If all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, just imagine what it does to a meeting agenda. When an individual engages in an activity he or she enjoys, the result is a boosted immune system, a sense of optimism, a fresh perspective and a feeling of belonging, according to the National Institute for Play. The rewards are multiplied in a workplace culture that values play. Doing so fosters creativity, problem solving and adaptability, and it prepares employees to thrive in the face of complex challenges—it builds a strong, engaged team.
Whether you have a spare 15 minutes or an entire day, there are endless opportunities to infuse a meeting or event with an experience that will move attendees to get out of their seats and shake up their meeting mind frame. While you can’t plan fun, you can plan engaging team-building activities that put guests in a new situation, apt to lead to spontaneous connections and inspiration that will continue to resonate back in the office.
Across its 2,000 acres, Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in southwestern Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands holds a lot to discover. Start early and take in the surroundings on a guided morning hike, followed by a group meditation led by a therapist at the resort’s Holistic Healing Center. The meditation focuses “on stilling the body and quieting the mind, which in turn allows us to handle stress better and ultimately be healthier on a holistic level,” says Stephanie Wendell, the center’s director. Groups can also find balance and energy in a yoga session, or participate in a group hypnosis that focuses on assertiveness, motivation and balancing work and home life.
Good balance also comes in handy in dozens of customizable team-building adventures that the resort offers—along with communication and cooperation. One of the most popular options is the ropes course, which leads teams to conquer obstacles and reach new heights, followed by a zip-line free fall. “It’s not something you can do alone,” says Ashli Mazer, director of marketing and public relations. “There’s a huge trust factor that’s gained by doing this activity.” Other experiences include the Nemacolin survivor series (modeled after the television show), the Tour de Nemacolin bicycle challenge and Special Ops combat paintball.
Planners are sure to find the sweet spot in team-building at Hershey Resorts. “With some friendly competition and the need to be creative, teams are always smiling, laughing and chatting up a storm as they participate,” says Hershey Destination Services Manager Lauren Imes. “They come away with new memories that create lasting bonds, as well as some great stories to tell back in the office.”
The recreation departments at The Hotel Hershey and Hershey Lodge can customize guided walks, mountain biking trips, indoor water aerobics, yoga classes, 5K runs and 15-minute stretch breaks to suit all fitness levels. Groups can also conquer the Hershey Quest, working together to navigate a preset course through the woods of The Hotel Hershey, hitting checkpoints along the way with challenges like paintball target practice and building the tallest s’more stack.
The newest team-building challenge is the cardboard carnival, which arms teams with cardboard, duct tape, a carnival prop and a mission to create their own version of a carnival game. After the hard work, it’s time to play, and teams judge each other’s games on their design, uniqueness and fun factor. “It brings back the nostalgia of childhood at theme parks and fairs,” says Imes. “It’s amazing how creative teams can get!”
Boredom’s not an option at Adventure Sports in Hershey; alternatives include bumper boats, go-karts, mini golf, driving range, batting cages, outdoor laser tag and an arcade. The entertainment center’s staff is happy to customize twists and challenges to allow groups to accomplish their particular goals in team-building. A game of laser tag on the center’s 3-acre field lends itself well to focused objectives, with teams working together to accomplish tailored missions. In addition to its outdoor pavilion, Adventure Sports is opening an indoor meeting and function space this summer, allowing the fun to continue year-round.
The spirited Kimpton brand is committed to its guests’ wellness, and each of its three hotels in Pennsylvania offers its own take on a health-minded team-building activity. At the Hotel Monaco Pittsburgh, which opened in January 2015, meeting attendees can hop on a PUBLIC bike that powers a Robot Coupe juice extractor during the Fender Bender juice bar break. The fruits and vegetables of their labor are fresh, seasonal and perfectly blended.
Groups that gather at the Hotel Palomar Philadelphia can start their breakfast meeting with the Elements of Wellness package, which includes whole-grain cereals, fresh-squeezed juices, organic coffee and tea, and an instructor-led yoga break to stretch the mind and body.
At the Hotel Monaco Philadelphia, a sweat session is just as important as a brainstorming session. Incorporating a 60-minute TKO with T cardio boxing class into a meeting schedule gets energy flowing in a big way. The class is taught by the hotel’s beloved doorman and certified fitness instructor, Thomas “T” Govens.
Dragon boating is an experience not quickly forgotten. Groups of up to 20 move together to power a 700-pound, ornately decorated boat along one of the three rivers that surround downtown Pittsburgh. An onboard gong recalls the Chinese tradition of the dragon-shaped vessel and guides the timing as its paddlers strive to beat a competing boat. Groups start by learning the basics of the paddling stroke at Three Rivers Rowing Association’s indoor training facility, and then take to the Allegheny River. “Anybody can learn it, but you do have to foster a good relationship within the boat in order to get it moving along correctly,” says Stephanie Ricker, TRRA’s director of outreach. “There’s definitely a sense of camaraderie. We have an awesome city view, so it’s a very unique experience to see the city from a different point of view and to do so with so many other people.”
Groups that start their day with Fairmont Pittsburgh’s Boot Camp and Breakfast can expect the energy from their morning workout session to power their meeting all day long. Trainers from the downtown hotel’s 6,000-square-foot health club design a fitness experience tailored to attendees’ interests and fitness level, with options like yoga, Zumba, spin, cardio and Pilates. The adventure can also move outside, with guided group walking and running challenges exploring the city and its serene riverfront trails. After refueling over a nutritious and delicious Lifestyle Cuisine breakfast, the group’s focus, camaraderie and health will all be in better shape.
There are more than 60 different team-building experiences for groups that gather at Woodloch Pines Resort in Hawley, many taking advantage of the terrain and beauty in the property’s surroundings. One of the most popular events is boat building, which arms teams with corrugated cardboard, a yardstick, a wooden bow, a seat, duct tape, a knife and a marker to construct a boat that floats in just 45 minutes. Each team picks someone to set sail in the boat on Lake Teedyuskung (or the pool in winter months) to put its buoyancy to the test. “Half of the boats float with their skipper on it, and half of them go down,” says Joey Ranner, social director. But everyone has fun. “It’s a great activity that includes deadlines, an artistic component, engineering concepts, communication, cooperation and the trust factor of the person going into the boat.”
These elements mirror what teams face at work, but new surroundings and a novel challenge often bring out a new side to team members. “A lot of times you only know the person you see at the office, which is why getting people out of the boardroom is so important,” Ranner says. “Companies come back year after year because they look forward to unwinding and having some fun together. Their culture really needs that time.”