Kenan gets dramatic in ice-breakers
A "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" scavenger hunt? Oh my!
With that said, I set out to participate in an innovative approach to what can be a stressful experience – office and personnel relocation.
The invite came from Kenan Systems, a subsidiary of Lucent Technologies that’s opening new offices in Cambridge. The scavenger hunt, the company said, would be the perfect way for employees to meet unfamiliar coworkers and discover an unfamiliar place. And to pull it off, Kenan tapped Comedy Theater Productions.
Comedy Theater Productions is the brainchild of zany, savvy businessman and producer David Goldstein. He has the idea that moving can not only be fun, it can be a opportunity for team-bonding within an office.
"We never know what we will be asked to do," Goldstein said. "Each new event challenges us to be more creative in our productions, which are tailored for each client."
Goldstein is not new at this; he began entertaining audiences in unorthodox ways in 1986 with the first Mystery CafÃ© in Cambridge. On this occasion two weeks ago, he and his comedy troop showed up at Kenan’s spacious new Kendall Square offices to embark on a "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" scavenger hunt.
As a result of the acquisition by Lucent, Kenan Systems has nearly doubled its number of employees, and relocated to the 12th, 13th, and 14th floors at 1 Main Street.
"A lot of people have come on board recently; folks don’t know each other and we were looking for a way to have people meet, explore the new space and have fun on a Friday afternoon," said Bill Hobbib, a Kenan spokesman.
"We believe building an atmosphere of teamwork and collegiality will help us retain employees," he continued. "We listened to employees who wanted to meet those not in their immediate area or team. People were eager to mix with groups they wouldn’t necessarily collaborate with."
The group is to some extent a "blended" workforce; some workers come to Kenan from other divisions of Lucent, some are new hires, and some have been there for five years or more. The scavenger hunt was a vehicle to have everyone participate in an environment of fun, team building, and collaboration.
About 140 participants registered for the hunt. There were nine groups of scoundrels, made up of folks who didn’t know each other. The objective was to learn about the company and each other.
"We are very attuned to the importance of team spirit, so people will be more productive and happier," Hobbib said.
The scavenger hunt was also something of a preemptive strike as well. As people come to a space, they become inured to and somewhat closed in their area. "You can’t have one territorial group that owns a space," Hobbib said.
Here’s where the Comedy Theatre Productions (CTP) people come in: They use funny business to help facilitate the move, while building a sense of team and community spirit for the business.
Health club memberships or laundry services may cater to an employee’s individual needs, but CTP knows that staff members still seek the feeling of satisfaction of being an integral part of their company. Entertaining group activities such as the scavenger hunt give everyone the feeling of being valuable, whatever their skills or expertise.
The glib master of the madness for the afternoon was Kevin Prentice, Artistic Director, writer, and lead performer of the Comedy Theater Productions.
Prentis began with a round of "Coworker Bingo," in itself a kind of human scavenger hunt where participants were handed a sheet of 20 identifiers such as "Find someone who has worked here for less than a year, is a vegetarian, and so forth.
It was interesting to see people who have never spoken to each other interact. "Some people just want to win, and they race through the crowd getting information," Prentis said. "Others chat and are more relaxed."
After 20 minutes or so, a woman cried "Bingo," and came to the front to the gathering, where her results were verified ’Äî despite some questionable handwriting and spelling of names.
Prentis then announced the members of each team, explained the rules: basically, be sneaky, be devious, and don’t get caught. He introduced the six "accomplices," dressed in prison stripes, who would give us clues and tasks along the way.
Usually a move to a new facility entails finding things out through trial and error; CTP made it into a game. No more discovering what printer you’re not connected to just when you need a copy of that report; instead we were given clues and cash for bribery, no less ’Äî to ferret out and otherwise elicit the information we sought from the cast of accomplices and fellow employees.
For nearly two hours, we happily zig-zagged and capered around the building, working at both individual and cooperative tasks, using our imagination, reaching consensus, pooling our strengths, and managing our time. Among our tasks we were asked to: find the copy machine named Falcon (100 points); go to the Newport conference room (1000 points); and "create a human machine" in which all of us had to participate.
We also looked for things and people that the Kenan people would need to know and find on a daily basis, like "the person who orders supplies" (400 points), or the name of a business partner (900 points).
Even those who were not directly involved in the game (some actually opted to work), participated in one way or another – whether to take a Polaroid snapshot of a team in the ladies’ shower, or to point out the direction of a sought-after conference room.
When time was called, we reassembled for individually designed ice cream sundaes, submitted our information, and awaited the results.
The mood in the room was decidedly even more jovial than when we first met. People were more comfortable with each other, new alliances and friendships were forming, and there was a sense that people were looking at each other through new eyes.
Awards were given for the best song and dance, the most unscrupulous, and of course the grand prize winners, who walked off with $50 American Express Gift Checks.
"The competitive spirit emerges in events like this," said Chris Barber, another Kenan spokesman. "Even low-motivated individuals get into it when they see others compete."
Comedy Theater Productions has customized similar events for Sapient, Oracle, Sun Microsystems and Boston Consulting Group, as well as numerous Fortune 500 companies nationwide.
Denise Bacote is an English teacher in Brookline, who spent the summer writing at Mass High Tech as part of the Teachers in Industry project.
— Denise Bacote