“Our Team is well balanced…we have problems everywhere”

We often add a little Odyssey color/flair to our events with quotes etc. (like the one above from Tommy Protho) placed throughout the training room. This quote usually gets a laugh. It’s true isn’t it? Every team has it’s little blemishes here and there. And on a given day or project it can be anybody’s turn to be the ‘blemish’.
For over 20 years I’ve had the pleasure to see some of the best aspects of humanity in this work. It seems during our programs people are really challenging themselves, and opening up to be ‘good people’ to each other. To include, speak positive, and support each other during the task at hand. Should a dysfunctional ‘blemish’ appear, we all learn from it and move forward without blame, drama, politics etc. In short, people are being socially responsible.
While this has been happening at a foundational level for decades with Odyssey’s team building programs… Seven years ago we wanted to bring it into the spotlight and well beyond the training room walls. Thus, the inception of our Corporate Social Responsibility – Helping Odyssey programs.
Life Cycles, Helping Hands, and Playhouse Project programs give people the opportunity to create tangible results that effect local and global people, families, and communities. It is emotional, and valued by all that are involved.
More than a sound bite heard from a CEO, at Helping Odyssey’s participants get the unique and compelling satisfaction of ‘walking the talk’ and giving back, adding to etc. It feels good to make a difference in some ones life. It also feels good to learn something new and relevant about yourself, team, and business – guaranteed to happen at one of our trainings.

Firm’s team-building exercise helps children

by Nathan Gonzalez – Jun. 4, 2008 05:55 PM
The Arizona Republic
What started as a team-building exercise for a group of Procter & Gamble employees turned into a surprise set of gifts for deserving Valley children.
About 135 Procter & Gamble employees from throughout the country gathered Tuesday at the Scottsdale Plaza Resort, where they assembled the bikes as part of a team-building exercise during a corporate training session.
None knew where the bikes would end up, until about 30 children from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metropolitan Phoenix were led into the ballroom.

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Transformational Teambuilding – A new twist on the traditional

Written By Diana Rowe
in Insurance and Financial Meetings Management Magazine -May/June 2008 issue
full article
Teambuilding with a purpose — corporate sales meeting attendees assemble bicycles for deserving kids. Odyssey Teams’ Life Cycles program has donated more than 10,000 bikes to children worldwide since 2001. Doing good for others enriches not only receiver and giver, but the corporate culture as well.
Photo courtesy of Odyssey Teams
first bike ever — or his first prosthetic hand — assembled by your team. The same objectives of cooperation and communication are achieved but with the added, profoundly powerful component of doing good for others. “Paying it forward” not only enriches giver and receiver, it extends to the company’s bottom line.

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Becoming Good Corporate Citizens. Is CSR the meetings industry’s new ROI?

Article written by Maria Lenhart
Meetings West, June 2008
”The only reason to hold a meeting is to save the world.”
That was the audacious gauntlet thrown down by Tim Sanders at the end of his keynote address at MPI’s Professional Education Conference-North America in Houston last February. The former Yahoo! executive, now a motivational speaker, author and CSR (corporate social responsibility) advocate, challenged the audience to start taking a leadership role in their organizations by initiating platforms for social and environmental change.
Similarly, CSR has been a hot topic at other industry conferences, including the recent SITE Executive Summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where 143 incentive professionals gathered to discuss global trends.
“CSR is like the ROI of 2008–everyone is focused on it,” commented SITE President Padraic Gilligan after the summit. “While it has been a growing item of discussion for the past few years, it has moved to a point where you can’t be willing to take a risk and not have a company position on it.”
At PCMA’s annual meeting in Seattle last January, the Convention Industry Council (CIC) Task Force on Sustainability and Responsibility convened for the first time to determine how CIC member organizations can serve as resources on issues concerning the environment and social responsibility. Shortly afterward, MPI created its own task force comprised of CSR experts who will help the organization develop resources for members over the coming year.
Defining CSR
So what is CSR all about and why is it gathering so much momentum in the meetings industry?
Although it includes environmental issues, green initiatives are only one aspect of CSR. According to its “CSR: Where We Stand” statement, MPI defines it as encompassing a “triple bottom line” of “people, planet and profit,” a broad spectrum of social, economic and environmental concerns.
“The triple bottom line behind CSR also looks at social responsibility–the economic and social equity of business choices,” says Marge Anderson, assistant director of the Energy Center of Wisconsin and head of MPI’s CSR Task Force. “Meetings are perfectly positioned to contribute to social responsibility by integrating community service projects into their programming so the impact they leave behind is positive. We can also have a positive impact by contributing to the local economy.”
While CSR may seem to be most relevant to corporate meeting planners, Elizabeth Henderson, CMM, MPI’s director of Canadian development and staff liaison for the CSR Task Force, says it has significance for all meeting planners.
“Associations, including MPI, are very concerned with CSR,” she says. “And independent planners are working with both association and corporate clients who have an increasing CSR focus. It’s important for them to know how to fit in with this.”
For Sanders, author of Saving the World at Work, which will be published by Doubleday in September, CSR is no mere fad, but a “revolution” that is not going to go away.
“CSR is the biggest social trend of my lifetime and it will continue to be important,” he says. “After all, you’re never going to see headlines that say “Eco concerns are dead” or “Communities no longer need help.”
Sanders believes it is the emergence of a new generation of corporate employees that is making it essential for companies to have CSR policies and practices. He also maintains that companies who don’t have acceptable CSR practices will not be able to attract top talent.
“This is very important to young people and it strongly influences where they want to work,” he says. “Research shows that compensation is no longer the biggest factor–a company’s social commitment has more impact than anything else. This generation, the children of the Baby Boomers, has been strongly influenced by horrific events such as Hurricane Katrina and the media coverage, and corporate scandals such as Enron have also had an impact.”
According to Sanders, there are three main criteria that determine whether or not a company is being a good corporate citizen: how it treats its employees, how it gives back to the community and its ecological and sustainability practices.
“The first is the most important,” he says. “You can be as green as you want, but if you’re not good to your employees, it doesn’t matter.”
Sanders is optimistic that corporations have the ability and even the will to have a positive impact on issues such as global warming and poverty.
“I’ve always believed that companies can change the world for good, even though a lot of environmentalists believe that corporations are evil,” he says. “I don’t. Corporations are made up of people and people want to do good.”
Not everyone in the meetings industry is as optimistic, including longtime educator, consultant and independent planner Joan Eisenstodt, CMM, head of Washington, D.C.-based Eisenstodt & Associates.
“I do not agree with Tim Sanders on this one–because I do not think that most companies and organizations are embracing the deed versus the words of CSR, and because customers and staff and members are not shouting for it,” she says. “Moreover, when it is shouted out, most organization find a way around the actions.”
The Planner’s Role
Where Eisenstodt, Sanders and others do agree is that meeting planners can and should play a crucial role in influencing their companies to implement CSR practices.
“Meeting planners have a lot of power for change,” Sanders says. “They are the ones who pick the sites, the vendors, the speakers. They are the movie producers of their companies. Meetings are the only time in which people sit and think about the company’s goals and objectives–so they are the time when the message can be delivered.”
Angie Pfeifer, CMM, MPI’s chairwoman of the board, advocates that planners take the initiative on CSR matters in their companies, something she says she has done in her role as vice president-corporate meetings, travel and incentives for Investors Group Financial Services in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
“I heard from my boss that we were starting a CSR task force and I said that I wanted to get involved,” she says. “Since I manage both meetings and travel at the company, I knew there was a lot I could do. My team and I took a lot of time to research how we could implement CSR. It’s not easy and it takes time.”
The results soon paid off, however, with the company able to save many thousands of dollars by taking such steps as not supplying bottled water at meetings, but reusable bottles instead.
“The myth is that CSR is costly, but it’s not,” Pfeifer says. “It was very emotional for me to see how we’d saved by doing the right thing. And, of course, CSR is not just about green meetings. I’m at the table at my company in regards to all sorts of CSR.”
Even companies that already have extensive CSR policies and practices in place may still need action on the part of planners to make sure these extend to meetings. Such was the case at Timberland, a Stratham, N.H.-based shoe manufacturer whose CSR practices include giving each employee 40 paid time-off hours a year to do volunteer work.
“When I joined Timberland a few years ago they had not yet integrated their CSR practices into meetings,” says Michelle Johnson, a former in-house planner for Timberland who is now a partner in a planning firm, Creative Community Communications, whose clients include Timberland.
She says the chief reason behind this is that Timberland did not have a centralized meetings policy, something she recommends to all corporate clients who want to implement CSR meetings practices.
“We had many different departments doing things, so we put together a meetings policy that reflected Timberland’s CSR focus,” she says.
“A centralized policy allows you to look at where you are spending the money. Then you can look at what should be asked for in every hotel contract in regards to CSR.”
Community Giving
One of the most visible ways that planners are implementing CSR is by scheduling a day or partial day devoted to a community project, endeavors that range from rebuilding hurricane-ravaged structures in New Orleans to assembling bicycles for needy children and other projects that can take place in a hotel ballroom.
Just as green practices can be good for a company’s bottom line, community volunteer efforts have type of locale also has its fair share of attractive, meetings-friendly sites with reasonable prices.
Oceanside Oases
While everyone appreciates a day at the beach, fewer and fewer companies are able to afford coastal prices and are now looking for alternative locales with affordable price tags that still provide a fun-in-the-sun atmosphere.
Enter Ventura, Calif. Located about 28 miles south of Santa Barbara, Ventura is an idyllically beautiful seaside community with a good deal of history, even housing one of California’s nine remaining missions: the San Buenaventura Mission.
“It is an old-fashioned California beach town,” says Kathleen Fitzgerald, director of sales for the Ventura CVB. “We have a self-contained little Main Street area that has some significant architecture and wonderful restaurants and boutique shops.”
Nature-loving groups can visit the breathtaking Channel Islands, just off the coast. They can also go whale watching or take a sunset cruise with companies such as the Island Packers.
“Another fun thing to do is have a meeting on the beach,” Fitzgerald says, adding that The Yellow Umbrella Company regularly sets up such gatherings.
Ventura also has plenty of places for groups to stay, Fitzgerald says, adding that its average daily rates during peak season (July-August) can hover around just $139-$149, and off-peak (December) at around $99 per night, and many accommodation offerings are situated close to the water.
“Every room has an ocean view” at the Crowne Plaza Ventura Beach, she says, adding that the Ventura Beach Marriott and Four Points by Sheraton Ventura Harbor are also a popular group choices.
Jessica Wimer, vice president-president elect for the Southern California Association of Law Libraries, regularly rotates her group between high-end coastal destinations and recently decided to bring a group to Ventura, thoroughly enjoying the experience.
“It was excellent. There was something for everyone. Ventura is really quaint and has an adorable Main Street with shops and museums and easy access to the water,” she says, adding that the price point was spot-on. “Value-wise, the hotel was reasonably priced, so that was great.
Moving north up the coast into the Pacific Northwest is Astoria, Ore., located on the Columbia River and just a few miles from the ocean.
Not only is the destination close to water, offering fun group activities such as oyster shucking and fishing, Astoria is also a historic destination with a funky flair.
“Astoria isn’t cookie-cutter,” says Donna Quinn, director of sales and marketing for Astoria’s Cannery Pier Hotel, adding that Lewis and Clark wintered there and it is also the site of the first post office west of the Rockies. “There is definitely a sense of character here and groups can sense that, whether they are meeting in an old Victorian house or a renovated building on the coast.”
The town of less than 10,000 residents is a true value to planners, with a variety of unique meeting venues available at prices much less than larger beachside destinations.
Quinn says many visiting groups like to take a ride on the city’s Riverfront Trolley for just $1 per person. Groups can also reserve the trolley for events or even head over to the Columbia River Maritime Museum for a tour.
Although it may be small in size, Astoria is far from a sleepy coastal town, Quinn says that “in the last five years there has been a renaissance of energy and vitality” in the destination, starting with a surge of restaurants and new venues such as The Loft at the Red Building, a popular meetings site.
The Loft, which overlooks the Columbia River, offers on-site catering for banquets, receptions and awards banquets.
Just next door is the Cannery Pier Hotel, located on a pier over the river, offering several spaces for meetings and events.
Just down the road are two other convention hotels: the 32-room Hotel Elliott with more than 15,000 square feet of meeting space and the 78-room Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Astoria with 2,000 square feet of meeting space.
Mountain Tops
Groups looking for a beautiful yet thrifty location in the mountains needn’t look to high-end ski destinations, but can instead consider places such as Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.
“I think we are kind of undiscovered at this point, and because of that hotel costs have remained consistently affordable,” says Dani Zibell-Wolfe, vice president of tourism for the Coeur d’Alene Chamber of Commerce.
Sitting at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, Coeur d’Alene not only offers 15 blocks of boutique shopping and a variety of group-friendly restaurants with outdoor seating in its downtown district, but the community is also located right on Lake Coeur d’Alene, offering a plethora of activities at reasonable prices.
“When you add the lake into the equation, it creates so much value,” Zibell-Wolfe says. “Not only dollar-wise–but the activities we have create a wonderful value.”
Available water activities range from parasailing on the lake to organizing a dinner cruise for visiting delegates with companies such as Lake Coeur d’Alene Cruises.
Surrounded by mountains, groups are never far away from land-based adventures as well.
“You can walk out of your hotel and generally be within a half-mile of a paved, non-motorized bike trail,” Zibell-Wolfe says, adding that during the winter groups can also enjoy skiing nearby. “We have two ski resorts, Schweitzer Mountain Resort and Silver Mountain Resort, within an hour’s drive.”
With a vibe that Zibell-Wolfe calls “small town boutiquey,” she says oftentimes groups who visit the destination have an inkling to stay permanently.
“People come here for a convention or meeting and they end up buying homes,” she says. “It happens every year. We have a convention coming in June and one of the things they want to set up is a real estate tour.”
As far as meeting space goes, Zibell-Wolfe says the destination is known for the Coeur d’Alene Golf & Spa Resort, which while consistently rated a four-star property, is still affordable for groups.
Other meeting hot spots include the Best Western Coeur d’Alene Inn and the Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites Coeur d’Alene, both offering reasonable rates.
“Conventions and meetings are all about attendance and after awhile [of going to the same place], it becomes old and stale,” Zibell-Wolfe says. “If you can add some interest in a new destination with exciting activities for the same price, if not less, it is more exciting for attendees. When you come to a destination like Coeur d’Alene, there are so many activities that are at your fingertips, and that adds a lot of excitement.”
Driving about four hours east on I-90 will land groups in Butte, Mont., another affordable and unique meetings destination in the mountains.
Back in the late 1800s and early 1900s, Butte was a boom town, known for its copper mining. At that time, mining was so profitable it attracted people from all over the world, giving the destination an ethnic flavor that is still felt today.
“Butte is authentic; it is the real deal,” says Sara Rowe, director of the Butte CVB. “It has this incredible history and people really haven’t discovered Butte yet, so we still have good rates on hotels and the food is phenomenal.”
Rowe explains that during the mining boom, Butte welcomed a good deal of Irish, Chinese, Cornish, Italian, and Serbian workers, whose influences have greatly affected the town’s culinary options.
“We don’t have a lot of chain restaurants, we have ones that have been here a long time and have a real ethnic flavor,” she says, highlighting group favorites such as Lydia’s Supper Club and Pekin Noodle Parlor.
Located “right at the top of the Rockies,” Rowe says there are plenty of ways groups can experience the beauty of the outdoors in Butte.
“We have incredible trails, both for vehicles and for hiking,” she says. “There is also a lot of climbing and within 15 minutes you can find some of the best trout fishing in the country.”
Although winter weather can prove chilly, summers “are gorgeous,” Rowe says. “In July, it will be in the 90s and at night it will be around 65-70.”
In addition, Butte is known for its festivals, such as Evel Knieval Days, this year scheduled for July 24-26.
“Butte is known as a festival city, and Evel Knieval was from here,” Rowe says, adding that the community also has a Chinese New Year’s celebration and a St. Patrick’s Day celebration. This year’s National Folk Festival will run from July 11-13 in Butte.
When it is time to get to business, Butte has a variety of affordable meeting space options for groups, starting with the Butte Civic Center, which can seat 5,000 guests theater-style and 2,000 banquet-style.
The 131-room Butte War Bonnet Hotel is another popular group option, with more than 4,000 square feet of meeting space, as is the Copper King Hotel & Convention Center, complete with an 8,000-square-foot ballroom.
Desert Destinations
While Palm Springs’ gentle breezes and Scottsdale’s long stretches of green fairways may come to mind first when planners consider a desert destination, alternative locations such as Moab, Utah, can also quench groups’ thirst for the desert, but at greatly reduced prices.
“There is so much to do for very little cost,” says Marian DeLay, executive director of the Moab Area Travel Council, adding that hiking, camping and rafting on the Colorado River are all popular activities. “Golf is even cheap here. It is around $26 for 18 holes, or just $38 with a cart.”
The Moab Golf Course is one such place where groups can enjoy a day in the sun. The facility also often organizes tournaments, DeLay says.
Beyond its golf, Moab is within easy driving distance to many of the country’s national parks, lending itself nicely to groups looking for reasonably priced outdoor activities. For example, DeLay says groups can visit nearby Arches National Park for $7 a day.
Moab offers a variety of ways to experience the desert, one of them as a split activity between a Jeep and a jet boat.
“We have outfitters that take groups on a Jeep and jet boat combo,” DeLay says. “In the morning, half of the group will get in Jeeps and go up to the Canyonlands and the other half will go on a jet boat on the Colorado River. Half way through the day, the Jeeps end up at the boat docks and they switch.
“They absolutely love it,” she says. “All that is about $60 a person and it includes lunch.”
Groups can also enlist companies who specialize in leading guided ATV and dirt bike tours of “some of the most spectacular scenery you are ever going to see,” DeLay says.
Two of the most popular meetings hotels in Moab are The Red Cliffs Lodge and the Sorrel River Ranch Resort & Spa, both of which offer a variety of indoor and outdoor meeting spaces for small- to-midsize groups.
DeLay says meeting planners can expect to pay around $200 a night at the two hotels during peak season (May-September), but prices can go as low as $140 during slower periods. Limited service hotels are also available for groups in Moab, with prices hovering around $60-$70 per night.
Traveling south to Arizona, the terrain is as much known for high-end meetings destinations as it is for long expanses of cactus-filled desert. Despite this, by heading a little more than 100 miles south of Phoenix to Tucson, planners will find that their dollars stretch pretty far.
In January, Preferred Meeting Management’s Cline brought a group of 700 delegates down to Tucson, staying at the JW Starr Pass Resort & Spa, and couldn’t be happier with her experience.
“It is absolutely a fabulous city to bring conferences to,” she says. “It has an intimate feel and all the advantages of being a smaller community, but it has everything you need. The price structure definitely had a little less impact on our budget [than other destinations].”
Although prices were reasonable, Cline says the quality was still there.
“They certainly could demand the same prices [as other destinations],” she says. “They have beautiful facilities, but their prices are not high-end.”
Graeme Hughes, director of convention sales for the Metropolitan Tucson CVB, says the city’s value not only stems from its attractive prices, but from its variety of venues.
“Value comes from having choices and options,” he says, adding that the city is host to several group-friendly resorts such as Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa and the Hilton Tucson El Conquistador Golf & Tennis Resort, as well as the Tucson Convention Center.
“So much of what we do is based in the desert,” Hughes says, adding that some groups like to head up to Cocoraque Ranch & Pavilion for a truly Wild West experience. “They can accommodate up to 30 people on horseback, and they will take you on a cattle drive. It is like City Slickers. Then the full day ends with a barbeque at the ranch house.”
Groups who would rather experience the desert from the indoors can visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, the second-most-visited attraction in the state, according to Hughes, with a zoo, museum and botanical garden.
Yet regardless of what groups decide to do when in Tucson, they are in for a truly unique desert experience, Hughes says.
“Tucson still offers a little bit of mystery,” he says. “We like to think of it as authentic Arizona. We have the rugged terrain and the picturesque sunsets. In Tucson, you can literally walk out your door to hiking trails and nature preserves.”

Team Building events build bikes..Leaders too!

Experience (Odyssey w/17 years, 21 countries, 150,000 people) and positive, common, extraordinary teambuilding experiences are key to the growth of teams and leaders.
Are you the leader you are today because of the experiences you’ve had: In sports, at church and in scouting? Under a mentor’s guidance and through challenges you’ve overcome? Through casual time with cohorts, from your time in the field and by having honest conversations?
We bet you answered Yes to most of the above. More than any book, class, PowerPoint presentation, or lecture, your most effective training has come from your experiences and your willingness to learn from them.
Leaders who have the humility to know they need to learn more and the drive to do so – engage in experiences that matter throughout their careers.
Rekindle and support your team’s leadership qualities and behaviors. These results occur time and again during the Life Cycles, Helping Hands, and Playhouse Project programs we deliver and we don’t take them for granted.
30 – 1200 people in 4-7 hours? That is where Odyssey Teams, Inc. excels like no other. Team building with purpose. Because experience and experiences matter!

Bucketworks – health club for your brain and Odyssey Teams – Life Cycles (bike building teambuilding) partner

Bucketworks. That is the name of a unique meeting space in Milwaukee. They promote themselves as “The Worlds First Health Club for the Brain.” We are going to be delivering one of our Life Cycles: bike building, teambuilding programs at their facility in April. The magic of this partnership is that for the past 17 years of delivering teambuilding programs and eight years of our bike building Life Cycles programs, I have been using the term Neurobics to describe what we do. Neurobics is defined as exercise for your brain. Research has shown that if you are right handed and brush your teeth with your left hand one day each week you will decrease your chances of getting Alzheimer’s in latter years. Our body thrives on learning and growing. We are built to adapt to our environment, however we are also built to create safe predictable environments. This tug of war between growth and security is at the heart of our programs. We strive to inspire people through our teambuilding events enough to not only cause them to consider a new behavior but create enough motivation that they would be willing to catch themselves and their team being themselves and adopt the new habit when no one is watching. Would you be willing to brush your teeth once this week with your off hand? Try it. You have nothing to loose. It will cross some new wires in your brain and you might solve that nagging problem you have been facing at work. Check it out. It works!

Go fishing–catch yourself!

In Odyssey’s team building and philanthropic bike building teambuilding programs (Life Cycles), we often mention that if you want something to be different for your self, team or business… the first thing to do is to catch yourself being yourself. This raised level of awareness puts you almost as ‘another person’ in the room watching/noticing your actions. This added awareness gives you more choices in which to move.
You may catch yourself being cynical, taking the lead, acquiescing, not asking for help, going first, going last, playing it safe, taking a risk, making a put-down, holding back a request, etc.
As soon as you notice a particular conditioned tendency creeping in, the gift then is to pause and decide if this action/thought will serve or hinder what you’re up to and where you want to go. You may find a benefit to do more of ‘it’, less of ‘it’ or keep ‘it’ as is… thus, Choice. Now you get to respond and have influence rather than reacting…which can often cause mischief for you and/or those around you.
Our Life Cycles program where teams build a bike for deserving children in their local community, Helping Hands, and Playhouse Project programs all offer new and neutral experiences for people to have fun, connect with others, and to practice catching themselves being themselves.
Added bonus: The culture of your teams and business (just people) will shift for the better when this practice/skill is in the mix with you and your cohorts.
So go fishing. I’m sure you’ll catch something useful.

Does building bikes for kids and other teambuilding programs build more hope, productivity?

I read a scientific study recently that people’s overall success and happiness is determined by the belief that they have some control or influence on their future and the world around them. People that held this belief were far more successful, created more desired results, and had better health.
This fact seems instrumental in what Corporations should be focusing on providing for their people. Currently the economy is tenuous, which can lead to uncertain times and draw people into fear, hesitancy and stagnation. What we have witnessed is that Odyssey programs can reestablish and ignite people’s attitudes that they can impact their world. This is a powerful belief that leads to more hopefulness, productivity, and pure motivation.
Businesses may not be able to give their employees security right now, but they can give them something (especially in this economical climate) priceless and long lasting. The inspired feeling that they do indeed have an impact and influence on the world around them. That what they do does matter significantly.
This is the first attitudinal principle that gets questioned in these kinds of times. Helping Odyssey programs like Life Cycles (bike building teambuilding) will ignite the belief that I can make a difference no matter what the circumstances. This is the key to success because it promotes an ability to transcend the current climate of fear and uncertainty. This fact has been revealed through our own experiences and observation, but also scientifically supported.

Life Cycles program reunites brothers and sisters, connects far more than business goals

The Lifecycles, bike building teambuilding program is hands down one of the most emotional teambuilding experiences. After attending over 50 of these programs, I still find myself overwhelmed by the human aspect this program provides; and every program creates its own unique story.
One of my favorite programs occurred about six months ago when I was in Houston Texas. The recipients of the bikes were children from a foster care agency. We had a total of 9 children; four of them were siblings who had been split up into two different homes; they hadn’t seen or heard from each other in months and had no idea they would all be together. This story is the prime example of how the Life Cycles ripple affect extends beyond anything we can possibly imagine…
I was meeting the kids and their foster parents at a hotel; they were all coming in separate cars and meeting for the first time. One of the fathers and two children had already arrived. He and I chatted a bit until the rest of the parents arrived. As I got up to greet some of the other parents, two little girls who had just walked in started shrieking with joy- they had just spotted their brothers. Immediately they ran and embraced each other; then looking each other up and down started declaring “You look bigger!” “Is that a uniform you’re wearing?!” “You have a band new belt!” Then they started talking excitedly about all the changes in their lives- their new homes, new schools, new parents and new friends. When I was finally able to wrap my head around what I had just witnessed, my eyes started welling up and my heart just swelled. When you witness something of that emotional magnitude; you can’t help but be moved.
It’s crazy to imagine that this family reunion started with a phone call inquiring about a teambuilding session. Someone wanted to bring their employees closer together, and in doing so, brought a family together. It makes you realize everything you do, all your actions-and even inactions affect someone somewhere all the time, and you may not even see it.

Corporate team-building putting focus on good deeds

Corporate team building putting focus on good deeds – Building bikes for kids, prosthetic hands for landmine survivors.
Written by Darrell Smith for the Sacramento Beedvsmith@sacbee.com
Published 12:00 am PDT Friday, March 28, 2008
Story appeared in BUSINESS section, Page D1 of the Sacramento Bee
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Xyratex employees assemble a bicycle during a team-building exercise this month at the Le Rivage hotel in Sacramento. Randall Benton / rbenton@sacbee.com

Chris Sharman did a couple of unexpected things at a team-building workshop with 44 of his co-workers from the data storage firm Xyratex. First, he built a prosthetic hand and placed it in a wooden gift box that he and his teammates decorated.
Then, after he saw a brief slide show about the land mine victims all around the world waiting to receive the device, he brushed away a tear.
Eschewing the rope climbs and trust falls that have long been the traditional exercises at such retreats, Xyratex, based in the United Kingdom, and other companies choose to cement team bonds by giving employees a project with a higher purpose.
“We figured out what it was for fairly early,” said Sharman, a Xyratex vice president, who had safely stowed the prosthesis he helped build under his chair. But that didn’t lessen the impact, he said. “It pales into insignificance, your problems.”
“Philanthropic team building” it’s called, and Xyratex sought out a Chico-based firm that has designed and facilitated team-building experiences like this one for the better part of two decades. Known as Odyssey, it helps employees and managers work better together while helping the larger community in a “mix of inspiration and practical philanthropy.”
The Xyratex employees who came to Sacramento’s Le Rivage hotel from around the world March 4, worked together to build not only prosthetic hands but also bikes that they donated on the spot to nine smiling children from Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Sacramento. “We’ve tapped into the humanity of business,” said Lain Hensley, co-founder and chief operating officer of Odyssey. ” … You don’t have to quit your job and join the Peace Corps.”
Utilizing firms like teambonding, with its twin homes in Boston and San Diego, to Oakland’s Team Building Unlimited to Repario of Lake Tahoe, Nev., more companies in California are fusing corporate team building with good works.
“It’s not just the trick du jour anymore,” said Danika Davis, chief executive officer of the San Francisco-based Northern California Human Resources Association. ” … Anytime you add meaning, it’s going to have an impact and drive the message home.”
The emphasis on good works may even be part of a larger trend in corporate giving. Harold McGraw III, president and chief executive officer of The McGraw-Hill Cos. and chairman of the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy, discussed the evolution in the committee’s 2007 review.
McGraw said the New York-based forum of corporate leaders now spearheads “holistic philanthropy” which, in part, “taps into the tremendous desire of employees to participate through their volunteerism.”
Odyssey’s programs are a natural fit for Xyratex, which has focused on charitable giving to children who live near their sites in Malaysia, Europe and the United States throughout its 13-year history.
Todd Gresham, a Xyratex executive vice president, has seen the program’s effects on his people.
“The IT industry has a unique culture. Many came from venture-backed organizations, and this type of (exercise) tears down walls of intellectual prowess or macho success,” Gresham said. “You see people who are very powerful in the industry broken down to their rawest levels of emotion.”
It works on a number of levels, said Dwight Burlingame, associate executive director of the Indianapolis-based Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, a leading center on giving.
Many companies use this approach to increase morale, give employees a greater and clearer sense of purpose and develop a stronger understanding of the company’s mission, Burlingame said.
“Firms are focusing in on how they can use community involvement programs to increase pride within their companies and increase morale,” he said. “To be working for a company where you have that opportunity to build team pride in a business, that can provide another factor in the sense of engagement with the employer.”
Xyratex employees, including about 450 in West Sacramento, produce data storage technology that has been embedded in systems for machinery as diverse as the space shuttle and GE Healthcare’s mammography equipment, Gresham said.
“The person you’re building that for could be your wife or your daughter,” Gresham said. “It brings home that (the customer) is not just buying sheet metal and software.”
Company executives emphasize delivering quality products that meet customer needs, so it was no surprise that Xyratex employees were anxiously awaiting signs of approval when the door swung open for the nine children who had no idea what they’d be receiving.
“Do they look like new bikes?” Odyssey facilitator Todd Demorest asked. “Who’s No. 5? They built you a brand new bike!”
No. 5 was 10-year-old Alondra Tovar.
“I was really in shock,” Tovar said later, standing next to her bicycle. “It was amazing that they gave us (each) a bike.”
That’s the payoff for Odyssey’s Hensley.
“For the 99 percent who are skeptics, there’s the 1 percent who say, ‘I want to enjoy my work,’ ” Hensley said. “We want them to say, ‘When I created this hand, I could probably do that more often, and I can probably change the life of someone two cubicles away.’ They forget. That child, that hand, embodies that purpose.”
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Xyratex employees Ed Prager, left, and Penny Gillhan put together one of the nine bikes destined as gifts for children from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Sacramento. Randall Benton / rbenton@sacbee.com

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Alondra Tovar, 10, gets her new helmet adjusted, which goes along with the bicycle she received from Xyratex. Randall Benton / rbenton@sacbee.com

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