Incentive Magazine – August 2008
"Race for the Prize: National Grid’s event gives a green tint to its teambuilding"
by Nathan Adkisson
(link to article online)
For human resources people, who tend to have more experience with personnel and promotions than physics, a car-building competition seems like an unlikely place to be found.
But last Tuesday, June 24 70 human resources professionals from British power company National Grid gathered at the W Union Square Hotel in New York to construct and race miniature solar-powered and recycled vehicles.
They were there for an excursion that National Grid set up with New Jersey-based team-building firm Impact4Good. National Grid recently acquired KeySpan Corp., an American energy company, and this conference was an attempt to introduce the employees who didn’t know each other.
But Impact4Good’s activity was about more than making simple business acquaintances.
“We do teambuilding that incorporates social responsibility through giving back to the community and the environment,” says Ira Almeas, president of Impact4Good. “Each program attempts to achieve three goals: We want to get across the content of the meeting, but also build better communication, do a give-back, and have fun.”
The competition, named “Go Green Racing,” called for teams of ten to build two cars, one using solar power, and another using product containers made from recycled materials—giving the contest its “green” aspect.
Impact4Good has been doing “Go Green Racing” for about three years, most recently with General Motors.
“We’ve done this for groups of hundreds of people,” Almeas says. “We adapt it to the demographic of who’s there, whether it’s all men or all women or new or senior employees.”
Almeas and five of his coworkers act as facilitators throughout the competition, working to create excitement and engagement.
“Tonight you are going to learn about the environment,” said Jeff Flowers, senior lead facilitator. “We will talk about the environment you live in and the environment you work in—that’s the people—because environment is the number—one factor in job satisfaction.”
The give-back part of the program is organized through Junior Achievement, an international New York-based company with 139 offices in the U.S. that is dedicated to using corporate donations to creating workforce readiness in schools.
“The beneficiary this time is PS/MS 206 in Brooklyn, which is a great school we’ve been working with for a long time,” says Doug Schallau, president of Junior Achievement. “It just worked out tonight that National Grid is an energy company and the program is about alternative fuel.”
The school will receive funds and training for a science curriculum on alternative energy, but the twist to Impact4Good’s program is that the participants do not know that their company will be making this donation until the end of the night.
“There’s a reveal that money is going to the school,” Almeas says. “It’s this warm fuzzy at the end.”
Brian Varga, director of US learning and corporate events, says that when he had to choose who to have organize the team-building event, Impact4Good was the clear choice.
“There is a real alignment with what they have to offer and our themes and corporate direction,” Varga says. “We’ve made a commitment to reducing our carbon emission by 80 percent by 2050. We’re dedicated to improving the environment.”
Varga says the program with PS 206 was the reason National Grid decided to do this particular program. “We wanted to continue our strong partnership with Junior Achievement. It really was the deciding factor.”
The feedback was that “Go Green Racing” is not a typical team-building activity, Almeas says.
“The agenda is for them to have a social contact that carries over into their business conversations,” he says. “It really works. One woman said, ‘This will last a lifetime because the message here was heartfelt instead of fun.'”