Companies have been using off-site meetings and retreats to foster a sense of camaraderie among employees for decades, but obstacle courses or golf tournaments are becoming as dated as guaranteed frequent-flier upgrades to first class. Today, more corporations are turning to hands-on volunteer projects to get their people motivated and learn how to work as a team.
In many cases, participants say such activities help them forge bonds that remain even after they return to the office. When the breweries Molson and Coors merged two years ago, the new leadership team wanted to start things off on the right foot with a team-building exercise. “We quickly got past the idea of a ropes course or golf; we wanted something where we would give back to one of the communities where we do business,” said Samuel D. Walker, chief legal officer for Molson Coors. As a result, the 11-member executive team spent a full day of their Las Vegas meeting this year helping build a house under the tutelage of Habitat for Humanity.
“We had to unload this truck full of cement roof tiles,” Walker said. “We actually had to figure out how to have kind of a bucket line, handing these very heavy tiles from one person to the next. That’s the ultimate team-building exercise.”
Walker’s experience is far from unique. The number of professional organizations setting aside an afternoon or even a full day while at an off-site meeting or convention to frame a house or build a playground is on the rise. Guy Amato, president and chief executive of Habitat for Humanity’s Las Vegas affiliate, said the number of requests from groups who want to participate in building a home while in town has gone from roughly half a dozen requests in 2005 and 2006 to 11 scheduled so far in 2007.
Alan Ranzer, executive director of Impact 4 Good, an organization that matches corporate groups with volunteer opportunities, said the number of requests received has gone up by 50% in the past year. “It’s something companies are picking up for multiple reasons,” Ranzer said. “They see value in it for image purposes. Consumers are out there looking for firms that care, and that goes a long way.”
Statistics back up Ranzer’s assertion. According to the 2004 Cone Corporate Citizenship Study, 86% of US consumers who responded said they were somewhat likely to very likely to switch to a brand associated with a cause, if product price and quality were on par.
“Young people today and new employees are looking for organizations that really do demonstrate ethical core values,” said Sharon L. Allen, chairman of Deloitte & Touche USA.