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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

Team-building to the sound of a different drum

Companies get creative with fun-filled bonding exercises

Dubai Drums Corporate Evens Marriot Courtyard Green Community Kenzo. Photo by M. van Mourik
Dubai Drums Corporate Evens Marriot Courtyard Green Community Kenzo. Photo by M. van Mourik

What does team-building mean to you – a day stuck in the boardroom with a pile of Post-it notes and some limp sandwiches?

Businesses are getting more creative with their bonding – from group drumming to an activity-filled yacht trip.

Known as the “Drum Lady”, Julie-Ann Odell has been running Dubai Drums since 2002, with drum circles on moonlight safaris a standard desert trip for families.

But as well as being a master drum circle facilitator, she is also a certified leadership coach and neuro-linguistic programming practitioner. She always includes a drumming session as part of the corporate team-building sessions she organises through her other business, Jupiter Eclipse Training (Jet).

The biggest event she has run was for 4,000 drummers at the Dubai World Trade Centre. Jet runs three to five events across the UAE each week and also has an office in Cairo.

“We are wearing a mask in the workplace and not being our true authentic selves,” Ms Odell says. “When you relate on a real level, the masks come off. We are all rhythmical beings and can drum together as a tribe. Drumming is very primal.”

Another way to find your work zen is out at sea. Fit Squad DXB, which started out offering mobile personal training six months ago, stumbled into corporate events when it held a Mind, Body and Sea event as a branding exercise. It was so popular that the company partnered with a yacht firm to run a monthly two-hour cruise from Dubai Marina.

The most unusual class they have held is Animal Flex, says co-founder Devinder Bains, a workout they created based on animal movements and yoga stretches. “We had 50-odd people on all fours racing across the deck in a beast race, posing like crabs and scorpions,” she says.

Leaving at 8am, participants enjoy a 35-minute wellness workshop, a 35-minute workout and then a 20-minute meditation, followed by a healthy breakfast and “chill and chat” back on shore.

“Events like this are great for employee morale,” says Ms Bains. “This sort of interaction can produce new and fresh ideas.” The Dh150-per-head boat trip is regarded by employees as a “real treat”.

But, says David Ballard of the American Psychological Association on the US News and World Report website, care must be taken when planning team-building events.

Although companies have the best intentions when they implement these activities, he says, they can be counter-productive if not executed properly – disrupting trust, heightening tensions and allowing cynicism to grow in the workplace.

"An entire industry has grown around corporate team-building programmes, from ropes courses, wilderness programs and paintball to ice breakers, trust exercises, and coaching sessions based on questionable personality tests," says Mr Ballard. He adds that while it's not unusual for vendors to "pitch high-priced programmes" and "tout amazing performance improvements" that companies have achieved as a result of such activities, employers should still take these promises with a grain of salt.

Employers should also be sensitive to differing needs and limitations. "When planning team-building activities, employers should also be sure to offer a variety of options at different times, including some that are during work hours, so that employees with different physical abilities and those with care-giving demands aren't marginalised or excluded," he adds.

Drumming, says Ms Odell, leaves participants with a lasting and “euphoric feeling of achievement”.

“Times have become too competitive and people yearn to do something collaborative.”

Here Ms Odell talks to The National about drumming and its positive effects on well-being.

Have there been any studies on the effects of drumming?

In a 2004 study at a nursing home in Pennsylvania, US, staff took part in six weekly group drumming sessions. Their moods improved by 46 per cent immediately after the sessions and by 62 per cent six weeks later. There were also 49 fewer employee resignations in the next year than in the same period the previous year, according to author Dr Barry Bittman. Colleague Margaret Bailey said drumming created a “connectiveness and energy within the group”.

Can anyone drum?

Absolutely, says Ms Odell… even if you were told at school you were not musical. “Rhythm is a universal language, like love and mathematics,” she says. But she confesses she can easily pick out the financial, technical and engineering types. “They have a predominant left hemisphere and you can’t drum from the left hemisphere, which is control-based. They usually take a long time to let go.”

If I’m organising a team day, what’s the best time to drum?

Drumming is equally good as an early morning ice-breaker, a post-lunch reviver or an explosive end to the day, says Ms Odell. But she will normally use it to close when she runs all-day events.

Why is drumming good for well-being?

Bashing, banging and tapping rhythmically will boost endorphins (like a “jogger’s high”) and boost the immune system, Ms Odell says – it will send you into an alpha state, where the brain is balanced, like group meditation, golf or listening to music. And it will teach drummers that what they do together is “far greater than anything they can do alone”.