Monday, 27 March 2017

We love unusual briefs!

By Mark Kingston Jones

Nothing beats a good brief, they give more room for manoeuvre than you would think, and inspire activities we have never tried before!

This month we completed a workshop for Brakes, with one of the most comprehensive briefs we have ever received. During the planning stages I went for a meeting at Port Lympne Hotel with Trevor and Trudi from the company, who explained they had done a lot of team activities previously and that they had a group of 16 people who worked in two separate offices, now working under one manager. The aim from this event was to increase the connections between these two offices and help unite them as one.

Meeting this brief may seem pretty straightforward, but the issue here is human psychology. If we were to put 16 people to a task working together, they would naturally split up into the subgroups they felt most comfortable with, which was the exact opposite of what we wanted to happen. Our initial stage then was to split the group into two, with the two offices being equally mixed together. This would allow people to interact with their colleagues they did not often get the chance to work with directly. This did not go far enough in meeting the brief however, as the aim for the day was to have everyone working together, and again, when it comes to splitting people into teams, whether they are supposed to or not, competition starts to develop. This would certainly have met the brief in one way, making stronger connections between those individuals, but it did not go far enough for us, or Trevor. We therefore needed to provide an objective where both teams, working within and between each other, had to meet a combined final goal, and we had a whole day within which to make this happen – oh and it was March so we had to be prepared for bad weather…
Enter the ‘Monkey Boot Camp’ experiment! The idea came about because the Aspinall Foundation, which works with Howletts and Port Lympne, has several reintroduction projects taking place, sending animals from their Kent Parks out to their native homeland to attempt to release them into the wild and improve the genetics of the shrinking wild populations. We knew of a group of monkeys that were due to be sent to Indonesia that were housed in a large, roughly rectangular enclosure, with good access for taking items in and out. We came up with a plan to split the enclosure into two halves and give the teams the challenge of creating a free-standing obstacle course, which would test and help improve the primates balance and coordination, prior to release. The two groups would have to work independently, but must link their two courses up convincingly, and safely, at two or three points in the enclosure. This could be built in Port Lympne’s spacious ‘Aspinall Suite’ to ensure weather was not an issue, and then we could transfer their items to the enclosure at the end of the challenge, while the group enjoyed a well-earned afternoon tea.

Working with animals can be unpredictable however, and timing is everything. Unfortunately for us, our timing was out and the Javan langurs in that enclosure were sent to the field site about two months before we were due to work in there, meaning the enclosure would be empty, and we really wanted the group to see the animal’s initial responses to their hard work. Luckily for us after discussing the idea with the Head Keeper Jamie, he found us an alternative enclosure to work in. It was definitely not a straightforward rectangle however, and the access was not so easy. This was not a problem for the group, as it only increased their challenge, but it did make life trickier for us, as Chris had suggested early on, rather than getting them to work from paper schematics, that we could create a full size layout of the enclosure in the room we would be working in. Cue, several hours of measuring, and us laying out paper plates as telegraph poles, and variously coloured electrical tape to outline the zones the different teams could and could not work in.

The event itself went perfectly, Chris and I love people watching and to see the two groups work independently and then come together trying to communicate their plans and ideas through several different methods, aided by the fact they were standing in the measurements of the enclosure was fantastic. As often happens the two groups utilized different means to make their plans and then had to bring these back together in order to explain to each other what they hoped to achieve, and then to us and Jamie so that we were also signed off on the ideas. The whole design phase took almost two hours, leaving about three hours for construction. It was fantastic to see the groups working within themselves, and towards the end, both groups joined forces to make sure all items were finished and ready for collection. 

The group managed to produce so much that is was a little tight getting everything in place before we brought them down to the enclosure, but as we watched the 3 mangabeys began to explore their new equipment and the keepers have observed them on it multiple times since. An absolutely incredible job by the participants!!

'FANTASTIC !! Over the years I have done a huge amount of team building activities but this beats them all by a million miles' Debbie C, 5/5 stars.

The feedback following this event has been overwhelming, especially as we know they have all done a lot of other team building events previously, so why not give us a call with your unusual briefs and see if we can’t give you the best team event you have ever experienced!

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