Team-building exercises usually elicit more cringes than excitement among workers. Trust falls, building newspaper towers and other forced interactions can sometimes hurt team cohesion.
To combat the negative vibes that sometimes come from team-building activities, many businesses are choosing activities that appeal to a younger workforce. While that could mean visiting a local escape room or throwing axes, the team at Podium has found an action-packed activity to facilitate bonding between co-workers: Fortnite.
"I think that games have been vital … throughout human history," said Podium CEO and co-founder Eric Rea. "As the CEO of a company that is 89% millennial, I think that Fortnite is our generation's version [of that concept]."
With colleges offering Fortnite scholarships and the game generating more than $200 million in a single month more than a year ago, there's no doubt that the popular Epic Games title still holds the attention of large swaths of the population.
While the game's popularity explains the Podium team's interest in it, how does playing Fortnite help build trust and cooperation among Podium's employees? And what can other businesses learn from this company's unconventional approach to team building?
From the boardroom to the "Battle Bus"
Games like Fortnite, PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds and Apex Legends are wildly popular with millions of players. These "battle royale" games drop up to 100 players onto a play area where they are forced to find their own weapons and supplies before taking on opponents. The last player or team of players left standing wins.
Fortnite is the most popular game in this genre because it is free to play. Once celebrities and major streamers on Twitch (those with more than 40,000 regular viewers) started playing it, kids took notice, and soon, so did parents. Rea said it wasn't his team but their children who initially brought the game to the company's attention.
"One of the members of our executive team came back from the weekend telling us about this game that he played with his two sons and that it was something we should check out," said Rea. "Within a couple of days, we were completely into it."
Since the game is playable on Android and iOS devices, Rea said the team quickly downloaded the app and began playing together when possible. Soon, they were able to get in games that were "quick enough that we could fit [it] into our schedule as a break."
"Whether we were in a SkyClub waiting for our flight or finished a meeting early, it was a quick reward we could jump into and enjoy," he said. "It's just a common thread that transcends differences or hierarchy, and it's paid off big for us."
Remaining clutch inside and out of the game
Video games and responsibilities don't generally go hand in hand. Players can easily get caught up in the action and lose track of time while playing them. Because of the game's short matches, Podium hasn't had this problem with its employees.
"I think that is kind of the stereotype of gaming culture that hasn't really played out here," said Rea. "Fortnite is also great in that a match typically only runs 20 minutes, so you can fit in a game and get back to work really easily."
Perhaps the key element to the team's use of Fortnite as a means of team building is the cooperative nature of the game. When playing on a team, players have to call out enemy positions and share provisions when necessary. That level of cooperation can easily be found in other video games.
With roughly a quarter of Podium's staff now engaged in regular Fortnite battles, Rea said he's noticed an increased amount of cohesion between departments as barriers built in the workplace get destroyed online.
"What was interesting was how quickly [Fortnite] became part of our routine ... We weren't going into it thinking that it would make us a more cohesive leadership team, but developing roles and communicating as a squad in the game actually translates well into real life," said Rea. "Being able to have the C-suite, project managers, sales reps and the office manager all playing on the same squad has been helpful in maintaining touchpoints that can be difficult."
Even though video games like Fortnite generally do nothing for the business's bottom line, Rea said the game has helped certain team members break out of their shell.
"When we were getting better as a squad, it sounds cheesy, but we actually developed leadership roles within the game that would all rotate," he said. "You could be the alpha one game and run cover the next. When that game is immediately followed by actual work, you start to see different beneficial interactions emerge that I don't know we would have had without the gameplay beforehand."