Monday, May 4, 2009 by Dave Blum

It seems like whenever I’m talking on the phone with prospective client about my company’s corporate scavenger hunts, the same question inevitably arises:

“Should we give prizes and awards?”

I think the better question should be:

“Should we encourage or dis-encourage the release of adrenaline?”

Because the scarcity aspect of prizes inevitably cranks up the adrenaline of a crowd.

Now don’t get me wrong; a well-placed adrenaline-release can have its place.  If your goal is to raise your group’s energy level both quickly and dramatically, then promising prizes to the winners of an office team building activity can be one of the fastest ways to achieve this.  The potential downside, however, of” incentivizing” your activity with prizes is that you open the door for competitive banter, ie. “We are the winners; you’re all “L-O-S-E-R-S!  We’re going to kick you’re a****!”  For some, this kind of verbal repartee during a corporate team challenge is exciting and stimulating—it’s all in “good fun”, after all.  For others, though, such teasing and taunting may feel a lot like conflict—ugly, mean spirited and aggressive.  Clearly you have to know the nature of your group, and its tolerance for the kind of dialogue that tends to accompany prize-driven competition.

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Is there another way to release group adrenaline without setting up the game as an opposition of teams? I think so—but it takes a shift in approach.  Consider how differently your “fun” corporate team building activity might run if you framed it this way:

“Today, folks, there will be NO prizes. However, I will tell you this: during all my years running this game, only two teams have ever gotten an 80% score and only one team has ever managed to achieve a 90%.  I challenge you to meet and surpass the scores of previous teams and get a 100%, without running over the deadline.”
I tried this approach for the first time about six years ago (during a business team building exercise) and was stunned by the result – participants generated as much adrenaline from the activity as they did when there were prizes involved, WITHOUT the concomitant teasing and bantering.  In other words, trying to meet a declared standard or milestone was JUST as motivating as the promise of awards and prizes—WITHOUT the divisive aspects of cut-throat competition.

Tomorrow I’ll tell you about a scavenger hunt I ran over this past weekend that offered neither standards nor prizes…without adrenaline and still went beautifully.   Stay tuned.

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