The cook, the ape and the Da Vinci Code

What do blindfolded human sheepdog trials, giant monopoly boards and adults dressed in gorilla outfits have in common? They all form part of corporate team-building events. What’s more, they are being used by companies that want innovative and inspiring experiences to help their employees develop better working relationships.

Bluehat UK

“For a long time, team-building events meant running around a muddy field, but today event organisers have to be a lot more savvy and come up with a constant stream of new ideas,” says Paul Casement, sales and marketing director at team-building training company Bluehat UK.

Working with the likes of Microsoft, Sainsbury’s and Xerox, Bluehat is one of many providers in this inventive, and sometimes wacky, sector. Among its portfolio of team-building events are: garden design and build challenges organised in conjunction with Age Concern; a competition to produce the best short film; and a giant-sized Dungeons and Dragons-style game.

Its latest offering is a treasure hunt challenge based on the best-selling novel The Da Vinci Code, where participants work in teams to decipher numerous cryptic clues that eventually lead to a final discovery. Costing 2,250 for the initial set-up and then 45-95 per delegate, the company had several large works of art commissioned for the event, which it has run in several locations, including a stately home and a theatre.

Casement makes no attempt to hide the fact that these events are designed to be fun. “People learn more when they are having fun. They get more involved, are more honest and more willing to accept feedback,” he says.

But there is also a serious side to the proceedings, with many of Bluehat’s events overseen by facilitators well-versed in personality modelling techniques such as Myers Briggs and the team-working theories of Meredith Belbin.

Companies working with Bluehat can request an event designed to test a certain aspect of team working, such as dealing with pressure or splitting up into smaller working parties, which facilitators bear in mind as they throw in advice (or a spanner) during the event.


Much the same approach is taken by team-building events company Inneventive. Director Lucy Stoddart says that while its range of off-beat events offer delegates the chance to let their hair down and forget about the office for a day, they are also useful for picking up on personality traits and passing on new team-working skills.

Her company’s selection of team-building events reads like a list of challenges from the latest series of The Apprentice. Working with teams of up to 30 people – the realistic maximum for events of this sort – Inneventive’s offerings include a day on a farm, where groups of delegates compete to see who is best at milking cows, driving tractors and mending fences.

If you want to leave your wellies at home, the company also offers an event where delegates must organise a summer fte, setting up a range of stalls and baking and decorating cakes.

For those whose aspirations are a touch more highbrow, another Inneventive challenge asks delegates to write and put on a play in a West End theatre. Stoddart claims this promotes trust within the team and helps with communication and voice projections skills.

If required, Inneventive will send facilitators into an organisation before an event to observe behaviours. They then visit the client a month or so after the event to ensure any learning points that have emerged during the day have not been lost.

Inneventive’s facilitated events cost between 175 and 300 per delegate, while non-facilitated fun days start from around 65 per person.

Italian Secrets

At Italian Secrets, a self-styled corporate cookery centre, the main theory that owner Anna Venturi works on is that “cooking brings together young and old, male and female, secretaries and senior managers”.

For her, too many cooks do not spoil the pasta. She gets work colleagues to pool their culinary skills into producing and devouring a three-course meal that any Italian mother would be proud of. Home-made pasta and choux pastry with chocolate sauce are staple dishes of this venture, which costs about 120 per person per day, with a maximum group of about 25 people.

A family catering company by trade, the Venturis have made the most of the increased interest in cookery, and have welcomed teams from Goldman Sachs, Coca-Cola and KPMG into their kitchen just off the King’s Road in west London.

Hanging around a kitchen waiting for food to simmer and cook, often with a well-charged glass of wine in hand, offers the ideal chance for people to talk and interact away from the workplace, says Venturi.

She recently worked with representatives from the Norwegian tourism office, Innovation Norway, who had come from all over the world for a meeting in London. Rather than go to a restaurant after their meeting, they went to Italian Secrets.

“In a restaurant you sit next to two people but a kitchen is a lot more fluid and sociable and everyone talks to everyone else,” says Venturi.

City Challenge

Inclusion is also important to another events organiser, City Challenge. Teams from the NHS, Airbus and Marks and Spencer have all taken part in its events, best described as urban orienteering with a bit of history thrown in.

Based in some of the UK’s great historical locations such as Oxford, Cambridge, Bath, Chester, York and Stratford, teams are set a series of history-themed challenges to uncover. They work against the clock and have to travel around and use their intellectual and negotiating skills to maximum effect.

“Everyone can get involved, unlike events such as quad-biking, which may not suit everyone,” says City Challenge’s managing director Jane Read.

She says the events, which cost around 145 per person, can be tweaked to develop specific skills.

Outdoor events

For those of a macho bent, there are physically challenging events on offer.

For example, the source2sea event is planned for October. Organised by First Ascent, a team improvement company, corporate teams will be asked to compete in a series of intellectual and physical challenges while canoeing from the source of the River Dart on Dartmoor, to where it meets the sea at Dartmouth. It costs 5,000 per team, with a percentage going to charity. Every team will be individually coached throughout the challenge, according to event organiser David Sales.

“We understand the importance of communication, performance and team work, and the event will certainly provide some useful learning for when participants deal with challenges at work,” he says.

Case study: City Challenge/Roche Products

With a new team under his direction, Martin Woollard, manager of the UK Clinical Projects Group from pharmaceutical company Roche Products, decided action was needed “to help the team bond and allow me to better understand the team dynamics”.

After some research, he approached corporate team building firm City Challenge about holding an event in Oxford. Everyone taking part was asked in advance about their own personal and team objectives for the session and on the day trained facilitators started the session by analysing and discussing the day’s goals.

With a series of challenges based around Oxford’s academic, literary and theatrical history, the Roche Products teams had to, among other things, retrace the footsteps of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and find pubs made famous by Inspector Morse.

At the end of the day, informal discussions were held to discuss the immediate lessons learned while a detailed report was sent to Woollard, with suggestions for continuing team development.

He says: “It was hard work, but we had fun at the same time and learned some valuable lessons. It gave me an insight into the many varied members of my team and I am building on some of the issues which came out of the day, both in monthly team meetings and one-to-one sessions with individuals.”


Recipe for success


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