Management Update: Lend a helping hand

Management Update

For many companies, the mention of team-building exercises conjures up images chanting something about togetherness, trust and positive thinking with coworkers. Once a fad of the late 1980s, motivational programmes have now matured to become better aligned with company objectives. There’s also more emphasis on team-building exercises that benefit local charities.

Recently GE Healthcare employees assembled Trek bicycles for the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation and Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer They also built bunk beds for Habitat for Humanity. Besides encouraging teamwork and problem-solving skills, the exercises left GE employees with a lasting feeling of contributing towards something worthy.

It’s deeper than traditional exercises, such as a white-knuckle rafting trip or a scavenger hunt in a local park.

"I feel good about it because we are making a difference to our society. And you could liter- ally tie a project to any charity," said Rick D’Aloia with Destination Wisconsin, an event-planning firm. In some cases, teambuilding exercises could lead to a tax deduction if they have a charitable outcome. But there ought to be other measurable outcomes, said Nick Conner, Vice President, TeamBuilders, a Florida-based firm that has worked with Miller Brewing Co. and other large corporations. Clients are demanding metrics too behind the exercises so they can measure their value in the workplace, according to Conner. "That’s the business side of it. A team-building exercise should be more than entertainment," he said.

The GE Healthcare exercises were meant to foster communication and problem solving as employees completed projects for various charities. "We were all working on something that technically, had nothing to do with our day-to-day jobs," said Brian Johnson, Manager of GE Healthcare’s global marketing communications. "I am not sure that we gained any physical skills but it really helped break down walls between people," he added.

For charities, the exercises are another way to raise money or help people in a tangible way "It’s another resource we can tap into," said John Cary, Executive Director of Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer.

Midwest Athletes donated eight Trek bikes, assembled by GE Healthcare employees, to children in the oncology unit at Children’s Hospital of Wiscon- sin. The donation had a dollar value of less than US$ 2,500.

"But sometimes I think that one needs to look beyond the immediate dollars," Cary said. "In this case, I think the greatest benefit was helping kids with something tangible they could enjoy. I think everybody still remembers their first bike."

In the long run, team-building exercises with a philanthropic angle could lead to bigger donations as participants learn the value of the charities’ work. "Most of our fund raising is done through special events," Cary said. "It’s more expensive and time consuming, but when someone invests their time and energy into something, then we have an opportunity to touch them in a deeper way than just asking them for a cheque."

Companies can use the exercises for leadership training and teaching the importance of unselfish giving. "I think it’s great because you are getting multiple benefits," Conner said. In a typical exercise, participants spend time analysing how they per- formed and how it’s applicable to their jobs. Any team-building exercise has to be followed up in the workplace if the lessons are to stick, according to Conner "It’s very possible that a group might forget everything it learned," he said. "But whose fault is that? You need to have application for what was taught, and you have to ask the hard question of how to apply the lessons. It’s the conversations held after an event that lead to epiphanies. Otherwise you go back to work Monday morning and nothing’s different."

Anything done with a group of employees will lose its lustre if it’s not reinforced going forward, added D’Aloia from Destination Wisconsin.

But a team-building exercise with a charitable twist has its own meaning that’s hard to forget. "At the end of the day when you see the kids getting the bikes or the bunk beds, it’s a really good feeling," he said.

Courtesy: McClatchy-Tribune (MCT) Information Services