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Creating Great Programs, Scratching Our Noodles

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Sometimes, the best ideas are born from happy mistakes.  In life, in jazz, or in team building program creation, that one off-note may push you in a whole new direction.

For example, our Food Truck Challenge was conceived after I answered a wrong number.  My friend Karen was on the other line, but she had confused me with another Ryan, who happened to run a little food truck operation.

“Hey Ryan, it’s Karen.  How are you?”

“Awesome, Karen.  What’s up?

“Can you confirm those trucks for next Thursday by tonight?” she asked.

“Ummm…Karen?”

Of course, we figured it out and laughed, but the idea stuck in my head.  I went home and thought about how many Food Trucks I had seen in San Francisco and San Jose just that week.  Obviously, this was a trend that was already in full steam.

I called my partners with a concept, and they helped me tweak it and bring some order to my chaos (love partners who can do THAT!)  Soon, we had our first Food Truck Challenge booked for 225 people at the Dolce Hayes Mansion.

We try very hard to come up with unique, fun, and effective team building solutions.  Not every experience is good for every team, but we want to make sure that we have something in our cache that is a great fit.  So…

Creating is the name of the game.  Jay and I are constantly coming up with new ideas, based on our life experiences.  Sports, music, art, and other hobbies become the seeds of a new program.  We figure that if we are entertained, you will be, too.

However, we are adept at customizing and experience based on a theme that YOU create.  What moves you and your team?  What new projects, trends, or world events, are your water cooler conversations about?  We want to Build A Program for you.  That’s as much fun as it gets for us…collaboration is the key to heightened creativity.

So this all brings me to our new program.  It comes out next week, and it was inspired by a fairly common activity that we all share – partying like rock stars!  Sort of.

What ever could it be?  Stay tuned next week, and I will unleash the new program to the world.  Get your openers ready…

Carving Your Niche

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I love my job.  There…I said it!  I actually look forward to waking up every morning and learning, helping others, and going through the creative process of creating experiential programs for clients.  But it certainly hasn’t always been that way.

My resume looks like a Gypsy in a blender.  Suit sales, restaurants, paralegal, music performance and promotion, high school teacher, Director of sales and marketing, event planner, team builder…my Linkedin Profile is an ongoing joke.  Needless to say, not all of those stops along the way were Work Bliss.  In fact, some were like staring at the bottom of the abyss and wondering if there was another level below that!

As a founder at TeamBuilding ROI, my partners and I decided we’d had enough of that feeling.  While our job at the previous place we all worked together wasn’t horrible, it wasn’t satisfying to the degree that we wanted it to be.  In point of fact, even though we had a great deal of autonomy in our respective roles, it wasn’t ours.  I needed my own thing; risk vs. reward and all of that.

What happened 3 years ago was a leap of faith.  However, I was willing to bet on myself.  I was confident that if I focused on the things I love to do, namely educate, entertain, and promote, that all would be for the best.  My niche needed to be MY NICHE!  I had a plan, partners with which I could share responsibilities, and a goal of going to work every day with a smile and the energy to make that extra phone call, write that extra blog, send that extra email.

The road has been rough.  Mistakes were made, some costly both personally and professionally.  However, as the Chief People Person, I get to do exactly what I want to do…namely, BE ME!  That’s my niche…and I am very thankful to be able to do just that.

 

My Band, My Team, My Story

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I grew up addicted to team sports…Watching them, playing them, and obsessing over statistics and standings.  I learned to read by scouring the sports section of the LA Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (RIP…the print version, anyway.)

My neighborhood was populated by about 15 kids that were within 3 years of each other.  And DAMN if there weren’t some great athletes in the mix.  One of them was a 2-time Washington State Player of the Year in basketball, another (who was only there a short time) ended up in the NBA, and my next door neighbor was a top 3 state finalist wrestler.  We also had phenomenal golfers, baseball players, and more.

Needless to say, our neighborhood pickup games were competitive.  Sometimes, ridiculously so.  As I got older, no matter how good I became in my chosen sports of basketball and baseball, it was painfully apparent that I wasn’t going to the NBA or the Major Leagues.  I was “5 foot nothing, a hundred and nothing…” and destined for a different path.

So I discovered music as a way to create, and yes, compete in a team environment.  When I heard Eddie Van Halen rip the solo “Eruption,” I said to myself, “I can do THAT!”  And many years later…I could!  Yes, small hands are bad for hoops and guitars, but I quickly overcame that in both disciplines to become a proficient player.

But music was limiting when I was simply sitting on my bed learning chords and scales.  Something was missing…and I quickly realized what it was.  I needed to Share, Collaborate, and work as a Team, just as I had in sports.  So I joined a band in high school…we were known as the Green T’s (ha ha), and while John and Tom and Lenny were pretty good, I was relegated to lead singer status, and I was AWFUL.

As the years went by, I formed my own band and called it “Little King,” which is “Ryan” translated from Gaelic.  As I began to write songs, I found that they never felt right until they passed through the hands of other capable musicians.  So writing became something of a team sport, but that wasn’t where the real feeling of team came together.  That was reserved for the stage!

When you play with the same guys for awhile, the silent communication becomes a thing of beauty.  I watch bands like Rush (who have played for 40 years together), and the way they navigate through improv and rehearsed crazy time signatures, stops and starts, and other rhythmic gymnastics is the perfect metaphor for the office or the playing field.  Like an old married couple, a band on stage can feel and anticipate each others’ moves.  They can step back or take the lead, they work to enhance each others’ parts, and they are all slave to the song, which is what people really remember anyway.

TeamBuilding ROI has a program that brings teams together called Group Harmonies.  The goal is to write a song and record it within the allotted time.  We quickly split you up into smaller units, and each sub-group may be responsible for music, lyrics, artwork, production, or project management.  We bring the session musicians and the mobile recording equipment to you, and it is virtually silent, as teams record directly into the console.  It is intense, creative, and collaborative…and so much fun.  You can even upload the song to iTunes when it is done and donate the proceeds to charity!

I still make music under the Little King banner (shameless plug…my 5th little release, “OD1,” comes out this week!)  It is sometimes a solo project, as I write, sing, play guitar, and produce, but it is never a “thing” until it passes through the hands of far more capable musicians than me.

It’s not dunking in the lane over 2 guys, but it will have to suffice!

Choosing a Great Team Building Venue

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As a member of the San Francisco Bay events community, I am privileged to work at some of the finest hospitality venues in the world.

Our diverse landscape includes world-class hotels, resorts, wineries, parks, and event centers that are virtually unmatched in terms of their amenities and physical beauty.  With the confluence of so much high-level corporate business happening within 15 minutes of our office in San Jose, the competition for your all-hands meeting or 5 day retreat is fierce. When you add in our team building services (and we really hope that you do), you have the makings of a logistical situation that bears careful examination.

With so many options at your disposal, choosing the best venue for your team building event can be a daunting task.  Some important things to consider when choosing your venue (in no particular order) are:
1. Proximity to your office (location location location)
2. Budgetary constraints
3. Room availability
4. Food and beverage
5. Available space for team building

Obviously, one size does NOT fit all!  Do you have additional audio visual needs?  Are you wrapping your week with a party at the end that needs large ballroom space?  Does your group like to venture out on foot in the evening?  Do you want a large outdoor space for your activities?

Fortunately, TeamBuilding ROI can help!  We have been to so many wonderful venues from Napa to Monterey and beyond, and having worked closely with the staff at these places, we feel very comfortable recommending a venue to you after we do a little needs-assessment with you.  It doesn’t cost extra for us to do ground-work for you…it’s just part of our Commitment to Customer Service.  We want you to be successful, and if our expertise can help that along, then we are all-in.

Take some time and decide what is important to you when choosing your next meeting venue, and then let us help you dial in the best fit.  You will be glad you did!

NCAA Final Four = Team Building Success!

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As a lifelong athlete and somewhat obsessive sports fan, I am always fascinated with the NCAA tournament.  This year, like most, has been an amazing collection of twists and turns and Cinderella stories.

I went to the University of Arizona for a couple years, so that really is the team I follow the most.  Unfortunately, they lost in overtime to Wisconsin in one of the best college basketball games I have ever seen.  For those who aren’t so into it, the Final Four teams play next weekend in Texas to determine the national championship.  Those teams include Florida, UConn, Wisconsin, and Kentucky.

Watching Kentucky win a thriller over Michigan last night, I was struck by the parallels between what TeamBuilding ROI does and what these college coaches do.  In particular, the coach at Kentucky, John Calipari, is a team builder in the truest and  purest sense of the term.

The rules in College and the NBA dictate that a player may no longer go directly from high school into the pros.  He must spend at least one year in college before making the leap to the NBA, regardless of what the demand might be for his talents.  This is an interesting “right-to-work” discussion (How can you deny someone the right to pursue their career by a year?), but that is not the purpose of this blog.

Coach Calipari has unabashedly embraced the notion of taking NBA-level talent that cannot yet go to the next level and making them into a team.  They call this the “One And Done” philosophy of recruiting, as most Kentucky Freshmen stay there one year and try the luck in the NBA when they are done.

There are pros and cons to Calipari’s approach, to be sure.  He recruits some of the best players in the country to come there, but he really only has one season with them.  So watching him mold 18 year old kids over the course of 6 months into a cohesive unit is amazing.  He takes athletes that come from environments where they are clearly THE MAN and teaches them to defer, be team players, not worry about getting their points, and they thrive at KU.

Yes, Calipari has a somewhat dubious past in terms of recruiting violations, etc.  But you cannot deny the remarkable job he does within a very unique situation.  I watched KU play back in November, and while they had obvious talent, they were a mess.  Now, 4 months later, they are clearly firing on all cylinders.  They share responsibilities, pick each other up, play amazing team defense, and trust each other.  Sound like familiar tenets?  It’s team building, folks!

I will be watching along with millions of others next weekend.  Here’s to the best sporting event of the year!  Watch KU…they may not win it all, but they are a phenomenal example of what a team can do through hard work, sacrifice, and trust.  Swish!!!

Your Legacy at Work

On March 21, my oldest surviving relative, Albert Schwartz, passed away. He was 94.

Albert leaves behind a legacy that is unique and inspiring. As a Jew during World War II, he helped liberate concentration camps while having to hide his religious heritage for fear of being captured and immediately executed.  He also led the fight in 1962 to make El Paso, TX the first desegregated city in a former confederate state.  Needless to say, he was a brave and brash man who took risks.

But there was another side to Albert.  He owned 4 department stores called The Popular Dry Goods with his family in El Paso.  He was the President of the company and, in the words of his surviving niece, “the heart of the store.”

Albert was quite literally loved by his 4,000 employees (his nickname was “Sunshine.”)  In the wake of his death, the prolific outpouring of testimonials from the employees whose lives he affected has been dramatic.  For over 40 years, Albert trained his staff in the “Popular Way,” which basically means going the extra mile to make sure the customer could not receive finer treatment anywhere in the world.

He also gave me my first job, at age 20, selling suits at the Popular.  I learned so much at such a young age, and while I was probably grossly unqualified to be doing what I was doing, he believed in me.  I soon led the department in sales, and I think he was proud of that.

Ultimately, though, I was fired for reasons that were legitimate and just.  I BLEW it; it was one of the worst days of my life.  This man who I respected and owed a great deal to was going to be very disappointed in me.  However, he showed me the same kindness and compassion that he always did with everyone.  It was truly inspiring then, and it still inspires me 22 years later.

Albert Schwartz was, in every sense of the word, a GREAT man. When he left this realm, a unique void was created that will never be filled. I didn’t know him that well, as we drifted apart over the years as he got older and I left Texas for greener pastures. But I, and the rest of El Paso, were blessed to have benefited from his kindness and wisdom.

What is your legacy?  What are you leaving behind when you shut the doors, turn off your computer, and head home?  If it was your last day, what would your co-workers, employees, and customers say about you?

Here is the link to Albert’s obituary: http://forward.com/articles/195148/albert-schwartz-texan-veteran-who-fought-for-civil/?

Rest in peace, Opa.

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Dad…what do you DO?

My kids are curious about everything.  Always have been, probably always will be.  Intellectual curiosity is certainly something I was taught to value, so I have generally tried to instill the same thing in my children.  So, when I started TeamBuilding ROI with a couple friends in 2011, they asked me: “What do you DO for a living?”

The short answer was (and is) that I help people work together and find common ground, away from the office.  But do I really?  I mean, that sounds really high-minded and important, but it doesn’t necessarily fit the vision I had as a kid of how I was going to “Make a Difference.”  “Change the World.”  “Be a Rock Star.”

TBROI believes that we make a difference in the lives of our clients.  We work hard at it, and we love what we do, and I think that shows through.  Retention as a bi-product of Experiential Learning is rooted in having fun, too, so we always make it cool and interesting and, yes, FUN.

But…does it work?  We try to measure the ROI of team building by the feedback from our clients, which (blessedly) has been almost uniformly positive.

One of my favorite lines when I debrief is “We aren’t arrogant enough to pretend that we are going to change the face of your organization in 2 hours.”  However, what I should say is that we ARE arrogant enough to believe that we provide a ton of opportunities for that particular part to change their own organization, one experience at a time.

It is true and obvious that walking on 4-person skis across a field is only a loose metaphor for working together on a project at work.  But when the participants take the lead in tying all of our activities back to their own workplace, essentially we have done our job.

We tweak your brain, see!  But when we tweak it, and then we talk about it, it is up to you to take it back to the office and find the right moment to apply that principle.

Tolerance, Active Empathy, Patience, Creativity, Self-Awareness.  TeamBuilding ROI has the games to focus on all of these things.  Your intellectual curiosity and willingness to change your mindset are the things that allow us to be successful.  It’s all about you!

Now try explaining THAT to a 7-year old.

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