Over the years, I have taken my teams to, participated or heard of various kinds of team morale events, including: bowling, whirlyball, movie, scavenger hunt, boat chartering, go kart, curling, indoor skiing, day of caring, iron chef, family fun center, pool/billiards, laser tag, kara ok, …
But not all of them are good for a team morale event. Here is how I define “good”:
1. Easier to blend people
Team morale event is a great place for team members to get known with others who they didn’t get chance to work closely before. However, people naturally tend to hang out with people they are familiar with, since it’s their comfort zone, and stay there. It’s more of a concern for software companies, because lots of the engineers are introvert and passive in social. So a good morale event must make it easier and more natural for engineers to switch group.
In bowling, each lane goes on different pace. There is hardly a good timing when two lanes both have finished at the same time to swap people. Plus, someone may hesitate to join the big boss’ lane, as they don’t want to be interpreted as an ass-kisser. Scavenger hunt isn’t good either: we get split into teams and stay with our own team through out the whole hunt.
In whirlyball and curling, switching group is less awkward and less likely to get overly interpreted. People can switch sides before/after a game.
In the day of caring event, introvert people can switch group easily and naturally, too. People in the upstairs room shouted “we need someone to help move the furniture” and a big guy put down his yard work and came to help.
2. Not something that I can do myself
When I choose morale event idea, I prefer things that I can’t do myself, due to reasons like affordability, the requirement of minimum number of people, etc.
For example, I can’t do these myself and hence they are better choice for team morale events:
- Curling: it takes 8 people (4v4)
- Whirlyball: it’s usually 5v5 or 6v6
- Scavenger Hunt: it’s best for 20-30 people
- Go Kart: the more people the more fun. With 10 or 12 karts on the track, there are a lot of bumping, passing and laughing.
- Boat chartering: a family’s budget can only get a much smaller boat.
Bowling, movie and family fun center are something I can do with my family during weekends. So they are less preferable as team morale events.
3. Doesn’t need a lot of practice
Pool and bowling aren’t good for morale event because it takes quite some practice to perfect the skills in order to truly enjoy the game. It’s no fun if my bowling ball always falls into the ditch. Plus, between a newbie and who had played pool/bowling a lot, the skill gap is hard to close in an hour or two. Pool and bowling are only more enjoyable when the players’ skills are nearly level.
Curling is better. Although to perfect in curling it also takes a lot of practice, few of us in software companies had played it a lot before. Most of us are at beginner level. Same to the Go Kart. Few of us are pro racer and everybody can push the gas and brake and steer.
Day of Caring is even better. I learned useful skills in volunteer work. Last time my team was helping an assisted living place. We were cleaning up the yard and also the interior. I painted the walls, which I never did before. I learned some tips from others and now I feel more confident to paint my own place (maybe starting from the garage).
4. Sense of achievement and shared memory
There was very strong sense of achievement in the day of caring event: before we came, the place was in a poor state. Painting has peeled. Weeds were tall. Walkway was muddy. We painted the walls, cut the weeds and bushes and pave the walkway with gravels. When we left, the place looked much nicer. Being able to make a dramatic change in a day, it feels good. Plus, it was something that “we did together”. Such memory creates a good bond between the team members.
5. Not cause to feel intellectually inferior
Most of the morale event types that involve competition, including whirley ball, curling, go karting, bowling, etc., are physical competitions.
But scavenger hunt is more of an intellectual competition: you need to solve puzzles, think of ways to workaround road blockers, etc.. Losing teams feel they are less smart and less good at problem solving. That hurts our ego because we software engineers are intellectual workers. We are proud of our intellectual horsepower and problem solving skills which is what it takes to pass the interview and get our job.
So I would avoid any morale event types that are intellectual competition.
6. No individual ranking
In events like Go Kart, everybody gets a score. Your score is higher than my score. Mine is higher than his. Haven’t we had enough of such in office already: everyone get a number each year; your number is better than my number, so you get more bonus than I do and you get promo while I don’t. We have all been sick of ranking in office. Better not have another ranking when we have fun.
Based on the above six criteria, here is how these morale event ideas score (if ‘x’ is 0, ‘v’ is 1 and ‘+’ is 2). Not surprisingly, bowling is the worst.