While big corporations such as Clorox Co., Walt Disney
Co., Bank of America and Motorola Inc. also use Total
Rebound, high-tech companies have been particularly
active in organizing hands-on events as part of an overall
employee productivity strategy, says Total Rebound President
PeopleSoft Inc., a fast-growing client services software
maker in Pleasanton, Calif., rounded up 200 employees
last month for a games competition in a local hotel ballroom.
Putting the same people in a room for a lecture about
teamwork would have surely been a disaster, says Barry
Wright, vice president of PeopleSoft's U.S. operations.
"The software people we have who are young, aggressive
and dynamic would fall asleep or they would throw things
at us," Wright says, only half-jokingly. "They
like to participate in a decision and the culture of
the company is one of empowerment."
Getting employees to think differently, work together
and be flexible is an essential part of doing business
in the '90s.
"Our industry is very fast moving," Wright
says. "You can plan ahead, but things change, and
you have to change very quickly." Employees must
adapt to new demands, often by forming work teams for
problem solving and projects.
For Altera, organized play activities help to break
down barriers and build a sense of corporate identity. "In
order to work together you've got to have some relaxation
to break the ice," says Cindy Rizzo, who coordinates
meetings and special events for the company. "We're
so busy getting our goals and objectives met there's
not a lot of time to get to know the person next to you
in the next cube."
Indeed, the Total Rebound event gave Altera employees
a chance to get to know each other. Against a backdrop
of pounding, high energy music, 289 Altera employees
from as far away as Japan and Sweden played the "Human
Sling Shot" bungee cord game, got their kicks with "Radar
Soccer" and joined in "Velcro Drag Race," where
relay teams strap on a set of modified ski boots and
attempt to run down a 30-foot Velcro strip. At the end
of the evening, each group of players performed a spirited "team
"People are chosen for their aggressive style,
so these games fit quite well with that style," Blake
says. "We're trying to get this team of people excited
about selling our product because you can't relax."
A $3-million-a-year privately held company located about
45 miles east of San Francisco, Total Rebound started
out in 1990 running bungee-jumping events and renting
out games for entertainment at company parties and picnics.
Now more of its 1,500 corporate clients are calling for
structured competitions, like the PeopleSoft event, that
bring together employees from different departments to
solve problems creatively-even if that means poking balls
through holes in a curtain as fast as possible while
bouncing up and down on an inflatable mattress.
But play isn't cheap. A large team building event
like Altera's-with about 300 people and 10 games-can
run about $15,000, says Wilkinson, who has also organized
huge outdoor events for as many as 10,000 corporate employees.
Officials at PeopleSoft and other high-tech companies
that have tried these games and team-building exercises
say that getting employees to think differently, work
together and be flexible is an essential part of doing
business in the '90s.
Industry giants Oracle and Microsoft have dressed teams
of employees in safari clothes for a half day exercise
in which they must plan and execute a simulated expedition.
Some teams make it while others find they can't work
together and "die," but either way company
executives hope they are learning something they can
bring back to their cubicles, says Glenn Jackson, president
of Orinda, Calif., consulting firm Advantage Performance
Group, which helps companies plan team-building exercises.
In another activity, groups design and build plastic
pipe contraptions that pump colored water. Veteran business
consultant Garry Shirts, whose Simulation Training Systems
in San Diego conducts the exercise, says team-building
became the rage in the late 1980s and early '90s when
many U.S. companies were feeling threatened by Japanese
corporations and rushed to copy their business models.
But a lot of those early efforts were misguided. "We
were almost saying, 'How do we go to the bathroom in
teams?' " Shirts says.
"Since then," he says, "we've become
more realistic and honest that this takes a lot of work."