“Lain Hensley and Odyssey Teams are redefining the typical corporate team building program. It came out of a need to bring people closer together, with a common purpose, and to make a positive, lasting impact on the world.”

– Brandon Laws, director of marketing, Xenium

In this podcast,  Brandon Laws of Xenium interviews Odyssey Teams’ COO, Lain Hensley about how Odyssey Teams’ philanthropic team building events make employees’ time spent together more meaningful. Hensley goes into more detail about why giving back to the community can build effective teams and great culture and what actual employees are saying in response to this new type of corporate team building program.

Listen to the podcast – One Company’s Approach To Team Building or read the full transcript here.

If you have any questions about Odyssey Teams’ philanthropic team building events, feel free to reach out to the team directly at learn@odysseyteams.com or 800-342-1650

Sometimes you get the satisfaction of being able to bring pure happiness to people, and earlier this year we got to do so with Kindergartners from nine different schools in San Jose Del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas Corridor in Mexico. We teamed up with Scotiabank for the Playhouse Challenge.

Corporate Team Building that Creates Opportunity

Not all children have the opportunity to live a lifestyle where they get to simply be a child and play—this is why we build and donate playhouses through our Odyssey Playhouse Challenge. We donate these playhouses to nonprofit youth programs, children’s hospitals, or low-income housing in various communities.


Scotiabank wanted to have an award recognition program for their tellers and other customer-facing employees, so they reached out to Odyssey Teams. We helped conduct two different Playhouse Challange groups—each with 250 people—to further their values of respect, integrity, passion and accountability.

Collectively, the two groups built, donated and delivered 20 playhouses to these nine different schools in Mexico.

A “Neighborhood Stroll”

The unique aspect in this specific program was that we had children from one of the schools come to see the playhouses, where they were able to pick out their three favorite houses. All participants took a “neighborhood stroll” at the end to see the houses their colleagues had built before ending with a final debrief that connected the experiences back to the values and purpose of Scotiabank.

Philanthropic Team Building at Its Finest

So far, with the help of you and your companies, we have made 678 playhouses and have made a positive addition to more than 2,500 lives. The lessons your team takes away from this corporate give back activity are as significant as the playhouses they’ll leave behind. You can learn more about our Playhouse Challenge and other give back events.


playhouse challenge odyssey

odyssey playhouse challenge

odyssey playhouse challenge

odyssey team building

odyssey teams  teambuilding

Earlier this year, President, CEO and CO – Founder of Odyssey Teams, Inc., Bill John, took a trip to Da-Nang, Vietnam for a fitting of prosthetic hands and his trip was “transformational.”

Lending A Hand through Team Building

Twenty-one amputees from Vietnam—people who have lost limbs from various reasons—received prosthetic hands that have been assembled by all the amazing companies and organizations who have participated in our Helping Hands program.

As of today, we’ve put 29,000 prosthetic hands on people from all around the world. Without you, without companies like you, none of this would have been possible. This is a business simulation, and we wield this simulation in classrooms, trainings, conferences, and sales kick-offs very powerfully. The experience is a metaphor for how (and why) we work, but it’s much more than just another metaphor. To say that building these hands has an impact is an understatement.

Shire Pharmaceuticals Experiences Helping Hands ‘Live’, Sponsors Hands

Shire Pharmaceuticals APAC (Asia-Pacific) Leaders converged in Ho Chi Minh City and went through Odyssey Teams’ Helping Hands ‘Live’ teambuilding program facilitated by Bill. The attendees assembled eight hands—the cognition of knowing that their giveback team-building program was going to produce an immediate effect the very next day to those individuals in Vietnam created an even more special team activity. With these eight hands being built by Shire, along with other hands that were built by people in the Helping Hands program in Australia, Bill set off to Vietnam with 21 hands.

Sometimes you don’t understand the impact you make in one’s life until you actually see it physically. During Bill’s fitting in Vietnam he was able to see these individuals write for the first time, ride a bike, put their arms around each other – he got to see a “sparkle in their eye.”

Nothing but Joy

Many of the recipients were landmine related amputees, others were farming or work related and a few were congenital birth defects. They were thrilled to receive their new prosthetics and the mood was pure joy as they learned to use the hands. They ended up teaching each other many of the functions of the LN-4 hand. There were several charities, clinics and genuinely gracious people who found the recipients, transported, housed and fed them.

Kahn, a 58-year-old man who lost his arm at 13-years-old was one of the prosthetic hand recipients. When he was 13, he was using a shovel in the fields to dig out copper, iron and pieces of metal that were left over from the Vietnam War. His shovel hit a landmine and when the bomb went off, it took off the bottom half of his left arm.

What Will Your Story Be?

His story is just one of the 6 to 7 million below-elbow amputees in the World. We’re just beginning to scratch the surface of helping these individuals, but with the help of you and your company, you can make a big difference in the lives of many. Learn more about the Helping Hands program and our other giveback programs.


vietnam helping hands

vietnam helping hands

vietnam helping hands

Giving Back To The Community And Their Team Members Is An Important Part Of AbbVie Pharmaceuticals’ Philosophy

The Research and AbbVie Pharmaceuticals development facility, located in Gurnee, Illinois has been hosting an annual event that recognizes the outstanding members of that facility. This year’s theme was to give back to the community.

Elan Savitt, the Finance Manager for AbbVie Pharmaceuticals, did his part to make sure that this team building event was a success. “Our work in pharmaceuticals is so important,” he says, “It is so dedicated to the people. We wanted an opportunity to give back to the community just as we do with our pharmaceutical drugs.”

When the 180 members of the facility got together they knew it was for an awards ceremony. They had no idea that Savitt had called on Odyssey Teams and the Helping Hands Live program to host a corporate give back activity. The group was divided into teams and each group was told they would be building a prosthetic hand for a landmine victim in a third world country.

Bill John, co-founder of Odyssey Teams, had the pleasure of being the facilitator for the team building event. After the initial introduction, Bill John explained the give back activity the team would participate in. He told them that in order to achieve their goals they would need to communicate, collaborate, and focus on working as a team. His message of ‘deliberate action’ is one that continues to resonate with many participants of this and other give back activities after they have ended.

AbbVie Is Building A Better World

Savitt stated, “It’s about building a better world and finding purpose in everything we do. How do we see past just the individual task and recognize the impact of what we do? Whether it’s to patients, or other companies, or more importantly to indigent people that really need help that we may not recognize.”

After ten minutes of the teams building the LN-4 hands, they were challenged with continuing to build with a koozie on their dominant hand. Teamwork became mandatory. At the end of the team building event, 60 prosthetic hands were assembled and placed inside the carrying cases the teams had designed for them. “I think they are learning to work together as a team,” says Savitt. “How to overcome obstacles, but most importantly, how to be excellent as a group and not as an individual.”

Total Hand Distribution Plus AbbVie’s Contribution

With the conclusion of this corporate team building event, Odyssey Teams has now assembled and distributed over 23,000 hands in over 80 countries. The feeling of giving back to the world community is a feeling that Savitt will call on again in the future. “For anyone who is looking for an event that demonstrates how we matter as individuals. I think this fits the bill one hundred percent.”

Odyssey Teams has several other team building programs they facilitate in their ‘Live’ programs, or if you would like to facilitate your own team building event there are also several do-it-yourself kits like Build-A-Hand, Life Cycles, Or The Playhouse Challenge.

Life Cycles is a Team Building Event to Increase Collaboration

Life Cycles is the original bike building team building program that changed an industry. This team building event creates the potential to change the way we look at the world and ourselves. Team bonds are formed, collaboration increases and communication lines are wide open.

It is no secret that in order to provide great customer service you need a great team. You may have the most solid mission statement in the world. However, if your team loses sight of that mission then meeting your company goals becomes very difficult and team building becomes very important.

A give back activity is one of the best ways to inspire your team, and promote a positive brand image. Whether you choose to use the facilitators at Odyssey Teams or use the DIY Life Cycles kit, this team building activity will reinvigorate your team.

A give back activity is one of the best ways to inspire your team, and promote a positive brand image. Whether you choose to use the facilitators at Odyssey Teams or use the DIY Life Cycles kit, this team building activity will reinvigorate your team.

Each Life Cycles program is unique and tailored to the specific values and organizational goals of your company. An Event Organizer or Odyssey Teams facilitator plans out our team building event in advance.

Each facilitated team building event begins with Odyssey Teams’ trademark interviews. During this process, teams get to know each other’s definitions of collaboration, trust, and information exchange. This gives many of the team members benchmarks for the rest of the activity.

The “Life Cycles” are separated up by the different steps in building the Diamondback Bikes. This is where many of the personalities come out. Is there someone who grabs for the instructions and reads them first? Does someone push everybody out of the way claiming to have just recently built a bike? These people might get the job done, but how well are they prepared for the next challenge?

The biggest team growth comes when participants put into action the concepts they’ve learned. There is no transition without application. After assembly, we bring in the real critics to practice customer service – the children.

Children from the local Boys & Girls Clubs of America come in and the teams get to give their bike to a child. The teams interact with the children for fifteen minutes and during that time is when many of the participants become aware of their interactions. Their focus shifts from their own selves, to a little boy or girl. The team members gain a renewed desire to do for others in a way they had not known possible.

Charlie Shaver, Axalta Chairman and CEO said, “Odyssey has provided a great opportunity to partner with the non-profit sector and the community during our global leadership meeting. Axalta benefits from the team building that goes into putting the bicycles together. The kids get to keep the bicycles we’ve built. Everyone wins.”

Co-Founder and COO of Odyssey Teams, Lain Hensley, explains, “We use bike building to provide global executives with a hands-on opportunity to improve their teamwork. The exercise transcends culture and language as well as the day to day roles that participants have in their organizations. The surprise donation at the end of the session then converts a company exercise into a gift for the community and a memory that participants keep for years to come.” Some of our other programs like Helping Hands and The Playhouse Challenge can also harness the same growth within your team.

Steve Sorensen, CEO of The Select Family of Staffing Companies said, “Perhaps our staff was expecting to fall backward into their co-workers’ arms, but we were tasked with assembling bicycles, just like the night before Christmas. We were delighted to learn that the Life Cycles program bikes were going to kids from the Boys & Girls Club who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford one.”

If you’ve never hosted a team building process you may be asking yourself, “Is this even worth it? Will a team building activity solve any of my problems?” The answer is, “yes.” Many feel that the term “team building” is just a buzz word tossed around to encourage employees. When in actuality team building is the backbone of a productive team.

The main goal of any team building event is to improve productivity and motivation among employees. By taking your employees out of the office you are promoting the elimination of political and personal barriers. This also eliminates distractions and encourages a fun atmosphere.

There are several benefits associated with team building activities. They include the improvement of morale and leadership skills. Company goals and objectives become clearly defined while processes, procedures, and organizational productivity are all improved. A team’s strengths and weaknesses are more clearly defined. People identify the barriers to creativity and problem solving is improved. As the event planner, you can take advantage of all of these benefits or only a few of them.

Define your goals clearly for benefits to be effective

It’s important to clearly define the goals of your team building activity. Lindsay Olson from U.S. News and World Report has these considerations to offer when helping establish an event’s overall goals.

  • What is the team climate? Is it hostile? Indifferent?
  • How much will management be involved? (Support from them encourages the team building)
  • How long will the event take?
  • Where will it take place?
  • Outside consultants can help identify which team problems need addressing.
Benefits of team building: the statistics

It’s easy to read about the benefits of team building on paper or imagine the outcome of the event in your head. Team building is known to foster better communication between employees as well as improving employees motivation and trust.

Alex “Sandy” Pentland, the director of MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory and the MIT Media Lab Entrepreneurship Program, decided to quantify these metrics to establish what it takes to create a productive team. Her team utilized lapel buttons that collect data, over six weeks, for more than a hundred points. Data included voice inflection, body language, who they talked to, and for how long.

These experiments proved that good communication is crucial to maintaining a good team. Alex states “we found that the best predictors of productivity were a team’s energy and engagement outside formal meetings.”

Alex’s team was asked to help a bank’s call center. The manager wanted to know why some teams succeed when similar teams could not. After the six weeks, Alex and her team recommended that the manager schedule everyone’s coffee breaks at the same time. It would allow people more time to socialize away from their workstations. Once this mass coffee break began the manager began to see a 20% decrease in average handling time (AHT the industry standard for call centers) among poorly performing teams and an overall drop of 8%. The manager has now changed the coffee break schedule at all of the call centers.

Brings teams together with the Playhouse Challenge

You may think the real challenge of The Playhouse Challenge comes from swinging a hammer or painting a mural. That’s not the challenge of this corporate give back activity. This challenge is learning how to effectively communicate with co-workers to achieve a common goal. The philanthropic goal of giving a one of a kind playhouse to children in need of some fun in their lives.

How does The Playhouse Challenge Work?

Satisfaction is found from building from the ground up. When you’re creating something from concept to design, and through execution, you are exercising your mind in a left-right-left motion towards completion. In Odyssey Teams’ Playhouse Challenge your group will work cooperatively to imagine, design, and build a custom playhouse. It will then be donated, in your name, to a non-profit youth program, children’s hospital, or low-income community.

We begin The Playhouse Challenge long before the lumber arrives at your destination. In a preprogram interview we want to identify your company’s specific values and business goals that this philanthropic team building exercise can deliver upon.

This give-back activity begins by an Odyssey Teams facilitator setting a strong context. It is set for participation, engagement, and applications related to your company’s values and individual behaviors as identified. After the initial launch, there are several icebreaker activities where the participants get to know one another.

Let The Playhouse Challenge Begin

Now, it’s time to dive into design and build. The teams break up into groups of ten to fifteen and then jobs are randomly assigned. The roles include Chief Marketing Officer, Quality Assurance Manager, Building Manager, Architecture/Design Manager, Procurement Manager. Now, it’s all about managing time, teamwork, and results.

The chaos of The Playhouse Challenge is one of the most enjoyable aspects. People are running around, collecting materials, and creativity is blossoming. Each group starts with the same pile of lumber. Each group imagines and designs a playhouse completely unique from one another. Some popular builds have been the beach house, candy shack, or superhero hideout.

Cooperation is key to The Playhouse Challenge
After each group has realized the commitment of communication and cooperation there is a surprise guest that makes an appearance. Odyssey Teams hosts a surprise field trip for the youth who will be receiving the playhouses. The children light up when they are told that the playhouses will be going to their organization. For many volunteering participants, it is the smiles on these young faces as they begin to explore the new playhouses that has a lasting effect.

After attending The Playhouse Challenge Sibylle Coe, director of proposals and planning for Launch Incentives said, “The Playhouse Challenge was an inspiring and motivating team-building project that provided real-life results. The challenge was extremely well organized and creative. Our attendees were exceptionally proud of their playhouses and very excited that they were going to children in need.”

After the challenge hosted by Axcess Financial Inc. held in Cincinnati Tara Westberg, district director of Check ’n Go in California said, “It just really makes you feel good as a person and for the company, you’re working for. While we’re learning and training, we’re doing something to give back, too.”

If you would like to host an Odyssey Team philanthropic give-back activity like The Playhouse Challenge Helping Hands, or Life Cycles.


Skateboard dreams come true in a Board Meeting

Whether you have children, or not, the idea of working with other people’s kids is a daunting one. This is one of the unique differences to hosting a Board Meeting. Participants have to work with children no matter what. Not only are they working with youth, but they are going to be giving the skateboard to this youth. So, team members have to learn to listen, communicate, and teach someone less than half their age.


“The basic challenge,” says Michael Thompson, Ph.D, co-author of Raising Cain, “is that [adults] very often speak without understanding how children receive the message.” Adults often make the assumption that children understand, but then are left wondering ‘Why didn’t the kid do what I asked?’

Many childless adults throw their hands into the air saying “What do you say to kids? How do you even talk to them?” The answer is very simple. Treat them like a regular person. So, no dumbing down the vocabulary, or using baby talk.


Getting children to relax is the first step in the team building process. Take a moment to get to know them. Ask open-ended questions about their interests or something they know about. Ask about video games or electronics. Be sure to get down on their level. You can do this by bending down or sitting in a seat next to them.

Make sure not to talk loud or fast. Keep your hands to yourself. If you are working with older kids don’t ask about their girlfriend/boyfriend. If a difficult question does come up refer back to a Board Meeting chaperone, or simply say ‘I don’t know.’ Above all don’t discipline them. Refer to a chaperone. Always maintain empathy. Try to see things from the youth’s point of view. And if you still don’t have any idea how to open up you can Sports cast. Just start saying everything as they are doing it. ‘Look. You got the screwdriver. Hey, you found the orange marker you were looking for.’

Strap in for the best Board Meeting ever.
Once the children have relaxed and you’ve gotten to know them. Then you want to dive into the Board Meeting kit. The biggest challenge your team might face is how to incorporate the youth into the process. One of the easiest things is to let them read the instructions as you assemble the skateboard. You could set them to decorating their helmet while your team assembles the skateboard. But that’s not why you’re having a Board Meeting.

The best idea would be to put the youth in charge. It is going to be their skateboard. Let them divide up the work. Obviously, the rest of the team would help lay out the jobs to be delegated. But, let the youth decide who is going to do what.

The Board Meeting Teambuilding kit

As you’re working with the child be sure to ask specific questions along the way. Repeat what you’ve heard to make sure you and the youth understand what’s been agreed upon. Be sure to let them try each part of the skateboard assembly and decoration. They need to feel like a true part of the team and not just a puppet figure head awaiting their prize. It’s always a good idea to offer help as many older children will be hesitant to ask for it.

Once you’ve reached the end of the Board Meeting thank the child for their leadership. Ask them what they plan to do with the skateboard now that they own it. See if they can test ride it for you. Watching them light up with the excitement of a life changing event will be a memory you cherish forever. You might even become a superhero is someone’s eyes.

Corporate give back activities such as Helping Hands, Life Cycles, or The Board Meeting is one way to bring a team together, but so is a ropes course. If you’ve never been on a corporate team building Ropes Course then you are not alone. Thousands of people have never had their feet leave the ground. So, it’s understandable that you might be a little apprehensive and maybe even doubting your teammates, and your own, physical prowess.

Ropes Course builds stronger teams

Alleviate those Ropes Course concerns with a little preparation.

Most ropes courses are not thrust upon a group of people at the last minute. Usually, there is a little time for you to gear yourself up both mentally and physically. Here are a few tips to help you get started. So, you can be a superhero.

  1. Dress the part:

    Wear something that is comfortable, but not loose fitting. Avoid dangling strings, or anything that might snag on something. Leave behind any accessories that might hinder movement. Opt for tennis shoes, or comfortable walking shoes

  1. Bug Repellent:

    Many ropes courses occur in wooded areas while others happen in the desert or urban areas. Outdoor ropes courses mean you are going to want something to keep those pesky flies away. Nothing is more frustrating than having to shoo away insects while climbing thirty feet in the air.

  1. Rest the night Before:

    Don’t let your worries keep you up. Be sure to relax and enjoy the evening prior to the event.The course is a full body workout that requires a lot of energy.

  1. Physical Fitness:

    Ropes Course takes trust to finish.

    Fortunately, a ropes course isn’t a race. You can enjoy the team building process at your own pace. Some of the lighter exercises you might want to consider are standing on leg to increase your balance. The yogic tree pose is recommended. Some light cardio, walking and jogging, would be good as you will be spending most of the day on your feet moving around. Squats would be a final light exercise. There is climbing involved. Any seasoned climber will tell you that climbing is all in your legs.

Mental Readiness:

Preparing your mind for the unknown is a difficult task by any measure. No one is really sure how they will react when confronted with the fear of heights or the fear of letting go. It is precisely this fear, or one’s like them, that the Ropes Course is trying to help someone to conquer by having them step outside of their comfort zone. Overcoming your mind, not your body, is the real challenge of this course.

  1. Don’t take it too seriously:

    Again, Ropes Course is not a race. This is meant to be a challenge that gets people to step outside their comfort zones. More importantly it’s a fun team building exercise. Everyone will be making mistakes, but everyone in the group will also be given the chance to coach each other through fears and pitfalls.

A little preparation can go a long way in getting ready for anything. Ropes Course is no different. So, now that you know what to do, gear up for one of the best day’s you’ll ever have in an office meeting.

Life Cycles is proud to promote volunteering by distributing bicycles to those in need of transportation. Often times children receive the bikes, but many are given to adults. They rely on the bike for getting around town and to their jobs. Whether you’re young or old, Life Cycles has a few maintenance tips to keep your new bike rolling down the road.

Cleaning the Life Cycles bicycle is crucial

Keeping a clean bike is the number one way to keep it operational. Dirt can get lodged into the drivetrain, and gears, causing skipping. Be sure to wash with water and either a specialty bike cleaner or mild dish detergent.

Life Cycles gives back while building teams

Cleaning the bike will also keep the brake, and shift, cables clean and operating smoothly. Life Cycles recommends to wash your bicycle after every use, but if you don’t have time once a year is the bare minimum.

Listen to your Life Cycles bike

Maintaining a well-lubed drive train is the most essential part of a bike. Without the gears and chain, the bike would never move forward. Lube the drivetrain by dropping a dab of chain lube on each link pin as you pedal backward. This will work the lube into the chain. Lube your chain after each cleaning, or if the chain has become dry.

Gritty scraping sounds are an indicator of worn brake pads. Changing them out is recommended. However, a mushy feeling in your brakes is a simple maintenance issue. Remedy this by adjusting the barrel adjusters counter clockwise on the levers, or at the brake arms until the mushy feeling is gone.

Finally, you will want to tighten all the nuts and bolts on your bike. This is a quick process, but make sure you are using the right tools and the right measurements. Not all bikes have standard nuts and bolts as metric components have been instituted.

Not all of these maintenance tips need be applied at the same time, nor do they need to be used every ride. Here’s a schedule to help you remember which parts to check and how often.

Maintenance Schedule

Once a month:

  • Check the shifting by cycling through all the gears while on a small bike ride.
  • Check the brakes by squeezing them both on flat ground and going down hill.
  • Lube the brake and shift cables, wheels’ axle, and fork sliders (suspension)

Every 3 Months:

  • Check brake pads for wear. Make sure grooves are still present.
  • Inspect the chain ring and the cogs for any wear.
  • Tighten all nuts and bolts
  • Grease the seat post.

Every 6 Months:

  • Deep clean the drive train
  • Replace, and lube, the chain


Life Cycles help others peddle on with life

This schedule coupled with regular cleaning will keep your bicycle in top performance mode. You should have no problem getting where you want to go if you follow the guidelines set out here.

Access the potential of your organization’s heart by giving employees an opportunity for volunteering in a team building meeting. This solution to corporate team building is a radical one compared to many of the mainstream exercises available.

What is Helping Hands?

The Helping Hands program brings teams together within an organization to promote collaboration. The program also focuses on commitment, and quality while deepening a sense of community.

One Washington D.C. based company showed improvements to the human heart during give back activities. Individuals who engage in volunteer work regularly have shown a reduction in despair and in turn have had less chance of heart disease.

Helping Hands uses the LN-4 prosthetic hand.

Helping Hands is an opportunity for your organization to boost production, and loyalty, while giving to those in need. The process begins with a pre-program interview. It is designed to establish your company’s specific business goals, organizational values, and individual behaviors. The program itself begins by emphasizing collaboration, purpose-driven work, and customer awareness.

Awareness Reflexive Tendencies (A.R.T.) begins phase two as the participants are challenged to identify reflexive strengths and areas for improvement. This has been proven to be a more deliberate approach to balance, results, relationship, and process.

Helping Hands Surprise

The LN-4 is cost effective and easy to use.

Up until this point none of the participants are aware that they will be building Helping Hands. For the participants, this has been just another team building exercise. So, watch them light up when they realize they will be assembling, and donating, a prosthetic hand to someone in need. The build is simple enough for children to follow as noted in the Baltimore Jewish Times. Yet, its complexities increase confidence within any team of any organization. By the end of the build the participants understand the value of the project. More importantly, they understand the value of their time, and the value of your commitment to do something really good in the name of volunteering.

Participants work in teams of three to five assembling the hand. They will also be decorating the bag that the hand will travel in. There are detailed instructions for the build. Each part must be installed correctly for the hand to function. Upon completion, a picture of the team is then taken. It is put into the bag so the recipient knows exactly who gave it to them.

Helping Hands ends the program with a video containing all the people the program has aided. This creates a powerful emotional connection between the participants and their work. Some even walk away feeling like a superhero.

GE has implemented this program to great success.The end of their first session created a buzz as many corporate leaders recommended the program to their GE Canada affiliates and other offices. GE was first drawn to the kit because it is flexible enough to be offered during any meeting.

Who receives the Helping Hands?

Hundreds of hands are being given out every month.

17,000 hands have been distributed to 75 different countries around the world. People who could not turn on a faucet without help are now enjoying the thrill of running water that they started themselves.

Around America countless corporate lives have been rejuvenated and re-inspired after doing their part to help those who needed a Helping Hand.


Helping Hands are going around the world. Shivkumar is a young boy from the Phillipines who lost his hand after being electrocuted while flying his kite. Emine Yuzay, a Turkish woman born without arms, would watch as her nine brothers and sisters were allowed to go to school. She would yearn for an education she was not allowed to pursue. Mutham, from the Philippines, lost his right arm in a landmine explosion while serving in the military in 1972. Each is a tragic story in a never ending procession with still more to come.

Helping Hands works for everyone involved.

There has been some 110 million landmines spread throughout the world since 1941. There are still many active today after their respective countries cease-fires. The primary victims are civilian women and children.

Helping Hands can help

250,000 amputees are registered worldwide with the United Nations. Tens of thousands of these people live with limited mobility, discrimination, and in some cases shame. Helping Hands is a program that has become the difference between amputees living a life in hiding and being productive members of society.

Helping Hands provides prosthetic hands to amputees at no cost to them while encouraging the corporate team building process through the hand’s assembly. At a minimal cost the hand is used in a large corporate team building meeting and then donated. Participants in Helping Hands team building exercises tie one hand behind their backs. Then working in teams they must assemble the hand. Emphasis is placed on collaboration, communication, purpose-driven work, and customer mindfulness through volunteering.

Once assembled, the Helping Hands are delivered to qualified applicants. After an application process, the arm is then measured to make sure it is of adequate length. The recipient is then taught how to attach the prosthetic hand and shown how it functions. The design is very simple with three fixed fingers and two ratcheting fingers that are released at the touch of a button.

Who is receiving the Helping hands?

Helping hands recipients must have 14mm of a limb.

When asked what they miss most about life before their tragedy many amputees say just being normal. They are unable to be as productive as they know they can. Helping Hands is helping many of these people to find that sense of pride once again.

Shivkumar no longer missed flying kites, but he did miss being able to write. “Love” was the first word he wrote only seconds after being fitted and shown how to hold the pen. Emine now gets to attend school as she can hold the books, papers, and write out her homework. Mutham says he “feels like a whole person again.” He is now feeding himself and brushing his own hair in the morning.

Many others are happy to be able to provide for their families by hoeing in the garden, or cleaning around the house. Over 17,000 helping Hands have been distributed in over 75 different countries including China, South Africa, Bolivia, Afghanistan, and Egypt.

Helping Hands starts by changing lives inside the corporate team building exercises. Then finishes by completing the life of someone in need.

In a string of radical new give back activities the Board Meeting has taken volunteering to a whole new halfpipe. This is a revolutionary hands-on approach to volunteering that invigorates the soul as you bring happiness to a child.

What is a Board Meeting?

This program encourages corporate teamwork to build, and design, skateboards for youth. Not only that, but participants will be mentoring children as they work side by side with them. Working directly with the youth recipient during the build and design phase is what makes this give-back activity so unique.

Board Meetings are a blast for everyone.

Volunteering has plenty of benefits for those involved. The act of volunteering has been shown to increase self-confidence, provide a sense of purpose, combat depression, and helps people stay physically healthy. When an employer offers the opportunity to give back in a meeting during working hours it shows that employee well-being is at the top of their boss’ list.

Working with children presents its own set of rewards and obstacles to overcome with this give-back activity. Helping the child build the skateboard and learn maintenance tips is only the half of this project. Participants have to learn a different style of honest communication in order to get a point across. Teams will also have to move at a faster pace while channeling the child’s enthusiasm into constructive pathways.

The biggest delight comes from the youth’s understanding of a process due to participant guidance. This simple process becomes cherished memories. At the end, the teams get to watch the children strap on their helmet and pads. Then the kids try their hand at riding their skateboards for the first time.

Who is hosting a Board Meeting?

Board Meetings bring everyone together

Vice President of Marketing of KAO Salon Division commented “Building the boards together was a great bonding activity, but the real reward was seeing the children’s excitement as they received their skateboards. Looking around at fellow members of our team, some with smiles and other with tears of happiness, made us realize how powerful it is to come together as a group.”

This desire to give back is not only a short term gain of employee happiness but a long term gain of potential qualified employees. Many qualified students actively seek out employers that give back to the community. 45% of students in a Net Impact survey said that they would take up to a 15% pay cut in order to work for companies that actively give back to their community.

Each Board Meeting DIY Kit is unique to the company that wishes to donate. The business goals and organizational values reinforced by the program are agreed upon before the show ever begins.

Time is not a factor as most Board Meeting Kits can be assembled in the time it takes to conduct an actual board meeting in the office. (At most three hours) These lightweight self-contained kits include the pieces to construct the skateboard. Knee, elbow, and wrist pads as well as a helmet. are included. Plus the markers needed to design everything.

Teams are three members to a skateboard including youth. Small teams make this ideal for an indoor or outdoor event as very little room is required and clean up is minimal.

Strap in for the best Board Meeting ever.

Hearts grow larger figuratively, and literally, at the end of a Board Meeting. They feel like a superhero. Participants walk away recommending the experience to other members of the community. Those that have participated in the Board Meeting program have built lasting corporate team building strategies based upon collaboration and ingenuity. The teams continue keeping the customer in mind with every step they take in the workplace.

Life Cycles, the original bike building program, allows participants to create something valuable and pass it on to the end user. As they build a bike and pass it along to a child, the result is a firsthand experience of the value of collaboration, customer-centricity, and teamwork. Metaphors like these are rich and relevant to teams and leaders. However, there are less obvious metaphors that also emerge during the course of the program:

Tires need air. Everyone knows how to use a bicycle pump, right? Simple. You secure the nozzle over the tire valve and inflate. But in the past twenty years, the way to secure the pump to the valve has done a complete 180-degree change.

It is amazing to see people IGNORE the detailed description and pictures of HOW TO USE THE TIRE PUMP. The result is frustration, rework, and often a broken piece of equipment. Not good if you are building bikes for kids. Not good if you are aiming to build your team and be a world-class business.

For me, breaking the tube for a child’s bike was a lesson in humility. I learned that the next time – even if I think “I KNOW” – I must be humble enough (and not so much in a hurry) to pause and check to see if the ‘game’ has changed.

As fast as the world and business are changing, can you afford not to pause, confirm what is truly needed, and THEN act? So in business, when building a bike…bikes for kids…at least look at the pictures carefully.

By the Spring of 2000, I was losing my passion for the experiential medium that was tremendously successful for the previous decade. Ropes Courses started became synonymous with “teambuilding” and “teambuilding” was losing it’s value through poor facilitators, knock-offs and companies who were seeking it just to check the box. Ropes courses were a dime a dozen and it became more ubiquitous as a challenge course and thrown into the same category as paint ball, a scavenger hunt or karaoke – where strong facilitation, or the metaphoric value were not required by industry standards or a deceived public. It was sad to watch the original brand and intent of true team development slip out of control. Odyssey was still doing it’s work effectively but we were being shopped by companies looking to just check the ‘teambuilding’ box – not looking for the true development of their team. We held the belief in our value and charged for that value and let the box checkers go to knock-off competitors with the knowledge that they would further dilute the brand of our medium.

I looked back to the good old days  – where no one had ever heard of a “ropes course”, or even “team building” – when neither label existed and we used the activities to talk powerfully about leadership, teamwork and business. I was entering this ‘funk’ more frequently by the Spring of 2000 that my colleagues (and wife) would have to endure my lust for doing something different. I talked of a new career altogether. I explored the ideas of being a fireman, even medical school, something where I could still feel like I was helping people. There were countless Odyssey meetings where my team would have to endure my funk and my non-stop push for value – not to succumb to chasing price down as our industry slipped further into the diluted “teambuilding” craze.

One day in the Spring of 2000, we got a call from Lucent Technologies who had heard of our work in building teams. They had brought a new leader to run their global procurement division – a big job. Jose Mejia was holding his first meeting for all his new direct reports from around the world. Lain took the call and listened to the challenges and objectives that Jose faced. Lain came to me with an idea of giving them a different experience and riffed for awhile on building something. He said “how about building dog houses”. I smirked, not knowing where he/that might go or how to leverage it as a training experience, a simulation, or a metaphor. Well, Lain sold the idea to the client before he really sold it to me. Nice one, Lain. ;-).  He went about his logistical, metaphoric and optimistic ways and I half-heartedly went along with it. The question that was still unanswered was: “what are we going to do with all these dog houses when they are finished?”

The event took place in Orlando, Florida for 250 participants. We decided to break them into teams of ten, give them a bunch of lumber, plywood, hammers, nails, saws, paint, brushes and two hours to see what they would come up with. Prior to the two hours of building, we spent two hours setting the context and giving them experiences and discussions to get them prepared to WORK. That is, to sharpen their creativity, leverage the strengths and diversity of the team; manage time, resources and energy, and be more deliberate about processes, relationships and results.

Well, we must have nailed these elements because what everyone in the room saw was utterly amazing. On time, 25 of the most creative, fantastic dog-houses were built. Some on stilts, some with draw bridges, Tahitian dog-huts, modern architecture, Victorian. At the conclusion, we all paraded down the ‘streets’ of this dog-house neighborhood in complete awe of what was accomplished. Lain made prizes for ‘best teamwork’, ‘best creativity’, and I think one was even for ‘best engineering’ (since most of the group were engineers). As with ALL Odyssey programs, the experience itself was not our aim. The discussion or debrief was.  It is there we have the chance to attach words – powerful words and behaviors to galvanize the experience. The words and experience are thus connected with who they are, what they do and where they are going – individually and organizationally.

Jose announced that the houses were going to an auction sponsored by Lucent technologies and that the proceeds were going to be given to the local (Orlando) Habitat for Humanity. A win for people, a win for dogs, and a huge WIN for Jose and his new team. At dinner, Jose and I talked about the event. He knew, that as he went around the world, meeting his other teams and leaders, that THIS was exactly the medium which would point towards what he wanted his people to value. His next big meeting was to be in Atlantic City in October, 2000.

Ever creative, Lain suggested an idea to build on the ‘building’ idea – bicycles – for Joses next meeting. Again, I was half-sold on the metaphoric value but Lain proceeded and started pointing towards some things that I thought could work. As I was on the plane flying from California to Newark, I dug in deeper to the metaphor of building bikes and I realized that the bike could be analogous to ‘product’ and since this was a procurement team, I would make them procure the supplies. The tools would be available but only if they leveraged each other into sharing them. No individual team would have everything they needed which would require them to move beyond their silos to access the potential of all the parts and pieces that lay in front of them. There was still something missing for me. I didn’t know what it was until we were somewhere over Nebraska. We had already pre-determined that the bikes would be donated to the local YMCA but this did not contain the metaphoric power I was looking for. We needed the kids to burst through the doors to represent the face of the customer – to give more importance to the product itself, and of course the process, relationships – and people that produced it.

As soon as I landed, I got on the phone with our contact at the YMCA and asked him if he could bring the kids – all 50 of them!

He did. They came to the hotel while the participants were frantically building and managing the short time I gave them for this business ‘simulation’. The kids were just outside the doors as the time clicked to mark the end of the assembly of the bikes and the beginning of the post build debrief. While the participants talked about sharing tools, or not, who finished first, or not, they made some good connections and lessons. Meanwhile, quietly, the kids were escorted through a backstage door behind the curtains and given a number that matched one of the 50 bikes in the room. The kids were curious. They knew they were going to be given a surprise but had yet to learn it was a brand new bike, helmet and lock.

I asked the participants to look at their ‘product’ – the bike and tell me what it had. “Wheels” they shouted, “handlebars”, “peddles”, “tires”, “spokes”. Then I asked them to think back to their first bike, to think of it’s color, how old they were, and then asked them to tell me what a bike IS. They shouted:  “transportation”, “self-esteem”, “ownership”, “friendship”, “FREEDOM”. The mood changed in the room in thinking about what it IS versus what it HAS and I asked them to think about the Life Cycle of this “Product” – that it was still not complete in what it was intended to become…until now. “It’s time for you to meet your customers”, I announced.

The curtains swung open and there was a brief moment of disbelief, a moment of ‘Oh shit’ followed by thunderous applause and smiles, and tears. Every participant was on their feet. The kids, looking out, starting to realize that all those shiny bicycles, balanced upside-down, just might be the surprise that their YMCA coordinator and Odyssey talked about right before they came in the room. I confirmed this for them and the kids shout out their approval and joined all the adults in this special surprise that went both ways.

I was a mess. I thanked the kids for coming – for being brave enough to walk into this mystery and for the good things that they had done that led them to be invited/chosen by their coordinator to get to take a brand new bicycle home. I told them to hold up their numbered sign and for one of the participants in that group, representing that same numbered bicycle to come up and find their customer, go back, and get to know each other and to adjust the seat to the proper height and the handlebars to the right position.

Almost every team dove into their tools and started fixing brake cables, adding air to tires, double-checking every bolt and nut. I asked them to pause for a moment and got everyone’s attention. I asked them what they were feeling that led to all this additional work on the bike as a rhetorical question. I asked them to really feel the answer to that question. Then, I announced that “we have brought expert bike technicians to put a wrench on every part of the bike to be sure they are perfect when they leave this building”. “Your job then is to build relationship with your customer. Find out where they are going to ride their new bike, who they are going to tell when they get home”.

After about 20 minutes with each other it was time to say goodbye and escort the kids and bikes out of the room with bikes to the technicians and kids back with Odyssey’s youth coordinator.

Back in the room with the Lucent participants, I introduced the YMCA coordinator who talked about how/why he chose these kids, what a bike means to them and more about the purpose of the YMCA and it’s importance in the community/world. Standing ovation.

Then I asked the group to get into their build teams (five) and talk about what they were feeling and how that feeling connects with who they are, what they do and where they are going.

Facilitation gets it’s origins from the Latin equivalent ‘to make easy’. My job was to make it easier for them to see all the connections between this activity and their business, their role, their leadership, their values, their products and their customers. Well, this activity made that easier than just about any experience I had ever given a group. When we opened up the conversation to the entire group – getting people to report out their observations, lessons, insights and take-aways, I was just blown away. Everyone in the room was. It was absolutely inspired and inspiring. They made connections that we could never have made for them. That’s the beauty of facilitating. They know far more about what they do than we do. Our job is to aim them in the right direction and listen and learn right alongside.

There are thousands of transformational observations and connections that people have made over the last 14 years of delivering this program to more than 80,000 participants around the world, delivering more than 16, 000 bicycles to underprivileged children. The main ones tend to revolve around:

— The power of purpose
— Knowing the Why of your actions and endeavors
— Putting quality into something the first time and committing to it
— Keeping the customer/end-user in mind more often – if not always
— Collaborate more, share knowledge, information and tools instead of being hyper-competitive
— Be less silo-minded, have an eye on the bigger picture
— Your actions MATTER
— Do more things that benefit the community!
— Demonstrate our/these values in all things and everywhere we go

For Jose Mejia and Lucent Technologies this was a catalyst – a starting point and tipping point in what would be over a billion dollars of savings to the organization through streamlined processes, shorter inventory turns, and more.

So now you know the secret. If you’ve not participated in Odyssey’s Life Cycles™ program, the original bicycle building program with the children bursting through the doors, the surprise element in advance for you is now gone. I use to worry about this and it brought us a great marketing conundrum. We are not so worried anymore. In the hundreds if not thousands of times we’ve delivered Life Cycles, we invariably have participants, VP’s, event planners and others that bring us in to work with other groups. These people know the surprise element and still find the emotional component and frequently say that it was better the second time through -that this time they were able to focus more on watching the dynamics of their team and connecting the Odyssey concepts more deeply. We, at Odyssey can relate. It still chokes me up one or more times during every program.

Prior to Life Cycles there was nothing that made a deliberate connection between training, teambuilding, philanthropy and community service. Especially in only four hours and all contained in the simple logistics of a conference or meeting room.

The word of mouth was rampant. The press loved it. It was an industry-changer for at least one industry, and it was a creator, or tipping point of an industry or it least phrase not yet born at the time. I’ll get to that in a minute.

The industry we changed with Life Cycles was the “Teambuilding” industry. Anyone who was providing anything under this umbrella started to hear about ‘the bike building program’. As they heard about the power of this experience from our raving participants, they heard about the most descriptive parts – the building of bicycles and donating them to underprivileged kids. Unfortunately, and shame on Odyssey, we didn’t send them off with an easy way to describe the process and context that gave so much life and relevance to the building of bikes and then giving them to children. So, the hapless “teambuilding” companies that diluted the power of the ropes course and other experiential mediums, began the easy task of offering their own ‘bike building’ program where you can build a bike for children.

While we are proud of the bar we have raised in the industry, we are sad to say that some of our colleagues have even tried to claim being the inventors of this program/process.

We realized early on that we were going to be copied. To heed this off, we looked at copyrighting the program and discussed with attorneys, who suggested wholeheartedly we do this. One good attorney and friend said that copyrighting it might not be too hard but the burden and cost of enforcing it is where the real issue was. We also realized that it would be out of our character to try to control or prevent companies and people from building bikes for children. So, we did the next best thing (in our minds and hearts), we put a note/invitation at the bottom of our website that we would train other teambuilding companies to run Life Cycles. A few of our closest allies did this, but dozens of other companies never even called. They just ran off to Wal-Mart, bought bikes and advertised their build-a-bike program and some made false claims to it’s origin.

Our fears were confirmed that the powerful process that came from years and years of our own experience, steeped in our bones, was being diluted into just an activity. Yes, probably better than any other ‘activity’ they offered or their participants had ever experienced – even without our process – but, really? Do the participants have to race the bikes? Is there no context or concepts to drive throughout, no debrief or deliberate transference? I suppose it was inevitable that Rolex and Odyssey would get knocked off. The broken law of morale commerce. So that’s my bitterness.

The sweet is still really sweet. Life Cycles changed the industry. The tens of thousands of people who have gone through this program have expected more of ‘team-building’. They now desire that the event coupled with their business meeting is not in vain, not just a decadent waste of money, a boondoggle or simply self-indulgent. They realized in the Life Cycles program what a massive difference that could be made with their heads, hands and hearts. Yes, the teambuilding industry changed. It responded with all kinds of new options, some really good, some really questionable. But it’s trying and mostly it is coming from a good place and good people.

The second industry that was created or at least hit its tipping point through Life Cycles was not even an industry when we started Life Cycles. As the wildfire spread about good deeds being done that make a difference in the community and for teams and organizations, a word was coined to describe it: CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility). Now, it’s a massive objective, recognized and adopted by most organizations and contributes billions of dollars to communities and projects around the world.

There is a problem though. I fear that it is not going to reach it’s potential for what good it can do. It has become a fad because too often the deeper value to the participants, the employees, is not there. They will donate and give their time but only up to the point where they see the connection to who they are, what they do and where they are going.

Already, we have organizations that are calling us that are just box-checkers. “We just want to do a CSR program”. “No, we don’t have time or need the other parts of the program. Can we just build the bikes and give them to kids? Can we just build the prosthetic hands, show the videos and be done? We only have one hour.”

The same companies that just wanted a “teambuilding activity” a decade ago are now calling us for this ‘activity’ so they can get their CSR event done.  The box checkers are going to kill the deeper value of CSR because they forget the shelf life of doing something for others is short-lived unless you can connect what it does for the success of those you are asking (or even requiring) to do CSR.

So here is Odyssey Teams, at that point of re-invention, again, pushing the envelope to create meaningful experiences for people that transform the way people show up for work. As long as there are genuine companies interested in this pursuit, we’ll keep inventing and challenging our industry to be better.


Bill John

Founder, President/CEO

Odyssey Teams, Inc.

What do bikes have to do with real business? Why build bikes for children? Why the big surprise? These are some of the common questions that we are asked during the planning phase of our Life Cycles (TM) bike and teambuilding program. The question is easily answered with one word…emotion. People learn when emotion is present. They are more receptive to feedback, open to self-examination, and willing to talk openly with co-workers.

Everyone remembers their first bike, so there is an instant connection to the value of the product being built. Due to the intrinsic value of the product, participants can easily assimilate the emotional connection of their everyday job to the value that this new product will bring to their “customer”. Like no other product, a bike creates a viable link to the real work that people do. When the children enter the room the product-to-market experience is complete – and the learning is abundant.

After the participants have built, customized and delivered the bikes to the children, the experience becomes less about the bikes and more about the lessons of the process. With their hearts open and endorphins pumping participants reflect on their communication, collaboration, and effectiveness with teammates. They are more willing to assess their level of commitment and attention to detail. They develop a deeper appreciation for their team and company and find new connections to the work they do and the customers they serve. This is not smoke and mirrors. It is a real-life experience that transforms a team building program into a profound and lasting encounter. Unlike any other “team building” experience, the Life Cycles program delivers.

I thought you would all get great pleasure out of this news – October 2010, which is not quite yet over, represents our biggest month ever in terms of sending out hands –
By the end of this month we will have sent the following LN-4’s out (actually, there are more that have been sent out as samples, but these numbers are for actual fittings);
Nepal: 20
India: 300
Equador: 200
Dominican Republic: 80
Total: 600
As I have mentioned before about inventory, once these things start to happen, this inventory can be depleted rather quickly. Also, Odyssey Teams has ordered another 2,000 kits to be assembled and paid for as a result of the Helping Hands program. This is truly amazing news on all fronts everyone.

More than a philanthropic deed. More than a team building process. More than just good corporate social responsibility.
Odyssey Teams’ Build-a-Hand teambuilding program is a radical re-examination of what work is and why we do it. Tried and tested by some of the world’s largest corporations, this philanthropic corporate training program is now available to companies of any size. It is a teambuilding idea whose time has come.
Build a prosthetic limb that will change the life of a land mine victim. Build a team that injects efficiency, innovation and spirit into the workplace. Build a more collaborative, caring and connected company.

When teams build bikes for kids, teams are brought together. Click here for more information on the original Life Cycles bicycle building teambuilding. Kids and bikes… bikes and kids, is there a better match than kids and bikes? Odyssey’s bike building, teambuilding program called Life Cycles is a great event to promote teamwork. Building bikes are a great way to build teams and work as a team. Walking into a room with kids and seeing the kids look at all the bikes in the room that are for each kid is a wonderful teambuilding experience. Kid’s light up when they see bikes. Teambuilding is great for the participants, especially when they are donating a bike to a kid. Building bikes takes teamwork. When building a bike that will be donated to a kid the teamwork is more effective and memorable. When kids walk in and see bikes and the groups that built the bike see the kids, smiles and tears are on every face. Build bikes for kids for better teamwork today.

Team building doesn’t always have to be focused solely on your team. That’s the philosophy we follow when it comes to our Helping Hands project, one of our many Give Back Activities.

During our helping hands program, you and your team will work on building an actual prosthetic hand, like the one show below from a variety of parts. Don’t worry, we will be there to help you along the way, and the kit even comes with instructions. We combine curriculum, activities and key note addresses with the cooperative problem-solving exercise of assembling these hands. You will have to work together to figure out build it most efficiently and effectively. And trust me, you’ll want to put in your best effort because this hand is going to be given to someone in a developing country who has lost their hand. Together, we can change the world.

"This is the most powerful customer service program I have ever attended."

James Terry - Sr. Leadership Team - Honeywell

Odyssey Teams

James Terry - Sr. Leadership Team - Honeywell

"This is the most powerful customer service program I have ever attended."

"Absolutely one of the best "training" events I have had in my career. I have already related the experience and lessons learned to numerous people, both internal and external at Qualcomm."

Ty Stewart - Qualcomm

Odyssey Teams

Ty Stewart - Qualcomm

"Absolutely one of the best "training" events I have had in my career. I have already related the experience and lessons learned to numerous people, both internal and external at Qualcomm."

"The entire room, including me, was in tears. It was just an awesome experience and all of the managers involved just loved it. I know it did a great thing for our company and the kids."

William Stanley - Neuroscience District Manager - Solvey Pharmaceuticals

Odyssey Teams

William Stanley - Neuroscience District Manager - Solvey Pharmaceuticals

"The entire room, including me, was in tears. It was just an awesome experience and all of the managers involved just loved it. I know it did a great thing for our company and the kids."

"The last couple of days were unforgettable, inspiring, and truly thought provoking."

Richard Cracraft - UCLA Executive MBA program

Odyssey Teams

Richard Cracraft - UCLA Executive MBA program

"The last couple of days were unforgettable, inspiring, and truly thought provoking."
Not sure what you’re looking for? We’d love to chat.
Contact Us