own kind of morphed event and that has been really successful for us as well because it is more creative based and we can design the challenges to be about your own products and services. So not only do you have a great team building activity and everyone feels great about the company and the competition is not as fierce either. It is not like you are wanting to outdo everybody. That one has been really great for our companies who are coming out with a new product. A company merger, thats a great one for a merger because it gets everybody kind of on the same page and excited about their brand.

Michael: Right, I love it. So the full range of services, you can customize to exactly what the client needs.

Chad: Mhmm

Michael: Cool, so thank you for this interview. Feel like I learned a ton, not just about your business but about team building sales folk.

Chad: Yea, thank you.

AdVenture Games Inc. Reviews

Still not sure if AdVenture Games is for you? Here are a few reviews from people on Yelp that have experienced the thrill of AdVenture Games Inc.. Due to AGI’s flexible nature they have Yelp pages in multiple locations, with many five star ratings.. Curious of who AdVenture Games Inc. has worked with? Here is a list of some of their most notable clients.

My company booked AdVenture Games for our annual Saturday retreat. I can’t say enough about how much fun this was! There was 47 of us participating in their (creatively competitive) scavenger hunt. We were put into teams and challenged with completing several tasks. It was deliberately set up so that associates/managers would collaborate outside of their usual (and familiar) politics. That made all the difference. I don’t think I have ever seen my team laugh so much during a work project as I did with this retreat. The upshot of it was that even weeks after “The Games,” we are still talking about them! So much fun! -Moana J., Yelp Review

Our company was looking for a unique team building exercise that provided an opportunity to have fun while incorporating a learning experience. Chad and his team at AdVentures delivered one of the best group activities I have ever planned. Chad was extremely professional and very easy to work with and customized the activity to meet our needs. We concluded the activity over dinner where the group was provided with a thorough follow-up on what they had learned from the experience. I hope to have the opportunity to work with AdVentures again! Our group ranked this as the best activity our company has planned! -Mary B., Yelp Review

Chad and his team were a perfect fit for what I was looking to instill in my team of employees. I expressed an interest in what I was looking to achieve and Chad delivered with some of the best team building activities I’ve seen in a very long time! I would definitely recommend his company for anyone looking to do something fun yet educational to benefit thier(sic) overall success! -Haydee V. Yelp Review

Liberty Fleet of Tall Ships: Team Sailing on Boston Harbor

Sometimes, when looking for ways to make your team closer and more tight-knit, it’s good to think outside the box of average get-to-know-you games and bonding exercises. It’s no surprise that one of the best ways to develop strong relationships with a group is to go through a really unique, amazing experience together.

Today, I’m excited to share my interview with Liberty Fleet of Tall Ships with you. Liberty Fleet’s sailing expeditions combine teamwork, hands-on activities, group bonding, and a beautiful view for an all-around amazing experience that is sure to bring your group closer together. Dennis La Komski from Liberty Fleet shared with us information about the logistics of these sailing trips, and how they work as effective team building opportunities.

Liberty Fleet Highlights

Before talking to Dennis at Liberty Fleet of Tall Ships, I really had no idea how sailing worked as a team building activity – but don’t worry, this activity is perfect for team building, even without prior sailing experience! Not only will your team learn a lot together, but they will also experience so much bonding and camaraderie from the hands-on, engaging act of sailing together!

Here are some highlights:

  • Liberty Fleet of Tall Ships has history in Boston – operating for the better part of 20 years now! One of their ships, the Liberty Clipper, has been in use this entire time.
    Sailing is a natural team-building activity because there’s so much work involved in the operation of the boats – there’s plenty for everyone to do!
  • You don’t need any prior experience or a lot of physical endurance to be great at this! “Many hands make light work” at Liberty Fleet. Besides, the expert staff on board is there to make sure everyone is prepared and successful.
  • Team building activities in a beautiful, majestic environment like the Boston Harbor out on the water makes the activities all the more memorable (and perfect for team photos)!
  • This is the perfect outdoor team building activity for late spring, summer, or early fall. Get fresh air while you build strong relationships.
  • The trip is usually around 2 to 4 hours, which is the perfect length for an afternoon out on the water. Longer sailings and overnight engagements are possible.
  • Safety is a top concern for everyone at Liberty Fleet, and the staff works tirelessly to make sure everyone is prepared and safe onboard the ships. They have an exemplary record in regard to safety!
  • Liberty Fleet has a generous weather policy for rescheduling your activity.

So, how do you find this awesome team building activity?

How to Find Liberty Fleet of Tall Ships

Liberty Fleet of Tall Ships is located right on the Boston Harbor at 67 Long Wharf, Boston, MA 02110, USA – an accessible location for any Boston-based company planning an afternoon activity.

Team Building Activities at Liberty Fleet of Tall Ships

Working with Liberty Fleet of Tall Ships for your corporate team building activity is a great choice because of the variety of activities that you are involved in on your outing!

  1. Setting sail! Your team can learn the basics of sailing and how to put up and take down the sails. One of the perks of working with Liberty Fleet of Tall Ships is that while it involves, physical, hands-on activities, the work is very accessible for most ability levels, even amateurs. The staff at Liberty Fleet really live by the philosophy “many hands make light work”! This kind of hands-on, collaborative teamwork is sure to set the scene for a great day of collaboration.
  2. Team building exercises! Once the ship has set sail, you have the option of doing a variety of prepared activities or team building that is tailored for your group. These options allow you to pick the best bonding activities for your particular group of participants.
  3. A beautiful adventure! One of Liberty Fleet of Tall Ships main assets is the beautiful view and unique experience it provides. How many people on your team do you think have had the opportunity to go sailing like this before? With the beautiful backdrop of the Boston Harbor, Liberty Fleet sets the scene for an absolutely unique, gorgeous day of team building activities!

Interview with Dennis La Komski, Liberty Fleet of Tall Ships

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Interview Transcript

Michael: Alright, Dennis, thanks so much for talking with me today. My first question for you is: what is Liberty Fleet? What do you do?

Dennis: Well, Liberty Fleet of Tall Ships is a many faceted tourism company here based out of Boston, and we also do week long cruises during the winter time down in the Caribbean. And our business primarily is about just taking people sailing, and getting them out there with – we have two traditionally rigged schooners that especially during the summertime we take anywhere from, you know, let’s see, it could be anywhere up to 600 people a day, on busy days out sailing in Boston Harbor. And there’s also many different facets of that – we have a pretty vibrant charter business where we bring on anywhere from weddings to corporate retreats to team building exercises. And we’ve been operating here in Boston for the better part of 20 years now under this name. With the- at least one ship stayed consistent: the Liberty Clipper.

Michael: Wow, okay, there’s a ton there, and I’d love to unpack it a little bit to make sure that I totally understand, and so the audience does too. It sounds like you do both public and private sailing-

Dennis: That’s correct.

Michael: So a tourist to Boston could look up things to do in Boston, they see Liberty Fleet Tall Ships, they can book a ticket to go out into the harbor and discover, but you also- sorry, go ahead?

Dennis: No, no I’m yes saying that’s correct.

Michael: Awesome. So you also have this private segment of your business where people can book the ships for weddings and corporate events and I assume other engagements – you know, if someone had a big birthday or retirement party or something, that that could be a thing too.

Dennis: Yep, that’s right

Michael: For this column, I’m specifically interested in the latter part of that. How did the team building business come about?

Dennis: Well, you know, that’s actually probably been the more consistent part of our business, you know, for the longest time we’ve always had a private charter vs public sale business with- that dates back to the beginning of the company but you know it’s a business that has grown and evolved in different ways. I think that with traditionally rigged vessels, you know- tall ships like this – they are sort of naturally good at being able to do team building exercises because there’s a lot involved in the operation of them. So you know so we’ll bring on a group, and we’ll put them to work setting all the sails and cleaning up the deck. And you know if they’re really- you know and there’s a lot of elements involved with team building that are not just the work related elements.

I think too, when you put people into a situation where you’re out on the water for 2-3 hours, you’re pretty much stuck on board and it forces you to get to know the people that you’re working with, that you’re on there with, and you know so I think after that shared experience of helping set the sails- then being able to talk with your co workers or team members or whatever in that kind of nice majestic environment, really lends itself to team building. And you know I think that there’s two facets to that and tall ships are really just – have a nice niche to be able to fill that.

Michael: Got it. So I’m gonna confess, I don’t know a lot about sailing. But it sounds like it is this really collaborative experience. I expect you even have like people pulling the same rope together to combine their strength to get sails up, etc.

Dennis: That’s exactly right.

Michael: So that’s really interesting. And that leaves me with a couple of questions, though. So you have people doing this direct work on the ship: does it take a lot of physical endurance, or is this something the average person could do?

Dennis: Oh, the average person could do it. You know, there’s – we kind of go by the expression “many hands make light work” – you know, when you get everybody involved pulling on the line and they’re working together, the sails come up and they go up really fast. And then when we put people coiling down, we show them how to coil down the deck to get it cleaned up you know so the lines aren’t all over the place. If everybody’s working on something, that can happen really fast. You know, It’s kind of fun to see how, when it all comes together, you can make it happen very efficiently. And it gives people a sense of accomplishment – it’s very much instant gratification which I think again really lends itself really well to team building.

Michael: Right, absolutely. I would expect – and I’m kind of pulling at strings here – that some of the contacts that you work with at these various companies may also have concerns about safety. Maybe partly because you’re on a boat, but also because of this physical element. What, I guess, at a high level, how safe is the activity, and how do you support that to make sure that everybody that comes on board leaves healthy?

Dennis: Well, you know, I can say that, with – knocking on the beam next to me right here – that our record in that regard is exemplary. It’s basic maritime procedures of safety, you know: we have very capable and responsible crew that are keeping a constant lookout, that are being utmost situationally aware about what’s happening, and being able to see when a problem might arise. We make sure that everybody that comes on board is fully briefed about our safety operations. With any of the vessels in Boston harbor, before we even get off the dock, we do a safety briefing for that. And tell them where the lifejackets are located, what are the protocols for an emergency type situation, make sure they know that while this is a boat and we have railings and things, that rowdy behavior, that could result in someone going overboard, is gonna bring the trip to a short and dramatic conclusion. And then from there, usually people tend to fall in line and know what’s going on while still being able to have a good time.

Michael: Right. So people understand and appreciate that safety is a priority.

Dennis: And you know, especially when in situations where there’s bad weather- where things that are out of our control – you know, if we have to delay a departure or even come back early, or – you know, we’ve had not a whole lot but situations where a big big storm will be coming through and we have to tell somebody no you can’t well you know we have to reschedule this for another day it’s a disappointment but I think people appreciate it and the reason we do that is to make sure we keep everybody safe.

Michael: Right, got it. Is the business seasonal?

Dennis: Well, so as I said earlier, the team building business is. Now, that being said, we do have kind of a set up for people to do – I know we get, one example is Drake University comes on down in the Bahamas and as kind of a sail training team building week long trip with us. It’s a whole different set up than the Boston team building is, but you know we’re very open to a lot of different dynamics for how people want to do things but during the summertime, that’s when we’re up in Boston and during the winter time, that’s when we go down to the Caribbean.

Michael: Got it, cool. So a company based in Boston that says “we want to sail in Boston” is probably going to do it in the spring or in the summer.

Dennis: Late spring, summer, early fall.

Michael: Got it. Okay, got it. And then otherwise the Bahamas, which sounds pretty good, too.

Dennis: Right.

Michael: Awesome. Alright, so, you’ve walked me through some of the elements of the event. I’d like to make sure that we capture all of them so that people will know what to expect. So, they get to the pier or the port, and you give them the safety training, and I imagine you get them excited about the stuff they are about to do, the put the rigging et cetera together, the actual set-up of the boat, they’re on the boat, you launch, and you’re out in the harbor. What happens when you’re out in the harbor?

Dennis: So that’s- that’s where I come back to that, you know, that idea that- and you know, I’ve- once the sails are set, then it becomes a little less structured as far as what team building is. That’s where I kind of come back to that idea that I think there’s a real value to being able to have then your own kind of interactions, once we’ve set up the fact that now everybody’s here, you know I think the idea of getting off the dock, listening to the safety announcement, setting the sails, cleaning up the deck, that’s like a giant, built-in ice breaker. Now everybody’s there and attuned to it.

Then we kind of let the group do their own thing. Whether that- that’s a number of things, that could be, you know, structured kind of activities that are that are going on, or just mingling, you know, hanging out, but it’s all, you know- then it- then you’re in that environment where you’re watching what’s happening, you’re seeing- and then you’re seeing our crew being given instructions by the captain, working as a team, working as a unit, and that’s- you’re visualizing that, seeing that happening, and that “oh wow, the things that we’re doing, especially when we’re completely under sail, are moving the ship.” You know.

Michael: Right, right. So they’re out in the harbor, and it sounds like they can kind of plan their own itinerary. So whether that’s specific team building activities, or maybe workshops, maybe things about like leadership or teamwork, and communication, whatever it happens to be – they’re in charge of facilitating maybe even more ice breakers. How long are they usually out for? Is this a two, three hour thing?

Dennis: It can be. Can be two, can be three. You know – generally we try to keep it between two and four hours.

Michael: Got it. Although I believe I also saw on your website that they can charter an overnight experience.

Dennis: It’s possible. Anything- a lot of things are possible. It’s what the logistics of what’s going on that day, you know, when it comes to doing that side of things, it’s a little more- there’s different factors we take into setting those up.

Michael: Got it. And I also suspect that a company with employees is a little bit more difficult to take overnight than, say, a private party or a family group.

Dennis: Right.

Michael: Got it. Okay, so, the team building that you do. What are the main challenges that your clients are facing? I guess this is a question a little outside of Liberty Fleet, but what are the reasons that people come to you? What are they trying to achieve? What’s their goal?

Dennis: It’s an interesting question. I don’t- I mean, I think, I guess I’d have to say for a lot of it – in this world that we live in now, we’re craving unique experiences, something memorable, you know, you can always go to a retreat, you know, in the park or, you know, get away for the weekend, or something like that, but doing it on-board with our ship, with our vessel, you know, where we’re out in the harbor, and we’re all there, and it’s something very unique and not typical that you would do, and gives a memorable experience. I think above all, that’s – what you do during these things is almost less important than the atmosphere in which you do them in.

Michael: Got it. So the companies – specifically, I’m thinking about company team building, are bringing their employees along so that they can have this great experience together, so that through that experience, they can collaborate better, communicate better, get to know each other better.

Dennis: Right.

Michael: Got it. I’ve got a couple more questions specifically about Liberty Fleet, and then we can wrap up. The first thing I’m curious about, is any anticipated changes to the business over- you know, what are you planning for 2017?

Dennis: I mean, you know, it’s an ever-growing thing. We’re already starting to take- you know, start building up a schedule- we start getting this stuff pretty early, and you know this summer, there’s the tall ships festival, which is here, which is a big regatta of lots of different old, traditional vessels, many that are bigger than we are, so that’s going to be a big festival during the end of June, the third week of June, then you know, Harbor Fest and things like that, so it’s going to be a big year. I think, not so much changes, just as word gets out with us, we start building up not just repeat clients, but word of mouth goes around and we start getting more and more and more. You know, we had a stellar year for private events last season – you know, just a lot of people who came and were really satisfied and felt that this was something that they would not only want to do again, but want to tell other people about.

Michael: Awesome. So how far in advance would people need to plan these events?

Dennis: I mean, it’s always better to plan them far in advance. But then there’s inherent risk of planning things far in advance, because you plan them and then you can’t get everyone to commit, and things- life happens, you know? It’s really, you know, as far as- there’s advantages to every different time period of planning them, and there’s disadvantages, you know. If you wait til the last minute, and you know that you can get everybody, you’re risking not having the boat there to be able to do it, but if you plan it way, way far in advance, and you know you got the spot locked down, then you risk having people not be able to come. You know? It’s finding a delicate balance between those two.

Michael: Do you have a weather policy? If let’s say there’s a storm, and they have to reschedule, et cetera?

Dennis: Yeah, that’s complicated. I don’t know if I can necessarily get into that right now. But yes, there is.

Michael: Sure, no problem. I assume when they’re chatting with you on the phone, it’s somewhere on the website, or whatever. What about – what can you tell me about pricing for companies that are booking these kinds of events?

Dennis: Oh, that’s- that, there’s, you know again, that’s one of those things that’s a little, probably more complicated than than this interview. You know I could tell you that if people were interested, we are more than happy to very quickly get a quote drawn up for them. And I think it’s pretty reasonable.

Michael: Got it. If I can do a soft push on that – I expect – a boat is an expensive thing to run, right? To have it in port, and to even own and maintain it- is it safe to assume that a group of say 20-40 people, would probably be over a thousand dollars, maybe even over two thousand?

Dennis: It would be in that range, yeah.

Michael: Got it. And I just want to point that out because there are some team building events out there where it’s, say paintball or something, where it’s $30 a person, so it’s probably going to be a little more, but it’s this incredibly unique experience.

Dennis: I mean- and again, like I said, it really depends on what’s going on. There’s a lot of factors that go into drawing up those numbers. It hugely is right in that range, but, you know- we try to make it so that it’s reasonable, and that it’s – that people feel satisfied. Above all, we want people to feel that what they’re paying for is something they’re going to be satisfied with.

Michael: So folks are getting a good value.

Dennis: Yep.

Michael: Awesome. Alright. That gives me a lot of information – a lot of the questions I’ve had, and that you’ve had answers for. Is there anything else that we’ve missed? Or that we could have gone a little deeper into?

Dennis: I think that we are pretty good!

Michael: That’s great! So thank you so much for doing this interview with me.

Dennis: You got it! You have a great day.

 

Liberty Fleet of Tall Ships Reviews

Many groups have left five-star feedback about their experience with Liberty Fleet! Here are some great reviews from a variety of sources. If you want more testimonials, I highly recommend you check out further reviews on the Facebook page, Yelp, or Trip Advisor.

Some awesome feedback:

..I took my entire staff on board a tall ship with the Liberty crew last year for surprise team building exercises as well as some much needed relaxation and socialization time. The crew was a terrific in teaching the activities and workings of the ship, relating to staff and having them work in many different roles all with the common goal of smooth sailing. The information and experience crosses to any profession, and is a highly recommended activity vs. the old standby catch me if I fall exercises. We thoroughly enjoyed the trip into the harbor and back. The crew was engaging and informative. Will be back for sure!
–Buzz33, 5 star Trip Advisor review

This was amazing. We used these guys for a year end staff outing and it was the perfect experience. Good drinks and good food; highly recommend a the dark and stormy. The staff was fun and entertaining and this is probably the best way to see Boston Harbor. Also, if you’re looking for a way to foster a team-building experience that isn’t contrived they have you raise the sails which is a great team challenge. Also great at an administrative level for planning. Answers come quick and they are very responsive to changes. If you’re doing this as a company outing I would advise getting a bus to the aquarium area, really helped to coordinate the event.
Own L, 5 star Trip Advisor Review

Have you ever worked with Liberty Fleet of Tall Ships?

We would love to hear if you’ve done a team building exercise with Liberty Fleet before! What kind of activities did you do on the boat once you set sail? Did you team enjoy getting to learn about the mechanisms of sailing? How did you team grow closer through the Liberty Fleet events?