Building in a local angle

Predictable teambuilding activities begone, for corporate bonding time now heavily features localised and experiential activities along with a movement towards CSR.

The modern traveller’s penchant for authentic local experiences has conveyed into the business events scene, leading teambuilding operators and event specialists to see a growing demand for team-bonding ideas that provide participants with a taste of the destination.

David Fotheringham, director of Singapore-based Asia Ability, said the opportunity to experience the destination during corporate playtime was especially necessary since event schedules today are too “packed with critical business elements”.

He said: “Delegates can leave thinking, ‘where was this event again?”

With this in mind, Asia Ability has curated a collection of localised teambuilding activities, such as the indoor Dragon Squad, in which corporate teams build their own Chinese dragons and choreograph a dragon dance; as well as Go Team Singapore Heritage, a GPS-tagged treasure hunt through the cultural enclaves of Chinatown, Kampong Glam and Little India.

Cindy Lie, executive director, Indonesia-based Infinity Holiday, has observed the same growing preference for destination-focused teambuilding sessions.

She recently organised a meeting/incentive trip to Bangkok for an Indonesian insurance company, which featured a teambuilding activity that was built around the concept of living like a local. Delegates got to visited a local market to buy ingredients to make som tam (green papaya salad); travelled by public transport such as the BTS; and learnt muay Thai from a professional.

Karen Livermore, director of sales and events with ID Events Australia, typically builds teambuilding activities around iconic Australian locations. In Sydney, treasure hunts on boats, sailing regattas and other water activities with competitive teams and an educational component are conducted around the famed harbour.

Kristie Turner, director of operations and sales at Uniq Concepts Australia, noted that cultural activities are also high on clients’ priority list.“When people think of Australia, they generally think of a few things: Sydney Harbour (Bridge and Opera House), the Great Barrier Reef, and Uluru (Ayers Rock).  We try, where possible, to always include these in our teambuilding programmes as an immersive experience, with an element of indigenous culture,” said Turner.

Ora-uan Maharpol, MICE manager of ICS Travel Group, observed that such teambuilding programmes are trending in line with the growing popularity of transformational travel, where people seek opportunities to “stretch, learn and grow, as well as get to know the culture, lifestyle and people of the country they are visiting”.

And Vietnam is well placed in South-east Asia to cater to this desire. Its varied landscapes and rich heritage allow planners to create unique and immersive teambuilding activities.

Ora-uan said: “There are so many local cultures, plus the scenery and terrain alters dramatically throughout the country.”

ICS recently led a corporate group to a locally-run speciality coffee farm in Dalat, where part of the teambuilding activity was to learn the entire process of Vietnamese coffee production, including how to be a barista.

Hoa Binh Group’s deputy director general Jackie Han, said Vietnam’s diversity makes it an increasingly popular destination for cultural teambuilding for organisations across South-east Asia.

He remarked: “The diversity means we can easily tailor itineraries to meet demands.”

In creativity we trust
To enable the creation of a truly local teambuilding experience, corporate clients have become more willing to leave the planning process in the hands of destination specialists.

Ora-uan told TTGmice that she gets full control of the programming right from the start.

“Even clients that start by having very specific requirements usually change their itineraries quite dramatically once they realise the full scope of what we can offer,” she said.

Should a client have their own itineraries in mind, Asia DMC’s Cambodia country manager Vanthirith Prak said his team would consult closely with clients on the feasibility and operational procedures.

“It often takes a little talking to explain, but that’s normal. It is often during such explanations that the clients’ eyes grow wider -– and with that an expansion of time and budget,” added Peter Weibel, regional director of MICE for Tour East.

However, Livermore and Turner emphasised that clients will not compromise teambuilding objectives just to make room for creativity. It is common for the more flexible of clients to propose several broad requirements for event agencies to work with, such as specifying a must-do activity with indigenous children.

Coming together for good
Beyond connecting with the destination, teambuilding participants are expecting a more fulfilling experience that can only be obtained through meaningful projects that benefit the local community.

Asia DMC’s Prak said enquiries for teambuilding activities with opportunities to support communities are up. He shared that an IT company recently took time off to build a stilted house for an impoverished family in Siem Reap.

“Teambuilding is not always the main goal, as we have seen several corporates that include team bonding as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility campaigns,” Prak added.

ID Events Australia’s Livermore agreed, sharing that she has noticed how companies are moving “towards philanthropic activities where people have the ability to say they’ve given back to the community”.

Such activities can include building bikes for a children’s charity, or creating indigenous paintings using bottle caps, with the artwork being present to a charity or indigenous group after.

Companies are also taking into consideration current affairs when choosing their teambuilding and CSR programmes.

Turner said: “We’ve had an increase in requests to include projects that involve benefit for those impacted by the recent bushfires (in Australia).”

Wellness-focused teambuilding programmes are expected to trend in the near future

Into the future
So what’s next on the horizon for teambuilding programmes?

Specialists are putting their dollar on nature-based and wellness-focused activities, such as meditation sessions in temples and agricultural farming programmes.

Requests for teambuilding ideas utilising technology, such as gamification, are emerging, said Prak.

Some Japanese companies have started to organise e-sports – gaming competitions – to encourage interaction among their millennial staff.

Japanese telecommunications giant NTT West hosted an interactive e-soccer gaming tournament for its employees and their family members. Some 60,000 staff across western Japan, from Shizuoka to Okinawa, participated in it.

Taking the same route, Hitachi Systems established an e-sports club to promote staff interaction and unity.

On the other hand, Asia Ability’s Fotheringham told TTGmice that is an opportunity for teambuilding trends to shift back to traditional problem-solving games, albeit with a fresh spin.

Asia Ability is playing up trading games for corporate groups, where participants are split into teams that represent trading partners in 18th-century Singapore, namely the British, Dutch, Portuguese, Chinese, Indians and Malays. These ‘traders’ must strike deals to make a profit from goods such as sandalwood and mother of pearl, under the watch of a designated ‘Sir Stamford Raffles’ – the British statesman who founded modern Singapore.

Adelaine Ng, Marrissa Carruthers, Pamela Chow and Rachel AJ Lee contributed to this article

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