Higher stress creates greater need for team building

By Christina Olenchek, staff writer

In late June, the employees of a Mechanicsburg technology firm used items such as rubber duckies, eight-track tapes and candy canes to build a greater sense of teamwork.

Several groups of IntelliMark employees scoured the area for these and other wacky objects during a five-day scavenger hunt. The winning team was given $200 and the whole company got a boost in morale, said Susan Graham, IntelliMark’s manager of recruiting and retention.

Many companies might be tempted to cut team-building activities as the economic slowdown continues. But IntelliMark is one of several local companies that is keeping, changing, or even adding activities to combat stress brought on by everything from sluggish sales to uncertainty about world events.

“It’s worth the investment 10 times over,” Graham said of her company’s team-building efforts.

Keller-Brown Insurance Services traditionally has a summer sales campaign that offers bonuses if goals for new business sales are met. But employees are dealing with a lot of stress this year because of rising insurance prices and the task of explaining these increases to frustrated customers, said Joy Keller-Brown, president of the York County company.

Keller-Brown decided to change the campaign this year so it did not focus as much on new business. Instead, it high-lighted employees’ service to each other, to company partners, and to clients. Employees are building a “brick wall” around a poster of the insurance company’s building in Shrewsbury. Each “brick” is a piece of paper on which a message can be written in honor of an employee. If the agency’s new business goals are met and all 104 bricks of the wall are in place by August 31, employees will be treated to lunch and a massage at a spa.

“Anything you can to do uplift people is important, especially in these times,” Keller-Brown said.

Camp Hill-based JFC Staffing Associates started a series of focus groups this year to bring together employees from its different offices and divisions, said James Carchidi, accounting recruiter for JFC’s Pro Temps division. The employees get a confidence boost from interacting and sharing their success stories with others. This is especially important for employees frustrated by slower business, Carchid said.

“It’s been tough. It’s been a long haul,” he said. “ When things are slow, it’s hard to keep your head up.”

Many companies are working with fewer resources, and interpersonal conflicts between employees drain these limited resources, said Ira Wolfe, founder of Success Performance Solutions, a workforce consulting firm in Leola (PA) [now located in the Lehigh Valley, PA]

“When you’re trying to get more with less, people have to get along….,” Wolfe said. “Companies can’t afford to spend the time to fix people.”

Team building can help employees address and perhaps resolve these conflicts, Wolfe said. But, he added, a team-building event cannot be forgotten when it’s over. An activity might make everyone fell warm and fuzzy for a while, but it might not permanently improve interpersonal relationships in the workplace, he said.

“They might catch you during the ropes activities, but they may stab you in the back at work,” he said.

Dennis Mellot is director of Adventure Challenge Experience, an employee-training and team-building business in Mount Gretna. As a company’s employees start a day of team-building exercises at Adventure Challenge Experience, they agree upon a set of norms that will guide their behavior during the day.

Norms can include such things as respecting others’ opinions and a willingness to listen.

Mellott agreed with Wolfe that the positive effects of team-building activities could be temporary if a company does not capitalize on the opportunity that such activities provide. So, Mellott encourages companies to take the norms accepted at Adventure Challenge Experience and apply them to everyday life in the workplace.

“They have to become a living part of what’s going on at the workplace,” Mellott said.


Central Penn Business Journal, July 11, 2003