For AIG Executive Liability, some of the tasks required the teams to take a picture of a New Yorker holding an AIG umbrella, and Steenhuis says a task during her event with City Hunt required teams to take a picture of someone who resembled the company’s CEO. Three weeks prior to the event, a City Hunt representative spoke with the event organizers to clearly define the goals of the activity. A third set of tasks was then given to groups during the hunt that were directly tied to the overall mission.
“They clearly had us provide what [training director Gayle Gilliam's] goals were at that time. Her goals were that she wanted a team atmosphere to be encouraged, to promote team spirit, and that she wanted attendees to take away that they were learning to think outside the box,” LoPinto says, adding that other goals for attendees included taking on a sense of personal entrepreneurship and to be a team leader.
City Hunt translated those goals into five “key principals,” around which they designed the challenges that comprised the hunt. City Hunt also assigned a point value to each challenge based on its difficulty level. Some point-earning tasks were optional, such as taking a picture of the team in a boat, so that teams could win the overall game even if they weren’t first to the finish line.
“They gave us a list of five key principals, and told us to take a picture of our team doing them or showing them in some way. One was overcoming boundaries, and another was being versatile,” Alger says.
Prior to the scavenger hunt, teambuilding events at the company had been activities such as cooking classes or bowling outings. While these events had been fun for attendees, they weren’t related to the overall goals of the program, LoPinto says. Previous activities were also held in the evening, and AIG needed an activity that could took place during the afternoon for attendees that needed to catch flights home later that day.
Building a Customized Hunt City Hunt’s Ultimate Adventure package, priced at $160 per attendee for three hours, has three elements, Hoffman says. Clues lead the participants around a designated neighborhood or location to discover treasure chests with additional clues or phone numbers. Those clues then point the teams toward challenge activities with City Hunt “adventure guide” staff members. Teams are also given a set of picture challenges to earn additional points, Hoffman says. For example, a team could earn three points for taking a picture of a team member with a police officer, and double points for taking a picture of a team member in the back of a police car. Public transportation is avoided to keep up the pace of the hunt.
“We want to keep them moving so they can get as much done as possible,” Hoffman says.
The advantage of the scavenger hunt model is that unlike other team building exercises like bowling or cooking, that may only interest some attendees, the hunt can be built to appeal to the entire group, he says. The company offers a “fun or it’s free” guarantee.
“The hunt becomes part of the background. They forget they’re on a hunt because they’re just doing things that they love,” Hoffman says. “Anything that they want to do we can figure out a way to integrate it in.”
City Hunt is able to accommodate groups of 10 to 1,500, Hoffman says, and the ideal team size is four to six attendees. A minimum of two-weeks lead time is best, Hoffman says.
Dr. Pamela Brill, a Boston-area consultant who works with professional athletic organizations and corporations on teambuilding, says while competitive games can play a role in teambuilding, planners should consider negative behaviors that can be reinforced inadvertently.
“It’s an efficient and cost-effective way for a company to build a sense of team. But for a group to really be effective they have to work way beyond a scavenger hunt,” Brill says.
“My experience, having watched clients before and after doing it, is that it doesn’t have [a transformative] impact. In fact, what generally happens is that people on the team that already had clearly defined roles like ‘the tellers’ [those who order action] became stronger at telling. It became very competitive.”
Brill says she has even witnessed subversive action such as one team endeavoring to get their competitors (who were fellow employees) drunk to put them at a disadvantage during the game. To avoid such undesired behavior, companies should keep fun activities separate from their serious goals of teambuilding, she added.
According to Brill, it’s important that the classroom component of the training teaches the attendees how to work together in the face of fierce competition. “Planners should combine a competitive event, such as a scavenger hunt, with some real training about how to team, strategize, and coach when working in a group.”