To engage today’s generation of leaders, create strong teams, and develop a corporate culture of trust and teamwork, team outings have increasingly become more experiential and challenging. With axe throwing, scavenger hunts, obstacle course racing, and boot camp classes on the list, more and more workplaces are turning to high-adrenaline activities to build a more inclusive and positive company culture.
To corporate leaders and HR professionals, it is becoming clear that the bonding potential of these energizing group exercises transcends inter-office team building, and even helps to create a powerful differentiator that recruits are considering.
Looking even further outside internal team-building efforts, leaders across a wide range of sectors (entertainment execs, salespeople, and those in the finance industry) are getting more adventurous in how they’re inviting clients to shared experiences. They’re discussing business over a CrossFit workout or a ropes course instead of the old-school dinner and drinks, wooing clients over a shared meal and expensive wine.
Team building is a $46-billion-a-year industry, and at Spartan we are seeing rising demand — the demand for new and alternative transformational activities that foster company bonding and turn corporate entertainment on its head (in a positive way).
Many Factors at Play
There’s a host of factors contributing to this corporate adventure-fitness trend.
The most obvious one is that millennials, the demographic most rapidly taking over the workforce, see the value in team-building activities, and they outright demand that their employers create a vibrant work culture stimulated by engaging activities. (A poll found that 79 percent of millennials thought these initiatives significantly helped retain talent, compared to only 46 percent of baby boomers.)
Another factor contributing to this trend is that as the workplace continues to diversify, company bonding and corporate entertainment have finally had to adapt — it’s long overdue — moving away from activities that are coded as chauvinistically male and have the potential to alienate other employees, like going to a strip club or playing fantasy football for large sums of money. Far gone are the male-bonding activities on display in Mad Men and The Wolf of Wall Street. Whilst they had been replaced by golf outings and more elevated corporate entertainment — where the impact and ROI are not always clearly distinguishable — 2019 marks a new corporate normal, and what is seen as an effective employee engagement initiative or successful corporate entertainment is rapidly changing.
A third factor contributing to the rise of experience-based corporate activities is a societal shift in how we view leadership. Vulnerability, which was previously viewed as a weakness, is being celebrated as a vital trait for leaders to display. In her New York Times Best Seller Dare to Lead, professor Brené Brown defines vulnerability as "the willingness to show up when we can't control the outcome." Trying out new and challenging activities, like axe throwing or obstacle course racing, with colleagues or clients is a commitment to revealing your fears and insecurities and potentially failing in front of co-workers or potential partners/customers. It’s believed that modeling this kind of openness to risk and uncertainty makes the people you work with feel like they can be more emotionally invested, and that ultimately leads to an increase in trust, engagement, and respect.
Companies Are Investing in Wellness
This shift toward high-octane experiential bonding fits into the larger trend of workplaces investing in wellness initiatives, offering many of the same incentives. If your employees are going to workout classes instead of happy hour, that’s a net positive for the employees’ health, and in the long run, healthier employees means both money saved and productivity raised. One study found that every dollar invested in corporate wellness programs saves three dollars in healthcare costs, and other research has shown that employees who exercise regularly take fewer sick days.
There are also added holistic benefits to the kind of unconventional activities trending in the corporate space. Throwing a spear in a Spartan obstacle course race will get your heart racing in a different way than traditional exercise like jogging on a treadmill. Dr. Michael Gass, who’s studied the benefits of physical risk-taking for two decades, found that structured adrenaline experiences increase your awareness of what’s happening around you and how you process information, events, and the impact of your own actions on your goals and objectives. This helps develop confidence and complex cognitive skills that can be transferred to the workplace.
At Spartan, we’re seeing the benefits of adventure-fitness corporate experiences firsthand. It’s been an organic development for us. We didn’t set out to brand our races as team building or corporate entertainment experiences. It was the corporations who came to us seeking something novel and nourishing to inspire employee engagement. As our audience expands to more than 1 million racers per year worldwide, we’re seeing more corporate teams sign up for races as an office extracurricular. We see CEOs looking to raise the game by training and racing side by side with clients, and HR departments requesting competitive experiences organized exclusively for their groups of employees.
This is the big impact that obstacle course racing can have, and is currently having. It’s about making healthier workplaces by encouraging fitness, developing interpersonal relationships, and inspiring confidence in vulnerability. This is the next frontier of corporate entertainment, and we’re just scratching the surface.