By Shelly Lipton, Board Chair of Second Chance Toys
According to the American Management Association, 60 percent of executives say lack of collaboration is one of the top leadership challenges for them in today’s business world. Furthermore, those polled agree that activities in and outside of the office that foster a greater sense of teamwork within an organization help to address this challenge head-on.
That may just be why “employee engagement initiatives” are all the rage in business management circles right now. It’s a critical component of any businesses’ growth plan since studies show hosting an employee “Day of Giving” is an effective way – not only to enhance the company image – but also to strengthen ties between management and employee. (not to mention doing a little good in the world!)
When my family and I started Second Chance Toys seven years ago, our main objective was to collect gently used plastic toys, clean and refurbish them and then donate them to children in need. We never imagined that 8 years later our collection and cleaning drives would become one of the most sought after employee volunteer initiatives in the communities we serve. The winning combination between helping underserved children, and saving the earth resonated with sustainability and human resource representatives at major corporations such as Viacom and Johnson & Johnson because those companies knew that this type of program would foster, among other things, employee engagement.
The event is so simple in nature. The company holds an internal collection of gently used plastic toys prior to the event. We set up cleaning stations, an area where employees get tot tag the toys and write a nice note on them for their new owner, and then they are packed up for delivery to their new homes. As a treat for employees, we often have music, dancing, face- painting, and celebrity appearances. Combined with the teambuilding effort to accomplish a common goal, these events have helped our corporate partners engage their employees and fine tune their teamwork skills with a fun and rewarding activity.
There are a lots of creative opportunities out there – just pick the one or two you think your employees would be most passionate about. Create an employee-based planning committee and let them make the final choice. Here are a few ideas to start with:
- The Domino Effect – Sounds silly and simple, but have you ever seen those grand Domino structures where cause and effect could not be illustrated more clearly – and where the power of cooperation is key? One misplaced domino causes the entire structure to come tumbling down. And in the end, one little push of the end domino causes one of the most magnificent chain reactions. It is a great lesson on some of the most basic principles of teamwork. It’s also a great philanthropic event if you create the logo of your favorite charity with the dominos and have employees get family and friends to sponsor a small amount per domino in the final structure.
- Lights, Camera Action – A film-making project that can be completed in under two hours that requires creative thinking under pressure, and enables team members to take on roles that match their areas of strength, employees love to step out of the box and into Hollywood for a day.
Add a charitable component to it by offering to create a fundraising video for a chosen charity.
- Grocery Raiders of the Lost Park – More and more employers are requesting hunts for teambuilding that have a social responsibility component. With Grocery Raiders of the Lost Park, teams of four to eight employees pick up grocery items along the way and at the end, all of the food gets located to a local food bank.
- Scavenger hunts – kicking it old school, in teams of four to eight, employees pound the pavement with photo tasks like snapping a photo with the entire team mid-air or engaging a stranger with a full-sleeve tattoo doing his best Mr. Universe pose. Then they typically convene at a restaurant or bar to see who won and to break some bread. (This doesn’t have a social component per se).
And for employees who will engage in these types of activities – they will have a meaningful opportunity to bond, share their personal values, and act in unison toward a common goal.
There are some parameters that employees need to keep in mind during these more informal work days because you don’t want a good deed turning into a career landmine. Career expert Vicki Salemi, author of Big Career in the Big City” suggests the following:
- Be yourself — let your hair down but not too much. You’re outside the office so things can be a little bit more laid back with the change of environment and context –but remember you are still with your boss – and every impression you make counts
- If you have increased access to your boss – or your boss’ boss, take advantage of it. Do your homework though – and have something interesting and relevant to talk about. Or simply share your thoughts about the volunteer experience and let him/her know how valuable you think it is.
- Make an effort. Even if you’re not into the sound of the event, go all out. Pour your heart into it – what you get out of it is what you put into it. First of all, show up and secondly, tell yourself you’ll have fun. Your smiles will resonate and make an impact with others on your team and vice versa. Teambuilding may sound corny to some people but it actually does boost morale!
- Enjoy the break of routine/clear the air! Hey, things could be worse and you could be in the office, right? If it’s a beautiful day and you may not be into team miniature golf, at least you’re soaking up the fresh air. Enjoy laughter with your teammates and the unique experience. If there’s someone on your team who you don’t really get along with, leverage this as an opportunity to clear the air through laughter and teambuilding.
Serial entrepreneur Shelly Lipton is Board Chair of Second Chance Toys where he is applying his business know-how and passion for doing good to grow the mission of this charitable organization.