A wise man once said, “What’s the single most important thing for a company? Is it the building? Is it the stock? Is it the turnover? It’s the people, investment in people.” For all David Brent’s cringeworthy ineptitude and questionable logic, this seems to be a point on which most successful MDs in Scotland would agree. Modern business theory realises that, in the same way as it is thought that milk from a happy cow tastes better, a comfortable employee will produce higher quality and innovative work. Poetry is rarely composed at gunpoint, and a stress-free environment is generally accepted as the most positive environment in which to produce good work. One way to establish a relaxed workforce is by building stronger relationships with and between staff, and with this in mind companies are turning to corporate team building events.
The old proverb that warns against mixing business with pleasure has been confined to the shredder, and corporate events are now as prominent a feature on the office calendar as project deadlines and meetings. In the last few years specialist companies have emerged to accommodate these demands, offering anything from 4x4 driving, clay shooting, golf and spa days to the more adventurous Art Deco murder mysteries, spy days and laughter classes. Joan Morgan of Edinburgh-based After Hours realises that clients want variety and choice and is happy to tailor events to specific needs. She says: “We work harder behind the scenes for our customers and so no two events are ever the same.” After Hours recently hosted a M*A*S*H-style team building event for a company of 150. After Hours prides itself on the ability to think creatively and offer something different or, as Morgan puts it, “put a twist into things”.
The Edinburgh branch of media buying agency MediaCom is all too aware of the rewards gained from treating staff. MD Euan Jarvie says: “This weekend we’re taking our staff away to a country house in Perthshire. On the first evening the directors will have to cook a meal for all 23 staff, but on the second night everyone will be cramming into the kitchen to make a meal together. It’s good for the team to do something really practical and immediate together. If they want to eat that night they’ll have to complete the challenge.” Fellow director David Shearer agrees. “This office is really personal. There is more to a working day than sitting in front of a computer screen. We all help one another out.”
For staff without the culinary skills of MediaCom there are less hands-on ways of staff bonding. Wine master and columnist for the Scotsman Rose Murray Brown hosts Fine Wine Evenings around Scotland, which have the benefit of being intimate and informative. The evening opens with a champagne reception, followed by a four-course meal with a pause in between courses where Murray Brown tells the diners a bit about the wine she has selected to accompany each dish. Another benefit of this type of event is that it involves alcohol, a potion renowned worldwide for its relaxing properties and effect of drowning all inhibition.
Corporate events are also commonly used as valuable marketing tools in wooing potential clients. Previous posts of Joan Serafini, MD of Glasgow-based Equator Events, include private secretary to First Ministers Henry McLeish and Jack McConnell, and she is all too aware that image is everything. She says: “We aim to create the best possible front for our clients.” Many businesses still prefer the more traditional champagne reception followed by a meal, but there are plenty of alternatives on offer. There are companies that specialise in celebrity guest speakers and it is possible to have anyone from Graham Norton to Terry Waite at an event. After Hours seeks to create “a night to remember” but other options include the lower key specialist VIP breaks offered by Equator Events.
MediaCom only holds corporate events for long-term, established customers. Director David Shearer says, “I prefer a more natural relationship with clients. Attempting to court new business with elaborate events can sometimes be transparent. The work should speak for itself.” Morgan of After Hours disagrees with this mode of thinking. She comments: “If people are talking about your company event, essentially they are talking about your business.”
One company that recently used the corporate event as a means of gaining wider attention was computer games company THQ. Events organiser Chilli Sauce was appointed, with the task of creating an event that would complement a new computer game that the company was launching. The event (comprising themed games with demonstrations and related activities) was a success, resulting in much media interest. William Bicknell of Chilli Sauce says, “The business benefits of such an event are huge.”
From playing at James Bond with your boss to skydiving with potential clients, one wonders if all this is a bit much for us reserved Brits. For the office wallflower, the idea of “relaxing” with a team improvisation game could prove more stressful than beneficial. What’s wrong with a good old-fashioned trip to the pub? There’s the danger that using events to court potential business could detract focus away from the actual product or service on offer, and surely a quality product doesn’t need dressing up with champagne and balloons? This new style of exchange could also put undue pressure on MDs to be social animals as well as competent and skilled figureheads. Whatever the downfalls of corporate events, companies working on a more personal level has to be a positive thing. If it makes the office a better and more productive place to be, it has to be good for business.