Go Hunting For a Better Team

By Malcolm Fleschner

It’s one thing to build an effective selling team and quite another to create a sales organization that sells effectively as a team. Many companies are incorporating team-building exercises into their meeting or incentive trip schedules to help generate the sense of camaraderie, unity of purpose and group problem-solving abilities the best teams demonstrate.

One of the best such exercises, says David Blum, founder of Dr. Clue, a San Francisco-based team-building company, is a treasure hunt. With a little creativity and effort, he says, treasure hunts can focus on specific, practical, bottom-line business purposes that also force participants to brainstorm and problem solve together as they go.

Put simply, a team-building treasure hunt consists of a series of tricky, puzzling riddles and clues that lead to mystery locations determined by the hunt master. The clues are what make the treasure hunt work. They should pique participants’ interest, keep players guessing and require patient, team-oriented problem solving. Clues also should be fair and solvable, but challenging enough that the entire team’s expertise is needed to crack the code.

Blum breaks down clues into three types – trivia; coordinated action, which relies on cooperation and configuration; and puzzles and code. Here are some examples of each.

For a hunt in San Francisco’s historic North Beach neighborhood, one clue read: Peter Falk, walking down the street, Madame Butterfly’s composer he did meet. Around the corner, an East Bay town is full of trees, so you’d better look down. In memory of Carl and Gladys ___________”

The answer: Peter Falk was famous for playing Lt. Columbo on television, so participants deduced that they should begin on the main North Beach thoroughfare, Columbus Avenue. Puccini composed Madame Butterfly, so teams looked for the Puccini Café on the corner of Vallejo (a town in East Bay). From there, players searched around the corner and under a tree, where they found a plaque dedicated to Carl and Gladys Skelley. Therefore, the answer to the clue was Skelley.

Coordinated Action
For a treasure hunt at an aquarium, a clue asked players to count the number of California Barracuda in a giant circular tank. With 10 different kinds of fish swimming in different directions at different speeds, this was a challenging task. Teams had to determine the best approach. Should one person stand in the middle and count? Should team members each take an individual fish and walk along the side of the tank with them?

Puzzles and Code
For a hunt in New Orleans’ French Quarter, teams were given a clue that read: Two streets meet, one has .- .-. – in its center, the other has .-.. .. -. . Teams had to figure out that the clues were in Morse code and then decipher the coded parts, which were ART and LINE. This led them to the French Quarter intersection of Chartres and Ursulines.

So how do these types of clues help build teamwork? Blum says good trivia clues tap into participants’ diverse knowledge bases. As a result, team members learn about one another’s strengths, something that can come in awfully handy when a tough problem arises in the workplace.

After teams solve a coordinated action clue, Blum says groups should discuss how they arrived at their strategy for solving the problem. Debrief on the best methods for the teams to determine the proper course of action for a given challenge.

For puzzle clues, Blum offers the following discussion questions for enhancing team building potential:

  • How did you feel when you were faced with this puzzle?
  • How do you deal with feeling confused?
  • How did you feel when your teammate – and not you – managed to crack the code?

In the end, Blum says, treasure hunts demonstrate how teams of people, working together, can accomplish more than any one person can alone. And, he adds, they’re a lot more fun that going it alone.

For more information on team building and treasure hunt development, visit www.drclue.com or call 415-566-3905.