Nick Gray is Museum Hack’s CEO and Founder. He works with businesses and museums around the world on creating unique and innovative experiences that bond teams and engage audiences. Today, he shares ideas on how he fosters growth and creativity within the Museum Hack team.
Three months ago I had a Eureka moment…
“The best investment I can make is an investment in my team.”
Boom! Mind blown!
Maybe not for other entrepreneurs, but for me this was a massive realization. Before that moment, I struggled to justify internal expenses. I’d say things like, “it’s not in the budget” or “we can do this when we are bigger.”
And instead of investing in team building, investments had to have an immediate ROI — every decision was profit driven. I thought pinching-pennies was the only way to move forward. Museum Hack is a bootstrapped company — we don’t have millions in funding. We have to be scrappy and do more with less.
But that mindset of, “we can’t spend money on this” was actually strangling the company. And when we decided to loosen the rope a little bit, something remarkable happened…
Now the Museum Hack team is happier, our tours are better, and we are growing faster than ever before.
That’s why I asked two of our team members to collaborate and write this post about “Trainages” — the bi-weekly investment in training sessions that are fueling Museum Hack’s growth and can help you 10x your team.
Here it is…
Trainages: The Best Team Building Activity
Museum Hack is a team-focused company, and that means we not only teach best practices for building a team but that we live those practices too.
On conference calls we will share “three unusual facts you didn’t know about me,” and when we get together in person we tend to play. The goal is to spark connections between our people, because those connections lead to new ideas, better communication, and growth (for us as individuals and for the company as a whole).
And this play is even more critical at Museum Hack because we are a geographically dispersed remote team (we have team members in San Francisco, Belgium, Beijing, and many other cities). Most of us are in NYC, but we work from home, museum coffee shops, and anywhere else we can get a mocha-latte and reliable WI-FI. By the way, we’ve developed some tips and ideas around virtual team building activities for remote teams that you can learn from too.
When we do get together for work, it’s usually in pairs to lead one of our unconventional museum tours — a wild two hours of yoga, storytelling, and museum games. It is fast paced and high pressure (with near zero time to socialize).
“Trainages” grew organically from our need to get together as a team and just hang out, as well as take care of important company functions like corporate updates. These functions still had a Museum Hack spin on them, i.e., instead of just having team leaders give an update, which is kind of boring, we would give those same updates in rhyming couplets, which adds a little silliness and whimsy while still sharing the important information.
For about 18 months, we had these gatherings once per month, but then serendipity struck — one of our tour guides lost her voice and had to take a break from giving tours.
We wanted to make sure that voice-strain wouldn’t be a problem for her or any team member again in the future, so we came up with a plan…
We hired a voice coach.
Vocal Training was Our First “Skill Hack” for Growth
Anyone in theatre or performance knows the value of voice training, but in the business world the need for it may not be intuitive. For us it was a must! Here’s what one of our guides said about it:
“I wanted to get a vocal coach in, partly because I had a vocal strain last summer, which sidelined me from doing tours for several weeks. And after seeing the coach, my eyes were wide open to how much all the guides needed that education — how to use your voice in a museum setting in a way that is really healthy and effective and preserves your voice.”
For our guides, their voice is a tool of the trade. They just can’t complete their work without being able to tell stories, answer questions, and more.
So we decided to make the investment. We hired a vocal coach to come to one of our Trainages and give us all a class on vocal health. In our one-hour vocal workshop, our coach taught us:
- how to keep your voice healthy;
- how to warm up;
- exercises for our guides to do before tours;
- things you can do when your voice is feeling really tired;
- how to prep for tours if you are sick; and
- how to project your voice with minimal strain in a museum setting.
By the end of the workshop, we had accomplished two great things: we had upgraded each member of our team from “voice noob” to “voice intermediate,” and we had become closer as a team (a side effect of doing the fun exercises together).
Since then, we’ve continuously hired coaches to train us, including game development, storytelling, and improv. Here’s why we chose each of these skills:
- Game Development: our tours are designed to be fun, interactive, and always evolving. By learning what goes into a great game and experiencing some of the group games our coach had come up with, we are able to improve our tours.
- Storytelling: this one was low hanging fruit for us. Each of our tours is the result of dozens of museum trips and hundreds of hours of research. It’s imperative that our guides are able to condense all that knowledge into fun, memorable stories for our guests.
- Improv Training: this training is about being able to react to whatever happens quickly and with poise, so that instead of getting set back, we can turn them around and make it an amazing experience.
The last one, improv training, may not seem like an intuitive fit for your team. But investing in that “ability to think on your feet” is a huge boost for any employee.
Interested in running a training session for your team? We’ve written a brief guide below, including basic functional stuff to plan and prepare, as well as best practices we’ve learned over time.
How to Run a Training Workshop For Your Team
Step 1: Decide on a Place and Time
We use a space that is a little bit small, but is central and accessible for most team members. Accessible is important because we want to maximize attendance.
Similarly, we usually hold our trainages on Monday nights. Many museums are closed on Mondays, which means no tours and that most of our people will be free. If it makes sense for your team to do the trainage over lunch or during work hours that’s cool, too — there is no set rule.
Side note: Most of our clients do team building during the work day and that’s part of the reason employees enjoy participating. It’s a break from their regular work day and allows them to do something totally out of the box.
And for duration, each of our trainages is about two hours long. We’ve found that to be a natural limit that most people can continue to engage at a high level. Shorter could work too, and actually our events usually go longer, as team members tend to mingle afterward and enjoy drinks, etc. But official business stops after two hours.
Step 2: Decide on a Skill and Hire the Coach
At Museum Hack, we are fortunate to have a broad network of artists and coaches that are excited to work with us. We recommend looking in your network, too: either for professional trainers or for people with talents they are willing to share. We compensate our coaches, but some of them don’t know they will be paid until they arrive for the session. If you can find that genuine enthusiasm for the craft and love of teaching, you’ve struck gold.
But how to go about choosing a skill? Our team member weighed in:
“Go wide. Don’t go super specific. And try to find skills that aren’t just about ROI, but instead improve a person’s general well being and existence in the world. That of course reflects on their job performance and on how they interact with their team members and your clients every single day.”
One general recommendation is to go to your people for the ideas. Employees usually know what they need, so ask them. “In the great, wide world, what are you interested in learning in general? And what do you think would be something you want to learn or a skill you could acquire that will help you do your job better?”
And if that fails, you can follow the thread we do at Museum Hack — performance skills. In theatre/performance type training, it’s all about being present in the moment and maximizing your ability to communicate. For most companies, this will be a great place to start!
Step 3: Get a Great Turn Out
Our trainages aren’t mandatory, but they are highly encouraged.
That means that if someone is at all able to be at the event, then they should be present.
Exceptions include when our part-time employees are scheduled at their other job, or when someone is away on vacation.
And we get a great turnout — usually 14 or 15 of the 17 team members in NYC.
But scheduling a convenient time and place, and encouraging people to come, isn’t enough on it’s own. You will get the best turnout when people WANT to be there. The gold standard is to have the kind of culture where people are excited to get together.
One way to do this is to see how the company culture works organically. When your people get together, do they eat gourmet food? Do they drink? Some company cultures are really physical and they do events like Tough Mudder together. Just take that thing that is happening naturally, and infuse it with company budget and some structure.
Final Thoughts: The Investment That Will 10x Your Team
Team building and staff development are an essential part of a thriving business. Most business owners and managers will agree with this statement, but still be thinking, “I don’t have the budget for this.”
But saying you don’t have money for staff development is like saying you are too hungry to eat something. It makes no sense. Growth requires staff development, and it’s an investment that will pay for itself 10x over time.
Want a shortcut?
Museum Hack runs corporate team building activities in NYC, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington DC.