Project Fun Way

BT_Invite_1119_TRIATHLETESI spent the last few months of 2013 doing something very secret — and that was so much fun to put together that I think the letdown sort of spoiled the end of the year.

Some managers at work (including mine) wanted to put together a team-building exercise for three groups that will be working together closely more often, and I got tapped to represent the Creative team.

Here’s what we agreed upon pretty early: Because upwards of 70 people were going to be involved, any meaningful team-building activity would need to be done in much smaller groups. (Just like a dinner party!)

And then we started talking about past Activities Gone Wrong — how what’s fun for one person (say, karaoke) can be torture for another — and we decided to come up with several different activities, then slot in groups of up to nine employees accordingly. And with a group that large, we broke them up into smaller groups designed to bring together people who likely didn’t know each other well.

It was a logician’s dream: a certain number of folks, per department, at each event — ideally ones who don’t work together on projects. Making sure each group had a few extroverts, to keep conversation flowing.  And trying to maximize the affinity each invitee would have to his or her particular event — who’d want to do something more competitive and results-based, and who’d prefer a more mellow and experiential activity?

And, in one case, “Who would be least likely to freak out when they opened up their invitation to discover they’d be firing a gun the next day?”

So, our team divided up the groups, and after that I went to work creating each day’s events. One morning, everyone on the three teams came in and found an envelope on his or her desk, containing a “save the date” card telling each person to clear his or her calendar on one particular day … and the promise they’d find out more the day before their event rolled around.

BT_Invite_1105_GRAVITYOh, yeah: This was entirely anonymous. Only a handful of people knew what was going on — which was part of the plan, to build buzz and excitement. The day before each event, the lucky seven, eight or nine people would receive an email from “Blind Tiger” telling them what they were in for, and the list of addressees revealed who else would be joining them on their adventure. (Click on the thumbnail at right to see the invite to the first event.)

So the day of, each team would gather in a conference room and wait for “the big reveal” … which is when I would get to walk in and explain what was going on. I’d parcel out the gift cards, remind them that we needed photos, and send ’em on their way. And then I ended with the one condition of the whole thing: “We encourage you to talk with everyone about what you did, and how much fun it was, but please keep who’s behind it a secret. Because the what and the why are the important things, not the who … and also because we have X number of groups for whom this is still a secret.”

OK, so some folks, especially those on the Creative team who’ve worked with me for five years, guessed who was behind it pretty quickly. For some, the lettering on the envelopes gave it away; for others, it was the wording on the invitations, which I’d written and designed. You’ve seen two so far; the rest are below. Click on the gallery, and then you can click on any individual one to see it larger.

For me, it was like Christmas came early — twice a week, for five weeks, I’d get to delight people, plus hand out gift cards for lunches and activities. It was always fun to see the surprise on people’s faces — more than once, I walked in and someone would say, “What are you doing here? You’re not in our Blind Tiger group,” and I’d get to say, “I am Blind Tiger!”

It was a little bit the other side of Christmas, too: trying to come up with great ideas for each group, running around the Valley on weekends buying the next week’s cards. (I unwittingly timed my trip to downtown Tempe on the day of a street fair AND when ASU played Stanford at Sun Devil Stadium. Me: “Wow, there are a lot of people on Mill today. And so many of them are wearing ASU colors. … Ohhhhh. Crap.”)

By the time December rolled around, though, I’d kind of holiday-blissed myself out. I didn’t put up a tree. I ordered my mom’s Christmas present on Dec. 22, and didn’t even pay for express shipping. I kind of crapped out on Christmas Eve dinner, too, compared to the spreads I’d rolled out in previous years.

Don’t get me wrong: That whole thing was a blast. I loved having carte blanche to come up with the themes and pairings (my favorite pairing, title-wise, was “Wings & Things,” where they saw butterflies and then ate chicken wings at Oregano’s.) I also particularly enjoyed coming up with ideas on how to mandate photo-taking, and mini-contests with prizes. Even my weekend runarounds were fun in a way that I hadn’t experienced since I was a newspaper reporter, headed to places I likely wouldn’t think about, under the guise of work. (“Look, I’m at Butterfly Wonderland, which is a thing that exists. Now I am inside Shooter’s World, talking about ammunition. Now I’m at the Musical Instrument Museum.”)

I felt bad that not every department was included; the surprise element of the program left many co-workers in the dark, by necessity, but it really was just a team-building exercise for three groups. (A really stellar, envy-inducing one, yes, but still. Sometimes I can’t contain all of my genius, it’s true. ☺)

WHAT SAM WORE: 1/13/14
shirt011314 pants011314 cole haan madison
The shirt: Camo-print down vest by Old Navy, over a long-sleeved lightweight cotton sweatshirt from J. Crew.
The pants: Cotton trousers from Uniqlo, New York.
The shoes: Leather “Madison” oxfords by Cole Haan, from Nordstrom Rack.
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