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Team-Building Takes Over Chicago

By Jamie Ludwig

One of the most talked about corporate team-building events of 2013 was the Chi-Town Scrounge, designed by Corporate Event Interactive for the annual joint meeting of the local chapters of International Special Events Society (ISES) and National Association for Catering Executives (NACE).

After an event kickoff at Rockit Bar & Grill, the Scrounge took guests outdoors on a shared techno hunt, utilizing iPads and a custom map to lead the way through a number of sponsored hot spots throughout the city including The Westin Chicago River North, Hotel Palomar Chicago and American Junkie. The 50-plus guests, all event and hospitality industry professionals, had the chance to see area venues outside the lens of their day-today approach, and ultimately they formed stronger bonds with each other through the interactive activity. The event culminated with a celebration at Ay Chiwowa.

“The results were fantastic!” says Jodi Whitlock, senior event producer for Corporate Event Interactive. “The feedback we got was great, and the people who took part got to visit each of the locations, learn a little about them and have fun to boot.”

High-profile event or not, Whitlock says team-building is beneficial for any company because, “It really helps to get people focused on a different type of task and get them out of their comfort zone. … You get to know so much more from people at play!” Whether the client is looking for a new, crazy program, a lively way to support a charity or simply break from everyday monotony, Corporate Event Interactive can help tailor a customized program that can also incorporate the company’s identity with logos on printed materials and personalized trivia questions.

The team-building professionals, who have worked with clients such as Southwest Airlines, Accenture and ConAgra Foods, Inc., currently offer 125 different programs, including adventure searches like the Chi-Town Scrounge, experiential learning programs and retreats with activities like team survival simulation, where guests pretend as if they’ve been stranded on an island with only each other to rely on for support. Other options include interactive networking mixers, such as casino nights and Texas Hold ‘Em tournaments, and Whitlock says her colleagues constantly expand that list to match demands for new ideas.


It was only natural Parties That Cook would open a Chicago office-its founder Bibby Gignilliat is an area native who has always maintained close ties with the city. Her mobile event company, which also has offices in Seattle, Portland and the San Francisco Bay Area, specializes in educational and entertaining cooking events for groups of up to 350 guests.

Interactive sessions range from cooking challenges (often recommended for sales teams) to charitable exercises like making and serving a meal for a shelter. The most intensive is the Executive Kitchen Challenge, a four-hour program where an executive coaching firm guides groups on previously discussed objectives such as honesty and communication while cooking.

Parties That Cook produces upwards of 450 events per year, 18-20 percent of which are held in the Chicago area, where the booming food market continues to expand. Parties That Cook can be hosted in a private home or at any one of dozens of venues the company works with throughout the Chicagoland area, including Heritage Prairie Farm in Elburn, several Sur La Table locations and Chicago’s Hotel Sax. Parties That Cook takes care of every detail from shopping to customized music playlists, as well as preparing a complimentary antipasti dish to start off the program.

Crissy Koehler, VP of sales and marketing, says cooking is a great vehicle for team-building because it is something everyone can participate in and relate to, and through the activities, co-workers can get to know and appreciate each other in new ways. For example, an executive with no prior cooking experience could be teamed with an employee who is quiet at the office but a rock star in the kitchen.

Menus change seasonally and can be adapted to please any palate or accommodate specialty diets such as vegetarian or vegan options. For some companies, such as Kraft and Quaker Foods, the firm even has customized menus to feature their products in innovative ways. Koehler points to a recent event for Beam Spirits-during a Cupcake Wars challenge, guests had the option to infuse their baked goods with a selection of the company’s spirits.




Windy City Fieldhouse is a Chicago institution when it comes to sports activities, birthday parties and private events-but what many don’t know is that soon after it opened its doors in the mid-1990s, it filled a void in the city for corporate team-building events as well. President and co-founder Murrel Karsh says the inspiration came from his former co-workers in the corporate world who challenged the company to create better options for team-building experiences.

“We developed programs that were designed to engage and entertain type-A personalities,” says Karsh. “It was very different, and it kind of exploded.” To date, the company has led thousands of corporate events with popular options like The Amazing Race and Mission Impossible scavenger hunts, as well as charitable activities like building bikes together to be later donated. Events can be held on site at Windy City Fieldhouse’s 55,000-square-foot facility, but Karsh says 90 percent of them take place elsewhere, at a venue Windy City selects based on clients’ wants and needs.

In a world where workers are bogged down with distractions from every angle, Karsh says engagement is key. “If it is not the right program, you will lose people in a second,” he declares. Additionally, he says the growth of nontraditional work environments, such as telecommuting, has brought up new challenges for team development. He advises event planners to select the right program and framework for their event to create positive results. “What’s most important is to help them make an impact,” Karsh says. “The prerequisite is having fun, but there’s so much more you can achieve, which dramatically increases the value for the company, and makes the event planner look great.”