The phrase "team building activity" will probably trigger one of two responses: The "oh cool" reaction, or the "oh god no" response (along with an eyeroll). Team building activities and outings can be rather hit or miss, depending on the size of your company, your team, and your leadership.
I'm fortunate enough to work for a company where the team building efforts fall on the "fun times" end of the scale rather than the "think I'll be sick that day" end. Nonetheless, I was surprised when I was asked to help plan this year's team building activity. That type of thing isn't usually my bag but I couldn't say No when I was told the activity could involve racing Hot Wheels.
I had introduced diecast racing to one of the leaders on my team, and it just so happened that he was also responsible for organizing the team building activity. He thought the racing might work well, and so we brainstormed some ideas. The result were three Hot Wheels racing events and a day of fun where everyone had a good time, engaged with the activity, and mingled with co-workers.
It was also my first experience trying to manage and organize a live racing event with a rather large group of people. It was a trial-by-fire but I learned a lot and had a great time doing so...plus, seeing the positive reaction was overwhelming.
Overall, putting together an event like this is pretty straight forward. Yes, there are a lot of details and finishing touches, many of which I won't get into here. Instead, this is an overview of how you can make Hot Wheels diecast racing an option at your next team building retreat. And if you're a regular here, you probably already have most of what you need anyway.
My department is pretty big with more than 50 people, so we made 8 teams of about 6 people each, excluding the small team running the action. It turned out to be a perfect number that gave everyone in the team something to do with very few just standing around.
Head-to-head racing isn't interesting enough to fill hours of time. It's pretty repetitive and not conducive to engagement. Knowing that, we came up with 3 "events" that could vary the action and offer something entertaining for everyone.
- Drag racing
- Long jumping
The hook is that every team will be modifying a car for each event. One car for speed, one car for distance, and another for knocking stuff over. Each team was given a bunch of items that they could add to their cars for each event.
Each event would be scored and teams placed from 1st to 8th position. Each position earns points and the team with the most points accumulated across all 3 events would be crowned the champs.
So that's the gist. Let the fun begin!
Kicking things off
We provided 30 unopened Hot Wheels and gave each team the opportunity to select which cars they wanted to use as a starting point for each of the 3 events. The order of selection was determined by a quiz we gave each team at the beginning of the day. The quiz was made up of questions related to our industry and company (this helped fulfill any "business" requirement). The team that got the most correct answers got to pick their cars first and then on down the line.
Once teams had picked their cars, each was given a bunch of various items they could add to their cars. They were given 30 minutes to build 3 cars, one for each event. And once cars were done, they were done. They couldn't go back to redesign a car or make any major changes.
The build materials ranged from useful to superfluous. We provided materials like clay, paper clips, glue, popsicle sticks, marbles and tape that were more useful, but we also gave them stickers, feathers, markers, tiny figurines, and other decorative items that they could use to personalize their cars. The thought being that even if you didn't care about making your car competitive in each event, you could at least have fun making them look silly and awesome.
The drag racing event is what we all know really well...head-to-head racing between 2 teams to see which car is faster. This is the more traditional event that everyone understood immediately. Making comparisons to the Pinewood Derby was an easy to way to talk about it.
The track itself was 2 lanes running a length of about 15-20 feet. We used the 2-lane 3DBotMaker starting gate and finish line, thus the only real size restrictions for racing was that the car needs to fit in the finish. All the events used the same starting line and track setup.
Rather than go with a bracket, we used a round robin style of play. This took more time, but it insured that everyone was racing in every round and no one got eliminated right away, which meant they weren't bored waiting until the end. Teams were scored based on how many wins they had.
The long jump and the bowling event were the two unknowns, of sorts. On paper they sounded great and, fortunately, that translated to the real world (which was a nice surprise).
For the long jump, we cut the track length down a bit and put some wood blocks under the end to make the jump. It was probably 6-8" high.
Each team got 3 attempts and they could choose which lane they wanted to use for each run. Of course, the goal of a long jump is to go the furthest distance, but as you can imagine, most Hot Wheels cars will jump maybe a foot and then flip, crash, roll and slide across the floor...and that's just what we let them do.
The room was filled with tables and chairs so, much like golf, we declared that if a car hits an obstacle that's part of the play. People should try to avoid touching the car while it's moving. Wherever the car stopped, that's where we measured. We measured a straight line from the jump ramp to the car with a tape measure. And again, no need to get super precise here, just keep things consistent.
Teams were scored by the longest distance of their 3 attempts. The results were quite varied, from cars that barely went 6-feet to some that went more than 24-feet. It ended up being quite a dramatic event, believe it or not.
This one had the potential to be a lot of fun or zero fun...it was going to be one or the other. I was worried at first but it turned out great.
We setup 10 tiny wooden bowling pins about 3-feet from the end of the track. The goal was to knock over as many pins as you could with your car.
Each team was allowed one Alignment Run where they could roll a car down without any pins up. They could then adjust the end of the track as they saw fit, usually left or right to offset their car drifting.
We scored it like real bowling and gave teams 3 frames (so frames 8-10 in real bowling terms). After the first couple teams, it seemed like every car would either miss entirely or get a strike. I started to get worried about a 7-way tie but things eventually evened out and the final results were pretty varied.
The key to Hot Wheels bowling is the distance from the end of the track to the pins, and how close together you put the pins. We probably could have used more distance in both cases but it was a riot nonetheless.
At the end of the day…
Despite the activity lasting about 3 hours with a lunch break in between, it was a huge success. Maybe it ran a bit long but everyone enjoyed themselves, stayed engaged (even after lunch), and went out of their way to comment how much fun they had.
For me, it was great to see how much people can enjoy diecast racing, even if it wasn't as traditional as we're used to doing. Asking people to make cars without fancy tools and hardware was a blast and the designs people came up with were awesome.
But I can't emphasize the word "entertaining" and "engaging" enough with all of this. It's easy to get car and toy geeks into this type of activity, it's the rest you have to be mindful of. You can't make everyone happy but making this type of activity entertaining is key. It's not about the competition of the activity, it's about giving people a reason to work together and having fun doing it. Not to mention that a day out of the office shouldn't feel like a day in the office, and playing with toy cars is a good way to make that happen.
So the next time your team is looking for a fun team building activity, racing Hot Wheels might fit the bill. It's easy for everyone to understand and fun to participate.