An Epic Guide to Team Building in San Francisco

Carly Syms - VIP + Marketing Manager

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What do Stripe, Facebook, Google, Adobe, and SalesForce have in common?

They’re all part of a growing list of incredible companies that have come on a team building adventure with Museum Hack in San Francisco – and they’ve all loved it.

Museum Hack is a renegade museum tour company that works with businesses and other organizations to help improve group communication, loyalty, and innovation. And here’s the thing: our events are actually fun while still ensuring awesome results.  We adapt every tour to meet the individual needs of each company we work with to achieve all of your team building goals, all while having an incredible time.

Is team building something your company needs? How do you know if your employees would benefit from an afternoon of bonding with Museum Hack?

Read on to find out.

A team celebrates their big win on a team building tour in San Francisco with us.

What is team building?

Team building (n.) – the process of encouraging members of a group to work well together, for example by having them take part in activities or games.

At least, that’s the definition of team building according to the Cambridge Dictionary. At Museum Hack, we like to think of team building in our own terms:

Team building with Museum Hack (n.) –  the action of creating or reinforcing trust, skills, rapport, and social good will between a group of people through a shared experience.

While those two definitions may be similar, there’s an important distinction. We’re committed to developing and promoting specific skills with our team building events. All of our tours designed for companies focus on improving communication skills, building rapport and morale, boosting trust, and just generally allowing your team members to really get to know each other outside the work environment.

Of course, every tour can be adjusted to meet your exact needs. If everyone in your office is already the best of friends and you’d rather focus more on developing leadership skills, we can craft an experience for that. Or maybe your office’s communication skills are down and you can’t seem to figure out how to solve it – we can help.

Company team building in San Francisco

A Brief History of Team Building, Museum Hack Style

Little did Museum Hack Founder and CEO Nick Gray know that he was about to fall in love one evening in New York City.

Nick went out on a date. She brought him to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and from that point on, he was smitten.

With the museum.

Nick couldn’t get enough of exploring the Met’s amazing collections and soon after that fateful date, he and his friends began giving renegade tours to museum visitors. It wasn’t long before Museum Hack was born. Nick’s mission? To give awesome museum tours to people who don’t like museums. And it worked. Nick and his friends giving museum tours on weekends has blossomed into a million-dollar business with locations across the country, employing people around the world.

Museum Hack’s first guides noticed how the tours had an unexpected, but awesome effect: they promoted amazing camaraderie among strangers who had never met before and would likely never meet again outside the two hours they spent together at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We realized that if we could create these incredible interactions between strangers in such a short amount of time, that our methods would be especially beneficial for companies looking to improve their team building.

That’s how a new leg of Museum Hack got its start. While our earliest tours were all in New York City at the Met and the American Museum of Natural History, we’ve since expanded to the National Gallery of Art and National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.,  the de Young Museum of Fine Arts and USS Hornet in San Francisco, and the Art Institute of Chicago.

“Thank you for an absolutely exquisite morning on yesterday’s Museum Hack tour. Everyone really enjoyed it and it was all we could talk about afterwards. It was a truly joyful, inspiring, enlightening and FUN experience. Thanks so very much.” – The New Yorker

Why You Should Invest In Team Building

Now that we know a little bit more about what team building means to Museum Hack, and how we’ve evolved our methods and techniques over the years to deliver an incredible experience to the companies we work with, it’s time to talk about the why. Why should your company bother investing in team building – and why should it be with us?

Let’s start with a quick look at the numbers. Team building has been shown to provide 10x returns on employee loyalty, innovation, and work ethic. If that alone isn’t enough to convince you of the value of team building, let’s look at this a little deeper.

Overall, the mindset of employees in the U.S. about their work looks pretty grim:  

  • According to a 2015 survey by the Conference Board, less than half (48.3%, to be exact) of workers in the US are satisfied with their jobs.  
  • 88% of employees and 80% of senior managers just aren’t passionate about the work they do.
  • In 2014, LinkedIn estimated that 85% of the workforce was interested in or actively pursuing new job opportunities.
  • The U.S. has the second-highest annual average company turnover – and 10.3% of that turnover was considered preventable.
  • Unhappy employees are thought to cost the American economy more than $500 billion every year.
  • Earlier this year, Gallup found that 68% of employees in the U.S. aren’t engaged in their work.
  • In fact, that same poll revealed employee engagement has been largely stagnant for the last 15 years.
  • Close to 20% of the US workforce considers themselves “actively disengaged” from their jobs.
  • The overwhelming majority of businesses believe their companies are falling short when it comes to helping promote employee engagement and loyalty.
  • 75% of businesses say they can’t attract the talent they need.
  • Employees are overwhelmingly stressed at the office. 80% of employees reported feeling workplace stress in an Attitudes in the American Workplace study.
  • In an NIOSH report on stress at work, 40% of workers said their jobs were “very or extremely stressful,” while a quarter of workers said their jobs were the top source of stress in their life.

Those are pretty eye-opening and, in a lot of cases, alarming numbers, and managers and executives would be right to be worried about these stats and how they might affect the work environment.  

How do you turn apathetic employees into engaged workers? How do you boost your employee loyalty? How do you keep your workers from being among the 80% of US employees who would be open to taking a new position? How do you help reduce workplace stress? And how do you keep your company from contributing to the estimated billions in losses that unhappy employees cost U.S. businesses every year?

While the information may make the state of employment in the United States look bleak, there’s still good news. You can do something to improve the mindset of your employees, and team building is a great place to turn.

A guest enjoys a San Francisco team building tour.

Team building has far-reaching (and fast!) effects on companies that choose to make the investment. Here are just some of the amazing benefits team building has to offer:

  • Talent attraction – What sets the best companies apart from the rest of the pack? They hire the best people. Believe it or not, team building can help with that – and top companies are already using it to their advantage. Facebook, Uber, and SalesForce, to name a few, are all routinely touting their team building activities to prospective employees. And when you want to hire the best, trust falls and weekend retreats may not be the way to win the hearts of the top talent. Potential employees, and potential millennial employees in particular, want to know more than what their paychecks will look like every month. They want to find companies where the corporate culture is a good fit, and that’s where really awesome and really fun team building can be a huge advantage for recruiters. That’s why we offer intern team building tours to help prospective employees envision what life with that company would be like in a full-time role.
  • Talent retentionOf course, talent attraction and talent retention go hand-in-hand. Employees who were impressed by the team building offerings during the hiring process will likely consider it a huge selling point moving forward. But the benefits of team building for talent retention are subtler, too. If you attract the best, you want to keep the best, and by showing your employees you value them and their happiness, you’re well on your way to sending the right message.
  • Employee loyaltyEmployee happiness and engagement both play huge roles in determining just how loyal your employees are. Loyal employees are less likely to actively look for work elsewhere. And with the second-highest employee turnover rates in the world, U.S. employees are demonstrating how little loyalty they really have to businesses today. High turnover is frustrating and damaging to your business – it can lower morale and costs money, time, and energy when a company is constantly recruiting and training replacements. An upfront investment in boosting loyalty and reducing turnover can save time, money, and headaches later.
  • It’s productive, but you won’t feel like you’re workingThis might be our favorite benefit of team building. When you come on a team building adventure with Museum Hack, you get all the positives of a day out of the office while still reaping tons of workplace rewards. Employees feel refreshed and recharged when they escape their desks for a couple of hours, and we make our activities so much fun, they truly won’t feel like they’re being dragged to a boring company retreat. Your group will return to the office refreshed and ready to go, but still having gained valuable communication skills (or whatever it is you specifically want to work on!) and a new appreciation for their colleagues.
  • Improve office dynamicsOffice politics are one of those unfortunate facts of life in the workplace, and they can wreak havoc on employee morale. It’s important to take the time to focus on making sure the dynamics in your office are what you want them to be. A manager or executive who is conscious of company culture may pay special attention to office dynamics, as they’re one of the key areas that can impact overall employee happiness at work – and unhappy employees are terrible for your bottom line.  
  • Improve communicationsCommunication is key in so many areas of life, but it’s particularly vital to a happy workplace. Our games, activities, and challenges are all designed to help boost and improve communication skills. While your employees are off having fun together, they’ll also be subtly learning better ways to engage and talk with each other. What’s not to love?
  • Integrate new workersChanging jobs can be intimidating enough on its own, but fitting into a new company with its own culture, politics, and landscape can make onboarding a totally daunting experience for new employees. Help ease them into the transition by planning a team building outing soon after they’ve come onboard. Team building is amazing for highlighting new sides of people’s personalities, and it’ll help your old team see their co-workers in new lights, all while helping the new hire fit right in.
  • Build better relationships – At the end of the day, life is about developing relationships with other people, and having solid bonds in the workplace can go a long way to setting your office up for success. Team building is all about giving your group an opportunity to come together, laugh together, and learn new things together – all of which can boost morale and help forge bonds. In order to successfully complete Museum Hack’s challenges and scavenger hunts, your team members will have to work together in harmony.
  • Promote work-life balanceWorkplace stress is a huge problem facing U.S. workers today and many employees report wishing they had a better work-life balance. While team building may not fully solve that problem, it can certainly help employees de-stress as they get out of the office for a few hours and recharge their batteries. Better yet? An investment in a fun team building activity sends a signal to your workers that you truly value them and are committed to their development.

What the experts have to say

Of course, you don’t have to take our word for it. Scholars around the world have spent years studying the benefits of team building. Here’s what they have to say:

  • In their work titled Advances in  Psychology: Issues, Theory, and Research in Industrial/Organizational Psychology, a team of researchers took a look at the true effects of team building. Their findings uncovered that team building remains effective in the office atmosphere, with a particular benefit coming from improving the perceptions and attitudes of employees. In fact, that boost in attitude was the top benefit the researchers discovered – and it’s one we think is absolutely vital to the happiness and morale in your office.
  • In her article “Building trust and collaboration in a virtual team” appearing in Team Performance Management: An International Journal, Judith A. Holton tackled the value of team building in a specific population – for remote and virtual teams. With companies increasingly relying on remote workers, Holton explored the connection between team performance and team building activities for remote workers. She found that the needs of virtual teams were quite similar to the needs of teams worked side-by-side in an office everyday: the teams all needed to develop a strong foundation that allowed them to trust their coworkers and work together. Without these elements, Holton surmised that a virtual team wouldn’t functioning efficiently, much like a team working in-house. Holton concluded that team building activities are paramount to strengthening the core of virtual teams.
  • Does team building work? The appropriately-named study out of the University of Central Florida sought to answer that exact question. The conclusion? Yes! The study looked at four main reasons companies turn to team building and evaluated the effectiveness of each: goal setting, interpersonal relations, problem solving, and role clarification. Ultimately, the study found that team building had a positive effect on teams who participated.
  • Can team building impact overall job satisfaction? We think so – and so does research published in the Journal for Nurses in Professional Development. In the study “The Impact of Team Building on Communication and Job Satisfaction,” researchers examined a medical-surgical unit that participated in several team building activities. Before team building began, researchers measured the group’s communication and job satisfaction. By the end of the activities, there was a marked improvement in both communication and job satisfaction. Staff leaders found that team building helped them build a more effective team of stronger communications who now had healthier relationships with their colleagues.
  • In their articleDeveloping effective social support: Team building and the social support process,” researchers studied the impact of social support on team performance. Social support includes listening, providing confirmation, and task appreciation. When these methods were used, researchers found team members had better physical and emotional well-being and these teams were “more likely to build a working, achieving, successful organization, one with effective communication and a shared commitment to team goals and a team vision of success.”

Team building can focus on so many specific goals – from better communication to better listening to improved focus to simply having a great time – but the overall outcome is often the same: teams head back to the office in a much better place than they were when they left it. What’s not to like about that?

What does team building in San Francisco look like?  

Team Building Tour at the de Young in San Francisco
Guide Adrian on tour in San Francisco

Now that we’ve discussed what team building is and why you should invest in it, we’d like to talk about why you should trust your San Francisco team building to us.

We have several amazing locations perfect for team building events in the Bay Area, plus we’re happy to come to you – or get creative looking for the perfect venue!

San Francisco’s Attic – Team Building at the de Young Museum of Fine Arts

The de Young Museum of Fine Arts, located in the heart of the city in Golden Gate Park, has been in operation for more than 100 years. The museum’s original building suffered significant damage during the Earthquake of 1906. In 1972, its European art collection became part of the Legion of Honor. Almost two decades later, the museum was ravaged once again by Mother Nature, this time by the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, and the building was a total loss. The museum’s surviving collections moved into a new building in 2005, with just a few remaining original elements from the old museum, including the sphinxes that are housed by the Pool of Enchantment.

The museum’s collections are home to a variety of art, including American paintings, African art, Art of the Americas, Oceanic Art, textiles, and photography. They’ve welcomed dozens of amazing exhibitions, including one dedicated to the incredible fashions of the famed Oscar de la Renta.

All of these elements combine to create a space that’s fascinating, unique, and a little bit eclectic. In other words, it’s perfect for team building.

SF Team Building Testimonial #1 – Facebook at the De Young

We’ve brought tons of teams through the de Young with us, but we’ve had the pleasure of bringing several different groups from Facebook on team building adventures in San Francisco. One of our favorite days with the popular social media company took place in early 2016. Our San Francisco team hosted a group from Facebook on a beautiful Saturday afternoon packed full of company team bonding.

The group of approximately 40 guests spent the afternoon exploring the de Young Museum, dining al fresco in Golden Gate Park, and coming together as a team in new ways.

To get the day started, we split the group into two smaller teams in order to make it easier for people to get to know each other. The first group enjoyed a beautiful outdoor lunch at the nearby Bandshell in Golden Gate Park, while the second headed to into the de Young to kickstart their team building experience. Over the course of the next three hours, the groups switched places so everyone could participate in the same great activities.

While in the museum, the different groups were treated to mind-blowing stories about the art and participated in several games designed to promote team bonding. As the first group toured the museum, the second took part in a giant round of Human Bingo in the park. Human Bingo is one of our favorite choices for team building, as it encourages your group to get to know each other in ways they probably wouldn’t inside the office. While playing Human Bingo, team members must interview each other to find employees who possess the characteristics on their Bingo cards (Who’s vegan? Who can’t get out of the bed in the morning without a cup of coffee? Who has four dogs?)

Facebook’s team had a great time hanging out in Golden Gate Park and at the de Young Museum on a sunny Saturday afternoon in San Francisco. Everyone left relaxed, refreshed, and with some wonderful new insights into their coworkers.

It was very hands-off on my part! I didn’t have to worry about it at all. It was fantastic.” – Michan from Facebook

SF Team Building Testimonial #2 – Stripe at the de Young

Finding a great team building activity can be tough when your entire group is local, but the pressure is really on when you’re trying to plan an amazing afternoon to introduce and connect your local team with another group traveling in for the experience from overseas.

That’s why Stripe, an Irish Internet-based payment processing company, reached out to us about our company team building offerings in San Francisco. A team from their offices in Ireland was heading to the Bay Area for a week-long planning session with their U.S. cohorts, and Stripe wanted to mix a little fun in with their business.

Stripe felt very passionately about including team building on the business trip as there’s a lot of cross-functional work between the Ireland and San Francisco teams. The company wanted to improve communication among the groups. Plus, a team building museum tour would be a fun, relaxing way for the colleagues to get to know each other better and put faces and personalities to the names they talk to all day, but don’t know very well socially.

We went to work planning an incredible evening of team building for Stripe’s team at the de Young Museum in San Francisco. Not only did we treat this group to our un-highlights tour, revealing all of the best, hidden, and sometimes scandalous secrets and crazy objects in the museum, but we ran several customized team building activities designed to optimize our time with the group for maximum bonding.

After playing a few quick and energizing team building games, we sat down to teach our storytelling workshop to the Stripe team. We explained how good stories can actually impact brain chemistry and hormones, and why that’s proven to improve the customer experience. The workshop went a step further, showing Stripe how they could apply our storytelling principles to their own business needs. The group learned our Five Elements of a Hack before we split the team into smaller groups so they could explore the museum and choose their own piece to hack. Those stories were then presented to the entire team.

Stripe really embraced the storytelling workshop, and their teams impressed the guides and each other with the incredible stories they came up with for their hacks. Stripe nailed the engagement element of the evening and had a great time talking about the different ways they could use stories in their professional and personal lives. One person was super excited about taking the information and applying it to their vendor relationships – they were confident it would help make better, lasting connections.

Overall, Stripe had a great time at the de Young museum team building and bonding with their local and international teams!

“Just wanted to say thanks for a great tour. Everyone really enjoyed the offsite. It’s definitely the most fun I’ve ever had on a museum tour!” – Katina fom Stripe

SF Team Building Testimonial #3 – AnswerLab at the de Young

Recently, we had the opportunity to take AnswerLab, a San Francisco-based company that specializes in user experience research, for a fantastic day of team building in the City by the Bay.

AnswerLab came to us looking for a team building event that would help them connect their out-of-town employees with their fellow co-workers who are local to San Francisco. As a company with teams in New York, D.C. and San Francisco (along with remote employees all over the world), we loved the challenge at hand!

Our guides planned a fabulous two-and-a-half-hour custom museum adventure for AnswerLab’s team of 16. We tailored the company’s private museum tour to celebrate what makes AnswerLab unique. The company is known for its innovative research with eye tracking, so our guides dug up the best pieces that feature the way eyes move through artwork.

We also led several team building activities during the tour, including our favorite games such as Buy, Steal, Burn and The Match Maker. AnswerLab’s larger group was divided into smaller teams in order to take on our most challenging de Young scavenger hunt yet where each team must race through the museum to find hidden objects – it was good spirited and collaborative, but of course there was only one winner!

Before heading home for the day, AnswerLab’s team let their hair down during our fun Polaroid photo challenge, where team members took cheeky photos as they posed with the statues in the museum.

Overall, it was a great day of team building that allowed AnswerLab’s local and remote employees to engage with each other and get to know each other in ways they hadn’t been able to before.

“Our team had so much fun! It was a really fun way to get to know a little bit about the art and have fun being together.” – Pamela from AnswerLab

Ghost hunts, World War II, & Partying Like It’s 1945 – Team Building on the USS Hornet

It doesn’t get much cooler than team building on an old warship, but that’s exactly what we do on the USS Hornet.

The restored U.S. Navy aircraft carrier was an active part of World War II battles in the Pacific, and later joined the Vietnam War. The USS Hornet made headlines when the ship recovered the astronauts from Apollo 11 in 1969 and later Apollo 12. Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong took their first steps back on Earth after walking on the moon on the hangar deck of the USS Hornet, a spot which is memorialized today.

The USS Hornet is easily one of the most interesting museums in San Francisco. It makes our job of telling incredible stories easy. When on a team building tour with Museum Hack on the ship, you can expect to see all of the boat’s amazing sites, hear fascinating war stories, play fun, interactive games like “Escape the Ship!” and we may even take you on a ghost hunt.

“Few people realize that the USS Hornet has a history that dates back to George Washington and the Continental Navy. It’s a very special museum because of its ability to transport you to a fascinating world behind this floating island; our tour hacks the mind-blowing secrets behind her walls and the science behind her accomplishments.” – Kathryn Nickles | USS Hornet Tour Guide

San Francisco’s Antique Penny Arcade – Team Building at the Musée Mécanique

Musée Mécanique translates to “Mechanical Museum.” What you’ll find inside is an antique arcade wonderland nestled in the heart of Fisherman’s Wharf. The Musée holds one of the world’s largest privately owned collections of old arcade games and coin-operated player pianos and mechanical models – all lovingly kept in their original working condition. Some of them date back to the 1800s! Most collectors would keep these rare antiques under lock and key, but here they are all available for the public to play.

This is the only hands-on museum in the nation that Museum Hack leads tours in – it’s a rare treat in a Museum space.

Every Museum Hack Musée Mécanique team building tour includes:

  • A fun, fast-paced scavenger hunt.
  • Mini-hacks of various games explaining their context, and why their new-fangled technology was considered hot sh8t back in the day.
  • Time to explore on your own.
    • Want to get your fortune told half a dozen times? Go for it.
    • Feel the need to squish many pennies? We’ve got you.
    • Rather spend all your time kicking ass in Mortal Kombat? That’s fine too.
  • A friendly team competition to crown an ultimate arcade champion.

You’ll learn so much about the history of this one-of-a-kind space that you’ll be able to bring your friends and family back to visit and knock their socks off with your expert nerdery.

If you book a team building tour with Museum Hack at Musée Mécanique, we guarantee you a unique, exciting experience that will blow bowling or any old happy hour out of the water and leave you with a newfound appreciation for your colleagues’ skee ball skills.

“They had a fantastic time!  They absolutely loved it.” – On a group of executives from Skanska, who flew in from Sweden for the tour.

Team Building At The Asian Art Museum 

San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum is the largest museum in the US dedicated solely to the arts of Asia – home to more than 18,000 objects! But this incredible collection of Asian art didn’t always have its own space.

The Asian Art Museum originally opened to the public in 1966 as a wing of the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park, where it lived for 35 years. As the collection continued to grow and the leadership craved independence it was clear the de Young’s Asian Art wing needed to become the Asian Art Museum.

In 2003, after many years of hard work, money and dedication, the Asian Art Museum found a new home (in the former main library) in San Francisco’s historic and busy Civic Center.

Today the Asian Art Museum is an immense living education center, rich with 6,000 years of history and culture – the ultimate space for team building!

Team Building At Your Place

Although we love the de Young Museum and the USS Hornet, we realize that off-site team building isn’t the best fit for every company. That’s why we’ll come to your place armed with our best mobile team building activities and challenges.

We recently brought our Team Building Melee to one of our favorite companies in New York City. The hour-long event was designed to energize Justworks’ team of 100 employees after a company-wide meeting. We planned close to a dozen mini team-building activities that could be done in one space by a ton of people, and it was awesome.

From a giant game of Rock, Paper, Scissors to building skyscrapers out of spaghetti noodles and marshmallows to body movement exercises, Justworks’ team spent time bonding together, laughing together, and enjoying their day.

Afterward, their CEO raved about the event, noting:

“This was great. We just celebrated an awesome quarter, and I wanted something to go with our all-hands meeting that would be fun. Museum Hack was able to make something awesome in a 40-minute time block that had people moving and interacting in ways we NEVER have before.”

Team Building In San Francisco

Museum Hack team building tours are great ways for groups of all sizes to gain a fresh perspective on the museum experience.
Museum Hack team building tours are great ways for groups of all sizes to gain a fresh perspective on the museum experience.

Sometimes, there are cases where you may not want to team build in a museum, and we’re up for the challenge!

Earlier this year, a giant Fortune 10 company reached out for our help planning an amazing afternoon in San Francisco for a group of executives. The team had specific key objectives for their first day in the Bay Area and we were happy to create an event to match those goals.

Just after lunch, our senior VIP tour guide met the group on a San Francisco trolley car and together traveled to the Japanese Tea Garden inside Golden Gate Park  to participate in a Japanese Tea Ceremony workshop.

After the hour-long ceremony workshop, the group gathered for a specific coaching session related to company business goals and ideals before we launched into a discussion on the future of the company as a whole.

Our guide served as a creative partner with the company to help build activities, tell stories, and set the context for each specific location visited over the course of the afternoon. Each element of the event tied into San Francisco’s history, continual innovation, and the relevance to the company we were working with.

It was an incredible afternoon of learning, development, and discussion surrounded by the beauty of Golden Gate Park!

What’s next?

Now that you know a little bit more about team building, why it’s important, and what our options are in San Francisco, we’d love to talk to you more about what we can do for your specific team needs. Give us a call at 1-800-210-9676, send us an email at [email protected], or fill out the form below to talk to one of our awesome team building experts.

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