What do pickleball, improv and horses have in common?
They’re all being used to encourage corporate team building and shared leadership in Wilmington. Organizations like Pickle Ball Corporate (team) Building, DareDevil Improv and TeachingHorse are getting employees and their bosses out of the office – and out of their comfort zones – to encourage better interpersonal office dynamics.
Christine Burrows has 30 years of corporate experience but was at a loss when looking for her next new project. She employed a Japanese concept called ikigai, a practice used to find the meaning of your life. The method is comprised of four questions: What are you good at? What do you love to do? What does the world need? How can you monetize it?
These questions led Burrows to create Pickle Ball Corporate (team) Building, or PBCB, which she runs with her husband, Peter.
The organization combines the accessible nature of pickleball – anyone can play – with Burrows’s “pickle-isms,” or tenants of the sport that apply to good corporate mannerisms.
Players are encouraged to communicate, smile and keep their paddles up, or always be prepared, among other pickle-isms.
Pickleball’s popularity aids in clients’ enthusiasm for Burrows’ business. Companies planning a team outing have heard of and want to try pickleball, and if they can learn something along the way, that’s even better, she said.
PBCB launched this fall. Burrows has clients on the books for the future, including Cape Fear Habitat for Humanity and Port City Young Professionals.
DareDevil Improv has offered corporate team-building classes since 2019. Its founder, Adrian Monte, did not initially intend for such courses to be part of DareDevil’s scope of business, but after a request for one, Monte looped them into the mix. These classes now make up about 25% of DareDevil’s business.
Monte is working to increase that percentage. Last month, he presented and pitched his organization to 1 Million Cups, an entrepreneurial gathering organized across the country – Wilmington’s chapter meets on Wednesday mornings at the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
During his presentation, Monte had those in attendance stand and participate in a short improvisational exercise he uses in corporate team-building classes.
Everyone introduced themselves and accompanied their name with an adjective and a physical movement. He was “Adventurous Adrian,” paired with an exaggerated look around the room. The routine seemed elementary and potentially embarrassing, but that’s the point, Monte said.
“It relieves the anxiety, there’s no pressure, people can communicate clearly and that’s really empowering,” he said. “They’re able to communicate and be heard, not just by their management, but also their fellow employees.”
He said improvising with a team member builds trust and helps break down communication barriers. The foundational tenant of improvisation, “yes, and,” can be used to improve company management’s receptibility to employee ideas.
“Silliness is the big word that is a tough sell for people,” he said. “If I go into your office, and I tell you, ‘Hey, we’re going to be silly for two hours,’ they say, ‘Well, there’s no value in that.’ But there is. Because the changes are astronomical.”
If bringing silliness into the office is too tough of a sell, North Carolina-based TeachingHorse takes teams outside the office and into the barnyard. Through biomimicry, or copying behavior seen naturally in the wild, TeachingHorse counsels businesses across the country, including many in Wilmington.
Abriana Johnson, creative director of TeachingHorse, said biomimicry can teach a corporate team much about their leadership abilities and self-awareness.
“If you are bringing too much energy, and you’re making the horse back away from you, how does that show up in your organization?” Johnson said. “Are you bringing too much energy to a problem, and your team is backing away? And you’re just not aware of that?”
Classes are inspired by the “diamond model of shared leadership,” a diagram based on horse herds.
Without touching the animal, the team is challenged to lead the horse to complete a series of tasks.
Johnson said TeachingHorse’s model works because experiential learning solidifies habits compared to learning best practices in a classroom setting. There is a difference between consuming content and experiencing the consequences and application of that content, she said.
Now that companies are bringing employees back to the office after three years of hybrid or fully remote workforces, corporate teams need to relearn cohabitation, Burrows said.
“Organizations are just chomping at the bit for finding ways to do this,” she said.
Monte said the transitional phases of the workplace in recent years have resulted in uncertainty and stress among employees.
“Demand is high because companies are looking for ways to quickly develop a new culture,” he said.