Turkey, Team Building, and Spaghetti Towers: PADT’s Turkey Bowl 2014

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[EDITOR’S NOTE:  This was written some time ago and was set to automatically go out. But I just found it stuck in the “pending” folder.  So late, but here it is]  

It has been a great 20th anniversary year for PADT.  And we decided to close it out with some fun.  Now, if you know engineers, getting them to take part in any team building event is tough. And many of our employees came to PADT to get away from such things. The phrase "team building" causes a Pavlovian eye roll.  As we discussed options for November, we looked at a lot of activities. When we settled on doing an event that not only involved teams, but also color coded shirts, puzzles, and (gasp) a lean towards being healthier I said "we should try it, but it probably won't work" and hoped to be proven wrong. Even with the help of the great folks at Physix, I didn't have high hopes. But you don't know until you try.

I was proven wrong. 

Kickoff: Halloween and Pumpkin Launching

We started with a kickoff event on Halloween, which was nice enough to be on a Friday this year. In the past we have carved pumpkins and built a dry-ice pumpkin mortar.  This year we fed everyone to get them in a good mood and then put them in teams.  After some trivia contests we moved over the the first event – a pumpkin slingshot.

We finished up the kickoff event with rules and a list of ways to get points:  go to lunch with team mates, go for a hike, attend a class at Physix, get a fitness assessment, lose weight, answer the weekly quiz, and walk.  The easiest way to get points was to keep track of your step count.  

Three Weeks of Getting Points

The next three weeks were fun. Different teams approached things differently. Some opted to lunch together, often.

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Others did a fitness assessment or attended a class.  One team even tried to take a hike… on Photoshop:

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Funny how their picture on Camelback Mountain looks a lot like their lunch picture…  

After a bit of a kerfuffle on Body Mass Index results from the fitness assessment, we held a brown bag seminar by the lake.  The reason why Physix is a great match for PADT is that their approach to health is science and fact based.  No chakra alignment here.  So Shannon came armed with statistics, studies, and fancy measuring devices with dials on them that we could write down numbers from.

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There was also a weight loss competition.  Points for every pound lost. There are and will not be pictures from that portion of the event. But we can share that some people dropped a few pounds over the three week period, and some more than a few.  

Turkey and Contests 

At the end of the three weeks we gathered together again to take part in our annual Thanksgiving Feast, and compete to win some additional points for our teams.

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We started with a plank contest. Expecting 5 or so people to participate, maybe one from each team. Everyone gave it a shot:

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Most people lasted a minute, then they started to drop.  

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A ton of people lasted to 2 minutes, then 3, then 4.  6 people were holding at 4:30.

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Purple had a strong showing, Renee lasting past 5 minutes.  Clinton held strong for purple.  Don, and Demola held on for Orange and Black.

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In the end, Demola won a ton of points for his team, lasting past 6 minutes.  

Next we tried a relay event that involved passing a ball over our heads and taking a step, then running to the back, then passing… what was that again. It took us a while to figure it out.  In hindsight, we should have created a process diagram before the event.  

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But Green and Black figured it out and charged to the finish line… not even stopping when one competitor stumbled.  No one left behind, as long as they have the right shirt color.

Inside, we had a timed puzzle building event. It got kind of nasty when the teams realized that each team had two pieces from another puzzle. People get aggressive when points are on the line.  There may have been some hiding, there may have been some prying of fingers open.

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The last event was to build a tower out of spaghetti, string, tape, and a marshmallow. Whoever got their marshmallow the highest got the points.  Four of the teams built tripods and went for height.

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Two teams figured out that spaghetti bends and breaks.  Blue felt that building a box was better. I guess that is thinking outside the box?

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But the winner was a combination of tripod and "stoutness."  Green figured it out:

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There was a dessert contest as well. I grudgingly mention it because my dessert didn't make it into the finals… but I'm not bitter, not at all.

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After that we all went back to work while the PADT HR and Physix teams summed up all the points and figured out who won.  

Green, thanks to their tower, squeaked into third place:

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Some were happier than others about the competition.

Second place was won by the superior team, and we would have won if my dessert had been in the finals:

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And the winners were the Black Team.  

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You have to admit, they do look pretty confident.

What we Learned 

Overall, the three weeks were a nice distraction from a very busy period.  Some people that would not have normally spent time together, did. Some people learned a bit about fitness or nutrition that they didn't know before. A lot of people walked a lot more.  

We also learned a couple of lessons:

  1. You can have a positive and constructive team building event at a company that is kind of wired to go against such corporate group-think activities.

  2. Not everyone wants to participate. That's OK and it is no reason why those that do can't have fun.  And you can find small ways for people to take part.

  3. Some people are REALLY competitive. 

  4. The average core strength at PADT is stronger than we thought.

  5. The breath mints we got to combat coffee breath are 50 calories, and the average person has to walk around 500 steps to burn them off. 

  6. If you don't take these things too seriously, they can be fun and a nice break.

  7. PADT's employees are clever. They tried to get points for waking up in the morning and mouse clicks.  You have seen the Photoshop picture. They also wanted to pass off the PADT Medical skeleton as Don Pegg after his diet.  It didn't work.

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For those of you who are thinking of doing a similar event at your company, some key words of advice:

  1. Bring in someone to help that is a good fit for your culture. Don't try and fit a standard or large company approach to a small or medium company.  Find someone that gets you and maybe pushes your organization a bit further than you would push it on your own.

  2. Keep it short, keep it simple.

  3. Don't let the negative people drag it down. You will have some people that this is not a good fit for. If you try and please them, they will still be unhappy and it will lesson the event for others.  Just accept that not everyone will be on-board and move on.

  4. Place your tongue firmly in your cheek.  If you take these things too seriously, they will fail.  Make some fun of yourselves and the activity, it takes that edge off.

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If you do it right, you might even get engineers to touch each other.