By: Richard Hammer, Senior IT Consultant, Enterprise Architect
Cortex Leadership Consulting
I started working with Interactive Achievement (now PowerSchool) in December, 2011. Interactive Achievement was built by educators for educators. It’s primary offering was an assessment platform to help teachers discover the strengths and areas of growth for their students, ultimately in preparation for high stakes assessments. I was brought on as a technology expert and managed, directed, and eventually became the CTO (Chief Technology Officer) for the development, maintenance, and infrastructure for their national expansion and ultimately, acquisition by PowerSchool in 2016.
When March Madness came around in March, 2012, the office was a buzz. I thought nothing of it. Then the email came. “All employees must fill out a bracket. Team leaders will be selected and you will be placed on a team. We will need a team name. We are clearing the lobby and installing televisions in all the workspaces in the building again. March Madness everyone. Let’s get excited!”
Imagine the shock. I had been hired to pivot and roll out a new version of the platform to a national audience, built with new technology on new hardware, that was 11 months behind schedule at the time, immeasurable dollars over budget, and proven not to work … and we are engaging in March Madness across the entire office. Madness indeed.
As it turns out, it was one of the most amazing team building, culture building, and healing ideas I had ever seen implemented across an organization.
Here is how it worked for each of the next 5 years:
- Everyone submitted a bracket (some took it seriously, some did not – one year, someone allowed their dog to select the winners)
- If you beat your boss, you got an extra day of vacation
- If you beat the CEO, Jon Hagmaier, you got an extra day of vacation
- If your team wins, they get an all expenses paid vacation (think beach, mountains, cruise, etc.).
- If you win, you get the grand prize … “Destination Unknown” … essentially an extravagant, all expenses paid, mystery vacation.
- Each week there is a catered meal. Sometimes breakfast, sometimes lunch.
- One year there was a debate over who made the best bacon. Jon ordered something like 30lbs of bacon from all over the world and we had a “bacon-off” to determine which bacon was indeed the best.
- There were also team competitions (think corn hole, connect 4, etc.) for prizes
- There was also trivia for prizes (think cash, vacation days, or an opportunity to change one of your picks in the brackets).
- There was also the Benny Gibson Memorial Wheel of Death (or something like that) where every couple of hours, one of the exec team would take it around the office, ask someone if they wanted a spin. The wheel had prizes and hazards on it.
All of the TVs on the offices were always on, showing different games at different times. We still did our work, but we also engaged our peers and coworkers, we discovered fun facts about one another (I didn’t know you were fans of 80’s hair bands!). It clearly became a work-family event
Destination Unknown was the prize to win though. Once a winner was identified, our administrative assistant Debbie would plot and plan for days. Eventually, 12 envelopes would be delivered and a departure date/time would be set. Envelopes could only be opened in specific places, at specific times.
In 2014, my wife Catherine and I won the prize. We made a video of our adventure: http://y2u.be/x2F1LUapD6s
Maybe your company can’t go to the lengths that Interactive Achievement did, no problem. Get creative. Lean into something that your employees find fun and exciting and use it to build team engagement and excitement.