Client: CATALYST GLOBAL for CAT UK division of Renault UK
A corporate team-building conference for approximately 65 employees of CAT UK, bringing together all levels of management and employees from different facilities. CAT UK's founder and CEO acted as ringmaster for the event and was the only company member with prior knowledge of the event content.
Employees had been prepped the day prior to the event by attending lectures and exercises in team psychology (forming / storming / norming / performing). They then signed up for "colour groups" according to their own self-assessment of particular skills, but did not have any idea what was coming the next morning ... they walked into the circus tent wide-eyed and apprehensive. The CEO ringmaster then made a brief speech as to the importance of their company being able to work beyond the boundaries of personal position and across the distances that divide the separate facilities.Then the Catalyst team let them in on the plan: in a single day they would create and produce their own circus production and perform it for an audience of school children who were being bussed in for the event. The reaction was, of course, spectacular to behold.
Employees were then broken up according to the groups which they had assigned themselves to. They were given colour coordinated tee-shirts which designated whether they were a juggler, acrobat, aerialist, wire-walker, dancer, clown, technical crew, rigging crew or production crew. Each group was then assigned to a set of trainers, which consisted of one circus professional and two circus staff members.The trainers spent the first hour introducing the participants to their act, the skills that they would need to learn and helped them practice those skills. Then everyone met back on the bleachers for re-dux of the team psychology exercises from the day before (they had experienced the "forming" stage and no one really understood what their groups' goal was).
For the rest of the morning the budding performers were assisted in developing their acts or crews into workable units. For example, the plate-spinning jugglers put together a routine that was set in a restaurant, which required the production crew finding and decorating the appropriate scene props, the rigging crew figuring out how to get the props on and off, and finally, the tech crew getting the mike and music cues. Again, they met back and went through their team psych books (they were now "storming", that is to say panic-stricken and flipping-out, and no one thought that they would be able to accomplish their tasks).
Next, the early afternoon was spent practicing their acts and getting their costumes, props and acts together. At mid-afternoon they took a brief lunch break, sat with their group and were briefed about how the rehearsal was going to run. The rehearsal ran for about 90 minutes and was very stop-start, which is always a little confusing to non-performers. They met back yet-again for a little psychology lesson (they were now "norming" and understood what their goal was, what they needed from the other groups and how they fit into the show as whole).
Around 2pm, the performers lined up outside the entrance to the tent and welcomed the school-kids who were very excited about the whole thing. Production crew got them into seats and arranged the pre-show fun. We addressed the kids and reminded them that these were NOT professionals but brand-new performers they were about to see; sort of like mom or dad learning to be ballet dancers in a day. They thought that was great and made lots of noise. The show consisted of a series of acts, some comedy formula, some straight-forward skills presentations, that were introduced by the CEO (ironically, he was the most nervous and had the most difficult time doing his part). They employee-performers sat to one side of the circus ring and cheered on their fellows. The show was fast-paced and easy on both the performers and the audience.
At the end of the show they all lined up and took their bows in the ring, then said goodbye to kids as they exited. Finally, everyone sat down for an exit speech by Catalyst, their CEO and then Greg & Ann from the Festival Circus. They had made it to the "performing" stage of team psychology and were to take this experience to work with them, breaking down the barriers of personnel structure and facility loyalties. It was a roaring success (some of these guys were actually crying as we were pointing out just what they had accomplished) and overall, it was a blast for everyone.