Organizing usual parties after working hours, however fun, might not be a solution to this problem - in big groups it’s almost certain that people will divide into smaller circles. There is also a possibility that they will mainly talk within their own teams. But there are no problems that can’t be fixed with a sprinkle of creativity!
At this moment our software house has more than 50 employees, while 15 people joined us during 2016. If you know Merixstudio even a little bit, then you know that we are quite fond of integration in various forms. But even for us, it was simply impossible to assure that everyone talks to each other during our monthly outings. People obviously mingle, but you would have to make a real effort to know everyone on a level that’s deeper than only remembering names.
Together with Anita and Maciek, we decided it’s time to do something about it. That’s why we created our own game, which was inspired by escape rooms and traditional team building exercises.
As I organize our integration, I knew that people were interested in visiting an escape room. Unfortunately there’s yet to be created a place where 50 people can simultaneously play. We could’ve go and play in turns, but nobody likes waiting... ;) However, if there’s a will, there’s a way, so with a little bit of imagination (and a big amount of work) we were able to solve this problem.
From escape rooms we took the format - looking for clues and solving puzzles in the shortest time possible. But to make the game more integrational and useful, we personalized it and created in such a way that cooperation and knowledge about the company were crucial to winning.
As creators of the game, we also divided people into teams, thanks to what we were able to match them when it comes to their knowledge about Merixstudio, seniority in our company, character, and level of familiarity. Thanks to that we were able not only to make the game fair but also allow players to get to know each other in a fun environment.
Creating the game
First thing first - where are you going to create such a game? If you find yourself in the need of integrating a big group of coworkers, then you probably have quite a big office. Take advantage of that! Our office not only has three floors, but is also filled with various nooks and crannies, what is ideal for such a game.
When you know where people are going to play, then it’s time to think how they are going to do it. We decided that our game is going to take an hour during work (it was, of course, additional to a lunch break!). And I might sound a bit like a square, but talk it through with your bosses before you start blabbing to everyone. 60 minutes of shenanigans during work seems not to be a big of a deal, but multiply it fifty times and you will get a lot of unproductive hours (less productivity = less money). Luckily we were given a green light to our idea - you can’t put a price tag on integrating employees (well, you can, but you catch my drift).
Right now we have an idea, a place, and permission. Now it’s time to see if there’s a will! We explained the rules and asked people if they want to participate. We hoped that people would like it, but we were surprised that almost everyone wanted to join in on the fun. It seemed a bit scary because more people means more preparations, but we got down to work nonetheless!
It left us nothing more to do than create puzzles. We browsed through some inspo on the Internet, but not wanted to use something that was done before. We decided to create around six individual puzzles per game, with each game being different than the other ones. That’s why even if you saw your competitors solving something, it wouldn’t help you win.
When it comes to the content of our puzzles, we created short rhymes (and believe me, we won’t receive Nobel Prize in Literature for them!) which touched on the various aspects of our office life. Various art hanging on the walls, as well as personal knick-knacks of our coworkers, allowed us to test everyone on how well they know their surroundings. Here’s an example of the puzzle that one of the teams received at the very beginning of the game:
Bill teaches us English but also trains Kozły
In the sport that's the most popular in the USA.
There you will find a gadget that protects Grandpa's head.
* the used version was written in Polish and I swear, it rhythmed ;)
Explanation: Bill is our English teacher, but he also works as a coach of Kozły Poznań, the American football team from Poznań. Add to it the second part of a puzzle - one of our colleagues (with a nickname Grandpa) every day wears a helmet during his bike rides to work. Conclusion - you have to look for an American football helmet. However, the trick is to realize that it was not about a physical object, but about a poster in one of our conference rooms, where the next clue is hidden!
Our puzzles were mostly created, so people had to visit various floors and rooms of our building. Some clues were hidden behind posters, some were in a plain sight but required using a UV ink that had to be found on previous stops of the game. There even was a clue hidden in a freezer! I have to say that coming up with ideas was a lot of fun. We used a lot of inside jokes that only our employees know. I consider it being a consolation prize for not being able to play ourselves. ;)
While creating the game, you will have to divide people into teams and set dates for their games. As you know, planning anything can be a little tricky when it comes to choosing a date that everyone is going to agree with. However, there is nothing Google Drive cannot do! ;) Just choose a time (in our case it was a cowboy-like noon), create a shared document and allow people to choose from a lot of various dates. But do it in advance - when you give people a week or two ahead, then I guarantee that you will solve this organizational problem in no time. :)
You also have to be ready to stay a bit longer after hours a day before each game if you don’t want to sneakily hide clues when everyone around you is working. An example of that was when we had to hide one puzzle in our (inactive!) fireplace. Rummaging in it next to ten Project Managers would spoil the fun and led the players straight to the win, therefore we had to do it when everyone went home.
At this point the clues are created, people are divided into teams, dates are set, and clues are hidden. All that is left to do is play! Remember about once again explaining the rules at the beginning of each game and describe what it would take to win. In our case the most crucial factor was time - players had to get to the finish line as fast as possible. Every team had the same last task - to send an email with a secret password. This way we were able to determine a winner without any problems. But you can obviously make your game different than ours - maybe your teams are going to solve as many puzzles as possible in half an hour? Sky’s the limit here!
Was it worth it?
The big part of our initial idea was the fact that each time one player was wearing a sports camera. Thanks to that we not only were able to create a video summary of the game but also had a footage that showed us how each person works within the group. In almost every instance we were able to see who automatically acted as a leader, how teams handled stressful situations (such as being unable to solve a puzzle with the time running out). Great way of playing a Big Brother, right? ;) But, on a serious note, the gathered footage was great when it comes to our HR. It showed us what can be improved in our company, what works best for individual people, and how we can make our internal cooperation easier.
The goal that I mentioned in the introduction of my article was to integrate people that might’ve not had a lot of occasions to talk. On the gathered footage we saw different approaches to given tasks. Some contestants were prone to scattering all over the office to maximize their chance to win, while others moved around in one big group. But in each case, we saw people working together, interacting, and simply having quite a good time. They were somewhat forced to exchange ideas, thanks to what at the end they seemed to really click. With that I consider our goal achieved. Anita, Maciek, we did well! :)