Foolapalooza…It’s That Time of Year Again

Foolapalooza 2011

Foolapalooza 2011Foolapalooza.

You heard it right.

Foolapalooza.

What the heck is that?

No, it’s not a musical festival, although it does sound like one.

It’s our annual business meeting. But it’s not like any other annual business meeting that you’d likely conjure up in your mind. And it’s not like any other business trip or annual retreat you’ve likely ever heard about.

It’s the time of year again when we gather as Foolish employees and take time to look at the year before and the year ahead. We want all employees to see where we have gone in a year’s time as a business.

But for us, it’s more than that. It’s more than knowing the numbers that drive our business. It’s more than knowing what we’d like our business to become in the upcoming year. And, it’s more than knowing what to do and what not to do as we progress through the next 12 months.

To us, Foolapalooza is also about getting to know each other better.

While we have endless stories from past Foolapaloozas, you won’t here them here. (I guess you could say that it’s a bit like the phrase, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”) If you are a Fool, you will likely hear them for the next few months, or even years, to come. You may even be cracking up right now thinking of a Foolapalooza memory in your head.

But I can let the broad audience in on a small secret – all of these memories have one thing in common … they start with the people we see every weekday.

For us, Foolapalooza is about the Fools that attend the event. We don’t invite spouses, families, or significant others – unless they also work at the Fool. We don’t invite friends…Okay, okay, who are we kidding? Fools are our friends. … But we have a reasoning behind this bit of seclusion and isolation – it’s a time for us to revisit or even get to know for the first time how Fools unwind, how they play, and a bit of what they do outside of the office. We are getting to know the person behind the employee. We get to see what makes them tick.

Why would we do this?

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again – knowing each other better helps us work better together. The theory is as simple as that.

So while the kayaking and basketball playing may be fun, we know at the end of the day that it’s not the what we are doing that makes Fools happy they are Fools. It’s the who with that matters.

The Great Foolapalooza Hunt (Part 2)

Foolapalooza Game

Foolapalooza Game

So the idea was approved, albeit with some concern, naturally. Would people really want to spend two to three hours solving puzzles? When the plan was announced, a common response was, “Do I really have to do this scavenger thing?” (I knew it wasn’t really anything like a scavenger hunt, but there was really no way to explain it to people, until they experienced it themselves.)

So for the next month and a half, I worked with a team of dedicated Fools to put together a truly memorable event. Here’s how it worked:

Fools were divided into teams of five people each. In my experience, this is the ideal number for maximizing involvement and productivity. Fewer than that and you’re not taking full advantage of the “wisdom of crowds.” And larger than that? Well, some people start tuning out and you start to see inefficiencies creep in.

Teams started by receiving a set of company cards, each with the name of a fictitious company, such as Tickerwaster or Wahoo!  Teams had to trade companies with other teams in order to build the highest value portfolio. The catch was that they didn’t know all of the rules of the game. However, they could trade rules with other teams in order to learn all the different ways that portfolios were scored.

Teams also received a map with the locations to five puzzles. When they solved a puzzle, they received additional cards and rules. And so on.  At the end of the event, the team that turned in the most valuable 10-card portfolio was the winner.

And the puzzles? Well, I won’t go into a lot of detail here, but here are some highlights:

  • A real-live Shakespearean troupe performing versions of popular financially themed movies (Wall Street, Slumdog Millionaire, Trading Places, etc.).
  • Building a sandwich out of ingredients printed on transparencies (which when stacked correctly revealed a secret message).
  • Matching 10 bandanna pieces according to clues printed on the edges (which then formed a recognizable shape).
  • And so on.

And the teams absolutely loved it. So many people told me later they were skeptical about the event, but once they got into it, they had a great time. Of course, I was elated.

It was clear that everybody had a good time. But it was also clear that people got a lot out of it. They bonded with co-workers. They overcame initial fears of feeling stupid, and ended up feeling much smarter as a result. And they learned to work efficiently and productively with a group of fellow Fools that they didn’t really know that well – which was my hope from the beginning.

The Great Foolapalooza Hunt (Part 1)

Foolapalooza team figuring out a puzzle

Foolapalooza team figuring out a puzzle

My very first task as the newly appointed chief collaboration Fool was to run a big team-building event at our annual company meeting – what we loving call “Foolapalooza”.

This came as no surprise to me. In fact, it was my idea.

For a long time, I’ve been a fan of real-world treasure hunts. The kind you see in the movie National Treasure, where you solve a clue that leads to a new location, at which point you find another clue, and so on … until you reach your final treasure. At least that’s the hope.

Traditionally, the first afternoon of Foolapalooza had been reserved for group outings and activities such as softball, canoeing, paintball, wine-tasting, etc.  And this was very popular. So it was with a little trepidation that I proposed we abandon this plan and instead have the entire company participate in a custom puzzle hunt of my creation.

Why change? Well, I thought there was some real value in conquering challenges as a team and on top of that, doing so with a group of people you normally didn’t get to work with. I also felt like I had the chance to have them experience something they had never done before.

When I pitched the idea to the planning committee, I figured what better way to demonstrate the kind of puzzles I was talking about than to have them solve one. And that’s what I did.

I handed them nine cartoon drawings of marine life: fish, crabs, whales, etc. A number and an English word were written on each animal:

1. SALOON

2. SCRIMP

3. MERLIN

4. HEARING

5. SHANK

6. TUBA

7. GULPY

8. CUD

9. BASE

The instructions? Well, the only thing I told the group was that this puzzle had a single phrase as its answer. And that was it. They had to figure out what to do.

At first the team looked at the words and tried to scramble them into other things or identify the fish and so on, but there wasn’t much success. But then they had their first “aha!” moment.

“SCRIMP is very close to SHRIMP. In fact, it’s one letter different.” To which somebody else added, “Yeah! And TUBA could be TUNA!” And so on until the team had identified nine ocean-related animals:

1. SALMON

2. SHRIMP

3. MARLIN

4. HERRING

5. SHARK

6. TUNA

7. GUPPY

8. COD

9. BASS

“Is that the answer?” they asked?

I shook my head no.

They studied the fish again. Finally, somebody said, “Well, wait, what if we look at the letters that changed?” Slowly they began to unearth a message. O-C-E-A … OCEAN! B-L-U … BLUE. OCEAN BLUE?

“Correct!”

The group members high-fived each other, happy in their success. I then explained to them that in the Foolapalooza hunt teams would solve five or six challenges more elaborate than this, many of them Fool-themed. And in the process, they would have to think outside the box, listen to each other, be open-minded, deal with failure, and hopefully ultimately succeed.

And that was how the first ever Great Foolapalooza Hunt was green-lighted.

Stay tuned next week for Part 2, where I explain the structure of The Great Foolapalooza Hunt!