Building teams corporate events
People ask me all the time how I wound up here – how I found myself running a corporate team building event entertainment company producing trivia game shows. They naturally assume it’s because I’m a trivia lover or Jeopardy champion, but they’d be wrong – direly so.
I’m actually terrible at trivia. It’s true – you can read all about that surprising factoid by clicking this link. Would you like to know the real reason I founded TrivWorks? It’s simple: I hated the way I was being treated as an employee.
I didn’t have such an easy go at the “real world” after college, a topic I dedicated an entire previous blog post to. Far from it. I lacked any kind of focus or direction, and as a result found myself in a perpetual state of flux, bouncing around from one entry level job to another, across roles and industries I wanted nothing to do with.
This lasted for years. YEARS.
The result was what you might expect: I was unfulfilled, unhappy and deeply frustrated. I also had no advancement prospects, was miserably underpaid, and hated getting up in the morning.
But I was also something else: unappreciated.
That’s an interesting choice of word, I know. Why would I care about being appreciated, when I was already so aimless and miserable, just trying to survive? Simply put, it’s because even though I hated the environments I was in, I still tried my level best to do a good job. I worked long hours, put in the effort I needed to, and honestly gave it my all to do the work I’d been hired to do, to the best of my ability – even if I absolutely hated it.
I worked my tail off. In the end, however, nobody cared.
I got treated like expendable garbage at virtually every place I ever worked. My managers always knew what I in my heart knew: I wasn’t a good fit. I’m a creative type, not very practical or pragmatic by nature. And yet, I kept finding myself in highly structured, analytical roles where I was expected to be hyper-organized, be unhealthily obsessed with deadlines, and to maintain an extreme attention to detail. There was little room nor patience for my goofy sense of humor, or for my never-ending desire to brighten situations with sharp wit. My efforts to make the most out of what were really bad environments fell disastrously flat.
I won’t mince word with you, the ten years or so after college I spent slaving away at jobs I didn’t belong in were absolutely horrible. The only silver linings were that A) I was getting a paycheck, meager as it was; B) I could afford my rent and student loan payments (if not much else); and C) I got to live in Manhattan as a young single guy. A broke, miserable single guy, perhaps – but at least I wasn’t in the middle of nowhere, or in my parent’s basement (although that happened a few times as well).
With the passage of time, I’ve since come to realize that there were in fact several other lessons to be gleaned from this time of my life – the “pearls” I alluded to in this other article I wrote several months ago. Yes, these jobs provided a critically-needed paycheck and stability, if not career development, direction or satisfaction. But they also gave me firsthand exposure to just how badly it feels to be unappreciated in the workplace – and with it, a desire to never feel that way again.
When I founded my own trivia company for corporate entertainment events and team building activities for the workplace, I saw it as my shot to finally not be in an environment where I felt undervalued and unappreciated. I could be my own boss: no longer would I have to say “how high” when a boss said “jump.” It meant freedom from having to ask permission, from office politics, from worrying about whether the powers that be would ever give me more responsibility, or properly compensate me for my efforts.
From that moment on, I determined that I would be valued at exactly what I’m worth. My ability to grow a business, build a brand and generate revenue would be a direct reflection of my skills and abilities, rather than the whims of those holding power above me. As my dad (also a self-employed entrepreneur) has said, I either “sink or swim on my own.”
Well, I chose to swim.
Since I hung out my shingle and made trivia team building game shows my full-time job over six years ago, I’ve slowly built TrivWorks into the industry-leading vendor in this area. I’ve got a robust list of Fortune 500 clients, earned some truly amazing press and testimonials, and regularly produce events not just in the NYC metropolitan region where I started out, but nationwide.
I’ve also gone from employee…to employer.
When I moved from NYC to SoCal in 2016 to produce corporate entertainment and team building activities in Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County and everywhere in between, it literally forced me to go out and find the very best emcee and production talent I could back East, who could continue to lead TrivWorks events in my absence. I’ve since identified and recruited about fifteen people whom I hire on a freelance basis, to represent my brand in the marketplace and lead the best corporate trivia events you will find anywhere.
The people who work with me are absolutely fantastic – the best of the best. I would trust any one of them to produce an event in front of ANY audience, and to represent me well. I am lucky to have them, and appreciate their work.
And I let them know that.
I thank them after every gig, honestly and sincerely. I send along positive feedback from the client. I ask them for their opinion of how things are going, including what I could be doing differently to make their events smoother, better, or more enjoyable. I let them know in no small terms that I view m job not as “the boss,” the man behind the curtain pulling the strings and signing the checks, but rather as the guy whose job it is to make their jobs easier. I want them to know, unambiguously and often, just how much I value their talents, their efforts and all they do to make this company – our company – a success.
Now, where do you think I got the idea to be so effusive in my praise?
I didn’t read it in some management book, or hear it on a podcast. No, I learned this extraordinarily valuable lesson by actually living it, the hard way. By being on the receiving end of negative feedback and no appreciation for so very, very long, I internalized just how badly it feels to not feel respected, to feel expendable, despite doing good – even great – work.
As an employer, I’ve committed to doing the opposite.
No one who works for me will EVER feel undervalued, or that I don’t appreciate their efforts. If I hire you, it’s because I have full confidence you can do the job; when you then do that job well, I don’t take it for granted. I want you to know unequivocally how much I appreciate it. I want people to WANT to do a good job, because when that happen, EVERYBODY wins: the staff, the client, and me as well.
Having been in the position to be hiring people for almost two years now, I honestly can’t see how people WOULDN’T treat their employees well. For me, it’s a no-brainer (though admittedly, I’ve been traumatized by many years of bad employment). But really, how can you go through the trouble of finding the right candidates for the job, have them DO THE JOB WELL, and then…not thank them? Not let them know how much they are valued, how much they mean to you?
I don’t get it.
Actually, that’s not entirely true. I DO get it. Work isn’t supposed to be a soft and fuzzy place, after all. Companies don’t exist to give people jobs they feel good about, and bosses aren’t there to make sure people are happy. Business is about one thing: making money. Don’t like it? Find a job someplace else. That’s the attitude I’ve encountered along the way, anyway.
That’s not what I wanted for my company – not by a longshot.
When I formed my company and started hiring people, I wanted to build a community. I wanted to find like-minded people, who shared my interests and passion for creating fun and memorable entertainment for corporate events. I wanted to hire people who weren’t just out to make a buck, but who WANT to give audiences a great time. It’s not just about dollars for me, and I don’t want it to be so for them either. In order to truly deliver the world-class experience I promise my clients, both my employees and I must genuinely desire to give all we have to give.
And so, after finding the right people, I treat them like GOLD.
I basically treat my folks the way I wish I’d been treated all those years. I compensate them well, I publicly and privately praise good work, I value their candid feedback and work to help them accomplish their own career goals. Does one of my emcees want more experience working with large crowds? I’ll give them the gig doing a team trivia event for a large audience. Does somebody want to become even more proficient with one of the interstitial entertainment we do in between full-room trivia rounds, say leading minute-to-win-it games or karaoke? I’ll assign him or her to the next available gig.
I’m also sure to support my people outside of work as well. I’ll promote any and all projects they might be working on, generously sharing upcoming events, performances, concerts, book readings or what have you to @TrivWorks’ 16K Twitter followers. I also donate to their causes, and am always happy to share whatever wisdom I have about how they can explore their own entrepreneurial ideas, and further develop their own careers.
I’ve found it so very rewarding to treat the people I work with well. It’s not just lip service; when they do a good job and represent me and my company well in front of clients, I can assure you that my effusive praise is genuine. Does every event go perfectly? Of course not – we’re all human. When there are things which could have gone differently, I share that feedback in a courteous and respectful way; because they are all professionals, it always goes smoothly, and they truly appreciate my candor – as I do theirs, when there’s something I myself could have done differently.
Has it not worked out at times? Yes, I’m afraid so. Despite my best efforts to find only the best people, there have been folks I’ve hired over the years who proved not to be the good fits I had hoped they’d be. Fortunately, they were revealed to ultimately not be good fits relatively quickly. But even in these tough situations, I still made a conscious effort to treat them with respect, and to part ways in a courteous and professional manner.
I want the workplace to be fun, I want people to work better together, and I want hard-working staff to feel valued and appreciated. It may be one of those chicken-or-egg scenarios; I can’t tell if it was my years running corporate entertainment and employee loyalty events which helped me treat my team well, or if treating my team well makes me a better team building professional. I like to think that it’s a healthy combination of the two. I spent so many years being kicked down, I want to do everything in my power to make sure that people never have to experience that again.
So long as I have a say in it, anyway.
For further reading on this very important subject, I strongly encourage you to read this Harvard Business Review article about how fairly bosses treat their staff when they’re under stress (spoiler: not very).