Team-building across countries and continents is a familiar challenge for global companies, including our own. With 53 offices in 28 countries, each tuned to local needs, Odgers Berndtson is an international leader in executive search but cross-border team building is no easier for us than many of our clients. Perhaps also like them, we’ve explored the limits of intranets, shared client work, international meetings and other familiar tools to help bring our people together.
So this year, when Odgers Berndtson ran its first firm-wide Charity Challenge none of us had great expectations. When Mark Braithwaite, our head of Asia Pacific, suggested a charity event involving the whole firm, it seemed a fun idea but also a logistical challenge. Mark appointed regional “captains” to enthuse local staff and I volunteered to be the global coach. We ended up with 317 people across 18 countries signing up for a single indoor rowing event, run over a single week.
The results were a surprise – and we certainly got more than we bargained for. Not only did the event exceed all our fund-raising targets – topping $50,000 so far – it taught us all some important lessons about global teambuilding.
The first, perhaps, is make it fun and inclusive. It’s hard to recall any other single event which has enthused people in such a positive, and engaging way. By hosting local “rowathons” in office open spaces, and encouraging everyone to support them – if not by rowing then cheering, baking, providing music or just turning up, in many offices almost everyone was in some way touched by their event. Photo sharing apps helped to connect the global teams in real time. These were lively – even rowdy – affairs, with rowers racing against one another and the clock, supporters cheering and everyone contributing to whichever charity their country had chosen to support.
Executive search is by its nature a competitive business and, by making this a competitive team event, we appear to have unleashed some collective alpha spirit – but in a good way. Perhaps this is the second big take-out from the event: make the competition fair and inclusive. We did this via a system of handicapping, where each participant rowed 2000m with times adjusted for age, gender and weight against comparable world records. This gave older, lighter and female contestants a fair shot against the young bucks in the race for medals for individual performance.
Alongside individual prizes however we also had many additional team prizes to give our offices, global teams, practices and regions extra reason to cheer. So, for instance, our China office – where every single person took part – won the country participation prize. A Regional Participation Prize went to Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa, where 59% of staff took part. And then there were prizes for global business groups. Support staff, fielding 41 rowers, run this overall, shortly followed by global researchers with 33 rowers and the Industrial Practice (my own) in third place with 26 rowers.
Last but not least, by spreading the timetable for this event over months – spanning preparation, participation and then awards and prize-giving, the buzz has continued around the firm. The coveted fund raising prize – for the country raising the most for charity – is, for example, still up for grabs, allowing contenders to top up their totals or restore national pride.
So, from Dubai and Denmark, to Australia and China, teams across our firm are still jostling for the coveted top country fund-raising trophy. We have the awards ceremony to come and then, of course, next year’s Odgers Berndtson Global Charity Challenge to look forward to.