“To his dog, every man is Napoleon; hence the constant popularity of dogs.”
At Distel Wolfe, we’re big dog fans. Carol has two Cavalier King Charles Spaniels — brothers Gatsby and Brody, and I have a labrador/poodle mix named Howie. In fact, we are so much dog people that when we first started our company, we (briefly) looked at potentially naming ourselves using some variation of a dog theme.
As dog lovers, we sometimes tend to see the world through our dog's’ eyes. That means the work we do with companies and nonprofits. And often we’re struck with how our scavenger hunt team building activities reminds us of our four-legged friends. In that spirit, we’re listing the seven ways our dogs taught us about team building:
1. Always look for the best in people
It says something about Howie that one of the hardest things about owning him is how much he LOVES everyone. He just can’t help himself when it comes to meeting strangers, and has to introduce himself. Unfortunately, not everyone wants to be friends, but that’s ok. He just adjusts and moves on.
That’s what you need to do with your team, to the greatest extent as possible. While you can offer constructive feedback on performance (assuming you’re a manager, or at least have a good working relationship) assume that your colleagues are doing the best they can. This is one of the fastest ways to build trust, and improve team performance.
2. Get your paws dirty
Want to guarantee that you’ll have a great time at a scavenger hunt? Commit to putting yourself out there. Dogs know how important the power of play is, and they take every opportunity to put themselves to run, jump and roll around in the dirt. (Also, they never pass up a joyride.) We should spend some time thinking about how we can follow their lead in this respect. But getting our paws dirty can mean different things to different people. We may reach the same goal but in different ways.
Carol’s dogs Brody and Gatsby experience life differently, each offering a different lesson. “When taking my dogs for a walk, Brody calmly stands while I hook his collar to the leash while Gatsby completes backflip and cannot contain his excitement,” says Carol. “Once we start walking, Brody stays by my side walking with a big smile on his face content to be with his pack. Gatsby runs like a loose chicken darting from side to side. If we pass a lake, pond or mud puddle, Gatsby ventures in and if possible, takes a swim. If we are lucky enough to find something like a dead frog or freshly laid mulch, Gatsby rolls in it, taking in the full sensory experience.” But Carol says it turns out Brody’s calmness and ability to connect people brings big rewards too. “When a stranger comes along, Gatsby hides and Brody takes the lead, sitting attentively while getting all the attention.”
Just like Brody and Gatsby (and Howie), people learn and experience life in their own unique way. Some of us are comfortable meeting new people, others not so much. Some can learn from reading about a subject, others are tactile and need to touch and see how something works. Our experiences make up who we are and how we think. One approach isn’t better than the other, so be open to seeing things from another person’s perspective.
3. Adapt and thrive
Ever had a dog that’s been skunked? After the initial shock wears off, you probably realized that you’re really quite angry with your beloved pooch. It’s a huge process to try and remove the smell, and it can be weeks before your dog, and even your house, begins to smell normal.
But eventually you do get back to normal, and you forgive and move on (of course, your dog was probably back to normal 30 minutes after it happened, and can’t figure out why you haven’t done the same).
In life, lessons aren’t always as clear as being sprayed by a skunk in the face. But when things go wrong, it’s best to figure out a solution as quickly as possible, and keep your eye on the prize. If we can learn lessons together during our team building, we’ll be better off.
4. Tailor your approach, based on the person
Once on a backpacking trip with Howie on the Manistee River Loop, I learned just how adaptable my dog can be. We’d just packed up camp early one morning and were hiking down the trail, and stumbled upon a giant porcupine standing in the path. My first instinct was to grab my dog and jerk him back close to me — I was afraid his over eager friendliness would get him a face full of quills. But despite Howie’s tendency to be friendly towards all creatures big and small, something held him back. He let out a little growl, but stayed close by me until the porcupine meandered off into the brush. Thank god my pooch somehow knew that friendliness was not going to work in this situation — we were miles from any kind of medical care.
Often in the workplace we have to tailor our approach to our audience. Sometimes a little caution is better than immediately bounding up to someone with unbridled enthusiasm. Certainly we see this with our scavenger hunt teams who approach strangers to help them complete a challenge. Sometimes folks tell them “no,” and they have to find someone else who is willing to have a little fun and help a group of people out.
5. Forgive and move on
Our dogs love us unconditionally. So if we don’t manage to walk them as often as we used to, or leave them locked up longer than they deserve, we feel bad. But the great thing about dogs is that all that is immediately forgotten. They’re just so damn happy that you’re there, and any slights or misgivings are immediately forgotten as soon as you open the door.
Effective team building requires that you make mistakes. You’re not going to get everything right the first time. It’s the competition, the working together that’s the fun part! So make the mistakes, learn from them and move on. As we like to say at DW, “There is no failure, only feedback.”
6. Give everyone a chance — but be fiercely loyal to the pack
My kids joke that Howie’s love for me borders on fanatical. They can be scratching his belly, giving him treats, throwing the ball — all things he loves — but the minute I walk in the door, all he cares about is me and what I’m doing.
That’s what we often see with our teams. They love playing the game, interacting with strangers, and even occasionally helping each other out with challenges. They convince the more introverted team members to do some pretty crazy things. But at the end of the day, it’s all done in the spirit of gaining points for their team, and reaching the goal of having a really great time together.
7. Be here now.
My dog never has anywhere to be, except right where I am. I have his full attention pretty much any time I want it. This is especially evident when I come home from a long trip (or even just a short trip to the grocery store) — the joy! The exuberance! It’s like he’s saying, “It’s YOU! I was HOPING it would be you!”
Before every hunt, I make it a point to tell all the teams, “Look, you have a lot going on in your lives. And not just at work. Forget about that dumb thing your spouse said this morning, forget that your kid is making you crazy with her attitude, forget all those emails and work projects that are looming on deadline. Right now — right here — I want you to be present. Do yourself a favor and go all in. You’ve only got 90 minutes to do this hunt, so you might as well enjoy it.”
What do you think?
“It’s not the size of the dogs in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.” Dwight Eisenhower said that (or maybe it was Mark Twain — attribution is a tricky thing). What has your dog taught you about life and work? Is there anything you’ve seen a dog do that we’d be well-served to emulate?
Ready to get your pack out and working together? Contact us, we'd love to put together a "run with the big dogs" hunt for your team!
The college students I teach often use the word "adult" as a verb — as in, "Adulting is hard." And it's true! Paying bills, showing up on time, putting other people's needs in front of our own (this is especially difficult for women) is hard work. That's why as we grow up and take on more responsibilities, it's easy to lose sight of the power of a child-like mindset, and how it can actually improve our productivity. Let's look at the research that tells us why.
In what might be one of my favorite research studies, scientists at North Dakota State University asked participating students, divided into two groups, to imagine their classes for the next day were cancelled. Then the researchers distributed a questionnaire to both groups asking:
They then had both groups complete the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking (TTCT), which measures creativity. It includes tasks like asking participants to come up with ways to make a simple toy more fun, or look at a picture and guess the story behind it.
So how did thinking like a seven-year-old change the results? The data was pretty impressive: students who approached the TTCT after being asked to imagine how they'd spend their day as a second grader scored significantly higher on the creativity test. The data seem to point to the fact that sometimes a simple action like switching to a "play" mindset allows us to be more creative, innovative and find more meaning in our work.
How to add more play in the workplace
Silicon Valley is famous for playful, often goofy, benefits in the workplace: Twitter provides a rock climbing wall for employees, Google workers can play volleyball on company courts, and countless other startups have added foosball tables and office chair hockey tournaments to their list of perks. But honestly, these amenities aren't practical for most companies. But fear not! Here are a few more sensible strategies to help ourselves and our employees achieve a more playful mindset:
Kristen Cozad of the National Institute for Play puts it best: "Many [people] grew up being told that to be good enough, to be competitive and find good jobs, to belong and have meaning, they had to be continuously measured and managed and meet standardized objectives," she said. "But now the rules have changed. Fifty percent of jobs will be lost in the next ten years to robotics and AI. Those who were measured and managed and driven by extrinsic reward and validation systems will now have to re-create themselves, find their way through play."
Sounds like pretty good justification for more play in the workplace if you ask me!
"You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation." — Plato
My students are right — adulting IS hard — which is why we shouldn't be so quick to make our workplaces into bastions of drudgery. Instead, adding some play to your workplace might be the perfect antidote to absenteeism, presenteeism and lack of innovation.
We've created a way to remove all the forced, lame elements that typically come with team building, and left in all the good stuff — like building trust and deep engagement: We do this through uniquely-designed scavenger hunts.
This is a guest post written by our intern, Jade Villanueva (one of the coolest millennials we know).
The cubicle neighborhood has never really appealed to me as a dream workspace, and as a millennial, I know I’m not alone. My creativity, productivity, and motivation all suffer when I’m packed into a desk that’s big enough for an 8 year old. I need a comfortable chair, room to spread my things out, some natural light or warm lighting, and music. I tend to channel productivity and creativity differently by changing up my workspace. Instead of the traditional cubicle, today we’re seeing coffee shops, bright offices with large windows, and bubble chairs. Millennials have been taking over the workplace and changing corporate culture and the workplace dynamic to better suit the needs of employees. Not everyone works efficiently in the same setting, and millennials are voicing the issue and working to change it.
Earlier generations didn’t usually speak up about work culture, because a hierarchy was set in place and a better route hadn’t been discovered. There’s still a hierarchy, but the dynamic of workplace culture has become more collective and I give credit to the millennials entering the workplace. We’re not afraid to speak our minds and we’re more understanding when it comes to different people and how they function. Giving people options for them to give better results is totally worth the change in work environment. There are situations where we’ll be unable to choose where we’d like to work from day to day, but it’s important for employees to have some sort of control on how they work. Giving your workers at least a little of bit of control of their environment could greatly boost work culture and productivity. Happy employees means happy workplace and better results!
Be More Like These Guys
Austin-based Whole Foods Markets allows their employees to use laptops so they can work from anywhere in the building, whether it's from a hammock on an open floor or a standing desk. Google is another company that values their employees’ need for productive work spaces. Google has a person whose job it is to make sure that Google’s workspaces fit their employees personalities and meets all of their needs. Google wants their employees to own their workspace and not limit their potential.
It’s important when finding a place to work whether it’s an agency or corporation, that aligns with your values and allows you to work in an environment that maximizes your potential, productivity, motivation, and creativity!
Millennials are famously known for blurring the lines between the professional and the personal, and that extends to having friendships at work. While that tendency may clash with previous generations who prefer to keep their heads down and not share too much at work, research shows that having a best friend at work may be one of the best things you can do for your career (assuming you can find someone who's a match).
What the research says
"Gallup, one of the biggest organizations that studies workplace culture, uses its Q12 measurement tool to gauge "the twelve key dimensions that describe great workgroups" — essentially, how effectively companies are engaging their employees. One of the most-talked-about question is item number 10: "I Have a Best Friend at Work." According to Gallup, this is one of their most controversial questions, but it's also one of the most powerful ways to differentiate highly productive workgroups. As it turns out, employees who have a work BFF were:
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Why your work BFF is important
It turns out that having a work BFF has a bunch of benefits:
Friends have increased trust
According to Stephen M. R. Covey's book The Speed of Trust, when trust goes down, both costs and inefficiencies increase. In today's environment of constant change — mergers & acquisitions, reorgs, steady turnover (something else work friendships help reduce) — a work BFF could offer employees the best defense against stress, isolation and disengagement.
Acquaintances have worse communication
Research shows that acquaintances who work on projects together prefer to work alone & communicate only when necessary. Acquaintances are also less likely that friends to ask for help or point out mistakes.
Better feedback when things get off track
If you're friends with a co-worker, defensiveness often takes a back seat. We're more likely to accept and act on constructive criticism from people we like and trust — Pam is much more likely to let Jim know that he left out a bullet point on an important client presentation if they have a solid working friendship.
More committed team members
An organization's success or failure is closely related to the motivation of its employees, and employee motivation is directly related to job commitment. Often it feels like there's more on the line with friendships (as opposed to customers). If you know that your lack of motivation or commitment is going to negatively affect your friends, you're much less likely to drop the ball.
Encouragement is a natural byproduct of employees who also happen to be friends — we want the people we like and trust to succeed. Our friends who help move us forward when we feel fear, isolation and overwhelm.
It's clear that our work BFFs do more than just save a spot for us in the breakroom or let us borrow their staplers — they cover for us when family emergencies strike, and offer a sympathetic ear when we falter. Work best friends can make the difference between a job you hate — and a job that you're willing to invest in.
Want to help your team find their own work BFF?
A high-tech scavenger hunt might be just the thing!
A pirate, a blonde, and a priest walk into a bar, and the bartender says, ‘What is this, a joke?'
Contrary to popular belief, research tells us that almost everyone has a sense of humor. And it turns you can use it to your advantage when building a more effective team.
Some of the world's biggest companies have mastered the art of creating a more laugh-friendly environment. IBM and Yahoo have silly names for their conference rooms ("The 3pm staff meeting in the Kajagoogoo room has been rescheduled..."), Hulu hosts Airzooka and taco-eating competitions, MailChimp has a web-enabled Nerf cannon standing guard over the office and Twitter often holds meetings on its rooftop.
So what do these companies know that we don't?
Physical & mental benefits of laughter
We've long known that laughing triggers the release of disease-fighting endorphins and antibodies, fighting off everything from anxiety and depression to heart disease. A happy, giggling workforce is a healthy workforce, with lower rates of presenteeism and employee burnout.
But it's the mental benefits that really drive results when it comes to laughter in the workplace. When your employees laugh, in return they get:
So is it time to start turning your office into stand-up comedy stage? Not just yet.
The pitfalls of humor in the workplace
No self-respecting boss really wants to be Michael Scott. And for good reason — research shows that if you try to be funny and you're not, or if you're offensive — or even if you're too self-deprecating too often — your employees will lose respect for you.
And while it sounds tempting to have a job where you have fun all day, every day, most of us want to actually want jobs that offer a balance between fun and meaningful work, and be considered competent and productive by our colleagues — which isn't always "fun" in the traditional sense of the word. So there has to be a balance between laughing and thoughtfulness.
How to build more laughter into your team dynamics
First, smart managers know that self-confidence is key to pulling off humor in the workplace. Also, know your limits — no one likes to be made fun of, and off-color humor is dangerous territory in the workplace. But there are ways you can add more positivity and openness to the work environment, which invites humor in.
It may sound cheesy, but a laughter-filled work environment starts with positive thinking. Having a sunny outlook leads to light-heartedness, which leads to laughter. The single most important thing you can do to encourage a more effective team is model the behavior that you'd like to see. Don't take yourself or your job too seriously, don't interrupt people when they're talking, and try to get better at picking up on your employees' emotional cues.
And yes, try to be funny (or at the very least, clever). Try these six tactics to adding more humor to your workplace interactions:
So channel your inner George Carlin or Amy Schumer and bring a little levity to your team culture and dynamics. You might just find that laughter is the best medicine — for your bottom line.
Or — hire us to help add humor and levity to any work outing via a scavenger hunt.
Co-founder Jill Hinton Wolfe is a communicator, entrepreneur and Army veteran who is passionate about designing surprising and unique experiences for her clients.