Banana appeal: How Banana Life took team building online

Team building expert Andy Balzat says he’s never facilitated a trust fall – but this year, he’s had to take a leap of faith. 

Balzat’s company, Banana Life, is dedicated to boosting office morale and building meaningful connections without falling back on the old team building clichés. The Brisbane business offers fresh ideas and activities for workplaces that have seen it all, encouraging them to step outside their comfort zones.

The COVID crunch 

Traditionally, Banana Life has hosted its team building events in person. Its most popular offerings included live game shows hosted at clients’ offices or at hotels and conference venues; and scavenger hunts designed to get teams solving clues and locating hidden actors in the ‘real’ world. They’ve conducted aerosol art workshops, brought companies together to build bicycles for charity, and even organised flash mobs in King George Square. 

Of course, in the age of COVID-19, physical get-togethers are off the agenda. So, as Balzat explains, Banana Life has had to bend to a whole new way of doing business. 

“Our plans for the rest of the year were pretty simple – increase our exposure, widen our funnel and book more face-to-face events. But then COVID happened,” Balzat says. 

Balzat was sitting in the ground-level cafeteria of a Melbourne building where he was about to host a workshop when he received a call from the client, up on level 24 of that very building. It was his first COVID cancellation.

“When I got back to Brisbane, the only phone calls we were getting were cancellations. All of our upcoming events were cancelled or postponed… we basically shut down for a couple of months.”

The pivot 

Fortunately, Balzat had already begun trialling an innovative approach that would give Banana Life a new skin – and he soon realised that in a time of distancing and disconnection, there was more of a need for his company’s services than ever. 

“About halfway through last year, we tested a virtual team building activity that had been developed by our partner company in the United States,” Balzat says.

“At Christmas time, we put on a remote scavenger hunt for a health company that has five offices across Australia, all coordinated from our headquarters in Newstead. But we didn’t see the opportunity that virtual or remote team building presented until this year, when we realised it was the only thing we could offer that people were interested in right now.”

Banana Life now facilitates virtual events – essentially online versions of their live game shows – for anywhere from 5 to 500 players at a time. Compèred by professional MCs and entertainers, the events are hosted on a dedicated secure platform on the Google Cloud Network, and feature multiple games and breakout rooms for players to circulate between.

“The virtual platform is purposefully designed for remote team building,” Balzat says. 

For teams that are physically separated and running low on morale, these virtual sessions can serve as a replacement to traditional social club events, strategy days and onboarding programs. 

Essentially, the virtual team building activities have replaced Banana Life’s in-person offerings. Balzat says his team has gone from hosting five face-to-face events a week to facilitating 20 virtual events a week, and are actually busier than they were at the same time last year. Perhaps most significantly, Balzat says the virtual sessions have expanded Banana Life’s reach beyond Brisbane, with interstate and international clients coming in bunches.

The new normal? 

As COVID-19 restrictions continue to lift around Australia and the world, traditional team building events in face-to-face settings might soon be back on the menu. For his part, Balzat isn’t sure if Banana Life will embrace a return to the ‘old normal’, or continue to go all-in on virtual events. 

“I don’t have an answer for that, and I don’t think I’m alone in that uncertainty,” he says. 

“If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we can’t take anything for granted. As the in-person events start to come up again in Brisbane, I think it will be a matter of doing what we can and being a bit smarter about which opportunities we say ‘yes’ to. A lot of budgets have been halved, and when clients want you to do twice the work for half the pay, sometimes you’re better off saying ‘no’. That’s not easy, but it’s often the right thing to do. 

“I don’t think we’re going to just go back to the way we were. The virtual team building is very exciting, and it’s going to continue to take off and provide us with opportunities, not just in Brisbane, but across the Asia Pacific region.”

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Brisbane Business Hub

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