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In corporate 'Spy Game,' work equals play

The latest corporate team building exercise could have you re-enacting a scene from a famous spy flick--in public.

If you and your co-workers find yourselves in a high-stakes caper straight out of a James Bond movie, there's a pretty good chance you're playing "The Spy Game."

"The Spy Game" is the latest corporate team building exercise from the creators of "The Go Game," which hundreds of companies nationwide have used over the years to facilitate effective teamwork.

In "The Spy Game," teams of five to 10 co-workers set out to solve a mystery, like the disappearance of an executive, or some other corporate intrigue. The idea is to get team members to collaborate on projects and learn more about delegating and sharing responsibility.

"There's lots of problem solving that teams have to do," said Ian Fraser, a co-founder of The Go Game, the company behind "The Spy Game" and its long-running "Go Game" exercises. "They've got this goal, and it's time-sensitive, so it really mirrors work. At first glance, probably no one knows how to do it, so they have to delegate and figure out a plan."

"The Spy Game" is just one of a number of gamelike exercises companies can utilize in a bid to bring personnel closer together.

"It gets you out of the mundane and loosens everyone else and brings in the camaraderie."
--Jim Bell, president,
Pro Built

"They are business metaphors, so a good team building challenge will mirror the dynamics of what goes on in a particular company," said J.T. Taylor, president of TeamBuildingUSA.com, which has run such exercises for hundreds of companies including Proctor & Gamble, Blockbuster, AT&T, Qualcomm, Honeywell and Starbucks. "And as participants go about tackling the team building challenge, the same dynamics that go on in the workplace will show themselves in the team's performance during the activity."

"The Go Game," too, has an enviable list of corporate clients, including Adobe, Cisco Systems, Sun Microsystems, Electronic Arts and Microsoft.

In "The Spy Game," players are given a camera phone, a camera and a series of missions to complete within a specific area, usually a pedestrians-only complex such as a hotel or resort.

Players face three main types of missions, Fraser said. The first are what he called "sneak and snoop around" missions, which require players to find something stashed in a public place by one of the game's facilitators or to interpret a piece of public art work looking for a message related to the story line.

Another type are the "plant" missions, where players have to figure out a way to unearth the hidden actor in a public place.

And the last category are the so-called "creative" missions, which require participants to solve a task and create some form of video with their camera--like a review of a hot product in the year 2050--often in some way related to the client company's products or services.

Much of the structure of "The Spy Game" is similar to that of "The Go Game," but Fraser said tasks in the new game are more serious and usually revolve around a spy theme.

Players might have to re-enact a famous movie spy scene, film it and turn it in, or perhaps a getaway scene, Fraser said.

All in all, he explained, the company's clients look to it to provide them with ways to step outside the proverbial box, but in a way that's related to improving the work experience.

"They're going to be asked to do stuff they've never been asked to do before as a group," said Fraser. "Like being asked to go into a Starbucks and start asking everyone" if they support general revolution.

Fraser said his company has only run "The Spy Game" about four times so far, and that none of the clients that experienced it directly were available to comment for this story.

But Paul Kim, a director of product marketing at Mozilla, said his company has high regard for the exercises in "The Go Game."

"We were really, really happy with the end results," said Kim. "It really does pull on the various experiences and talents of the people involved in each team. And because it's done in a way that integrates the physical environment with the overall structure of the game, it really takes it over the top."

Kim's enthusiasm is mirrored by Jim Bell, president of the San Diego construction company Pro Built, a client of TeamBuildingUSA.com.

"It gets you all thinking along the same pattern, and you start to see each other not so much as obstacles as you do helpers," Bell said. "It took some of the 'I'm in charge' out of the thing and put in some of the 'Let's get it done.'"

With many members of the Fortune 500 clearly endorsing team building games, it's clear there's serious money in it for the Go Games and TeamBuildingUSA.coms of the world.

Indeed, Taylor said TeamBuildingUSA.com charges clients as much as $225 a person, for groups that can number in the hundreds. The more people, the less the per-person fee is.

Similarly, Fraser said The Go Game typically charges about $100 a head and can facilitate groups of 3,000 or more. For "The Spy Game," the groups are limited to about 250 people.

Companies seem to be willing to pay that much because they feel the games get results.

"What I thought was good about it was that it gets you out of the mundane and loosens everyone else and brings in the camaraderie," said Bell. "That was the big thing, that it brought in the camaraderie. We were out of our element. You're not wearing a suit."

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