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Team Building: That's the Team Spirit!

By Selena Fragassi


Marlene Chase can’t even remember the last time she had to plan an icebreaker. “Groups don’t even need them because they’re so intrigued by what we have going on here,” says the manager of business development at Huntsman Fundy Discovery Aquarium. Located in St. Andrews, New Brunswick, right off Fundy Bay, the marine science center expanded from a sole educational campus in 2011 by building a 20,000-square-foot discovery aquarium that has once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for visiting groups.

One of the most memorable is a 40-foot touch pool full of aquatic life from the intertidal zone of the Bay, such as sea stars, sea potatoes, crabs, sand dollars, clams, mussels, and scallops, with new creatures added on a regular basis. “With most of the animals, guests are able to walk up to the pool and gently remove them from the water and actually touch and feel them,” says Chase. Staff interpreters are also on hand at all times to answer any questions. “People seem to be very fascinated by it.”

The aquatic excursion is just one example of how team-building opportunities have become increasingly dynamic for a savvier crowd that lives in a culture of YouTube and GoPro cameras. Though technology has put the world at our fingertips, it can make almost any activity seem as though we’ve been there, done that. And that has put the burden on many planners to come up with novel ideas that won’t lose people’s interest. Thankfully, there are a number of non-traditional places that meet that demand head on with a range of ideas that truly many people have not tried yet.

Everyone Is A Part of the Game
At Victory Park Ohio, that means making each attendee an actual game piece.

The 60-acre outdoor sports and entertainment facility in North Ridgeville, Ohio regularly coordinates “human Jenga” and “human foosball” as well as “bubble ball,” which combines soccer and bumper cars into one very physical sport. “We’re really trying to bring different and unique sporting tournaments to our park,” says Marketing Communications Manager Christy M. Angie. “Groups really find it exciting to participate in something that is completely outside the box from what they might normally be doing in the office or at an outing.”

The idea for the human contact sports grew out of a very popular NXL Great Lakes Open International Paintball Tournament that Victory Park Ohio started hosting over three days last August. “Last year, we had 2,500 people, and all the hotels were booked from here to downtown Cleveland for the event,” says Angie. “This year is targeted to be even bigger with more corporate teams, which is an idea we have been promoting to local businesses.”

In the future, the sporting complex hopes to set up a permanent paintball field to make it a year-round draw, as well as continuing to create activities that makes them known as the “oddball” rec facility. That includes hosting dueling dogs, where canines jump into a pool and race, or arranging Quiddich, a “Harry Potter”-themed broomstick game. Though they sound zany, one-of-a-kind opportunities do create a lot of value for groups, says Angie. “If it’s something that’s completely different from what employees are used to, it will bond them together and develop trust as they problem-solve the game together.”

Keeping An Eye on the Ball
That philosophy is something that SPiN abides by as well with their original take at team-building. The “Ping-Pong social club,” co-founded by actress Susan Sarandon and with locations in New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Toronto, has three main tenets to its business: culture, community, and connection.

“The connection piece is really important,” says Global Sales Director Lou Dean Canakes II, CMP. “Ping-Pong is such a unique game that transcends age, gender, and social and ethnic differences and brings everyone together for a shared experience. You not only have to pay attention to hitting the ball, but also to the person across from you, and that interaction is second to none.”

Furthering the community aspect is the fact that SPiN hires local artists to design each location and donates used ping-pong tables to underprivileged youth every year. The cultural part, says Canakes, comes into play with building a following for the game through retail guests, members, and a lucrative group business that caters to parties of 10 or more. “Lucky for us, Ping-Pong seems to be on the rise,” he says, which also makes it an attractive option for planners looking for something a little different that everyone can love.

We’re in This Together
Of course, all skill levels are welcome at SPiN, and each location has on-site event planners that can go a step farther and arrange lessons and demos from actual Ping-Pong professionals. “They can set up team-building exercises and mini-tournaments with formatted games,” says Canakes. One example, called “The Runaround,” puts the boss or supervisor at one of the Ping-Pong table while his or her employees line up at the other side to volley; any player that misses is eliminated until the winner is left standing.

SPiN can also create customizable options, such as producing trophies and paddles with printed logos. But even if a person is not actually playing the game, “they’re still celebrating the other players and enjoying a social club environment,” says Canakes. So, in that way, “the experience is for everyone.”

Victory Park Ohio also can dial down their offerings to appease everyone. “We have eight baseball diamonds, four volleyball courts, and six multipurpose fields, as well as corn hole boards and horseshoes,” says Angie, for those that want a more traditional group outing.

At Huntsman Fundy Discovery Aquarium, adaptability is also key. “All programs can be arranged for any length of time and for any group,” says Chase. “We can drill down and get serious for science-based groups that want to work in our lab, or if someone is here for wedding and just wanted to take a tour, we can also do that for them.” The center has rotating exhibits with 30 varieties of species, daily seal feedings, and a walking path to the beach where guests can go combing for the animals they learned about inside. Chase and her team have even coordinated programs for attendees’ children who have been invited to tag along and receive their own itinerary. “The knowledge base doesn’t matter, we can still teach you something,” she says.

Getting the Most Out of the Experience
The activities are the key draw to all three locations, but the added amenities also add to the outing.

“People normally stay around three hours with us,” says Canakes of a typical SPiN experience. The club offers an array of full-service food and beverage packages. Private suites are also available for rent and include lounge seating and a DJ booth in addition to playing tables.

Victory Park Ohio is also getting ready to open its own two-story restaurant at the end of the summer. It will be catered by Victory Grill with seating on the main floor and a second-floor viewing deck overlooking the volleyball courts. “We also have relationships with food trucks in northeast Ohio and can bring those in as well,” says Angie. The mobile catering will be a big part of the Electrical League of Ohio’s Corporate Challenge that the park will host this fall. It will be anchored by games during the day and a concert at night using a convenient stage setup that is also on-site.

Huntsman Fundy Discovery Aquarium also does their own catering using a commercial kitchen that feeds the whole campus. But because it was originally founded as an educational institute, they also offer lecture space and overnight accommodations. “We have a 218-seat theatre that’s great for giving presentations and a meeting room for 30 people that overlooks the seal habitat,” says Chase of the unique setup, “as well as Anderson House, a historic inn that has 20 executive-style suites. It’s located next to the Algonquin Golf Course, which has a beautiful view of the Bay.”

The More You Know
Though most of the booking processes are pretty straightforward, Victory Park Ohio does make attendees sign waivers since there is a lot of body contact in their events. “But we’ve never had any issues,” Angie admits.

The most important part, she says, is knowing the number of people that will be attending and what kind of activities you would like, whether it’s low-key or unique and different. “For some of the games we work with outside vendors who come in and set it up, so we need at least six weeks minimum notice,” she says, advising that January to March is their busiest booking window for the year.

But once the date is reserved, there is a lot to look forward to, says Angie. “We get a lot of feedback that our programs enhance company morale, cultivate leadership potential, and improve productivity and motivation.” And that’s a win-win for all.

Get Connected

Victory Park Ohio
North Ridgeville, OH
(440) 954.8703

New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Toronto
(214) 862.4646

Huntsman Fundy Discovery Aquarium
St. Andrews, NB
(506) 529.1214