Since 1995, the National Pest Management Association has flipped the conventional leadership conference model upside down, successfully incorporating a contagious sense of camaraderie and teamwork throughout its annual Academy conference year after year. The event is a combination of industry expert keynotes and education with team tasks woven throughout for 300 owners and mid- to upper-level managers of pest management companies, including Orkin and Terminix.
Celebrating Academy’s 20th anniversary this year, NPMA convenes July 15-17 at The Westin Lake Las Vegas Resort & Spa, about 20 miles east of the Las Vegas Strip. NPMA’s Chief Operating Officer Dominique Stumpf, CMP, CAE, and Alexis Wirtz, director of meetings and exhibits, joined forces to plan the event, scouting social media for fresh ideas and innovative teambuilding activities. Connect’s Anna Dunn talked with the dynamic duo to learn their tips and tricks for building strong teams and encouraging a little healthy competition.
How are you switching up teambuilding activities this year?
AW We try to come up with new Olympic-style events every year. Since it’s our 20th anniversary, we surveyed folks to come up with their top activities from the past and do those with a new twist. We saw a video on Facebook of a human version of Hungry Hungry Hippos, where people are on their stomachs on scooters and try to collect as many balls as they can. We’re also doing a slip ’n’ slide combined with [the team-based drinking game] flip cup, calling it “slip ’n’ flip.” It won’t involve alcohol, but they have to slide down and then do a game of flip cup with water. We are also doing a synchronized swimming contest. Each team will put together a one- to three-minute routine judged by our staff and the hotel staff.
What are you doing this year to celebrate 20 years?
DS We launched a mentoring program as part of the Academy. A lot of people have been a part of [the event] for a long time, but they’re not at the energy level they once were. They still want to be engaged and and want to participate, but they don’t want to be uberengaged in activities. The mentoring component allows them to sign up and be assigned to mentor rookies based on shared interests.
What activities do you have for attendees who aren’t so competitive?
AW We have things that require different types of skills, like putting a puzzle together as fast as they can, creating something artistic for their team or participating in a photo scavenger hunt. It appeals to people’s abilities and what they feel most comfortable doing. And we’ve gone to easy, simple activities on the last night to allow people to network. This year, we’re doing a ’90s theme for the anniversary. Each team will do a ’90s lip-sync routine, and we’ll have cutouts of ’90s celebrities, like Michael Jordan, Kramer from “Seinfeld” and Julia Roberts, for people to take selfies with.
How is the group broken into teams?
DS We have six teams with 40 to 50 people per team. We want them to have a high level of participation and morale. We don’t create teams that are so small that when a couple of people decide not to participate it deflates the whole team. We feel like this size allows for a handicap… because 10 percent are going to find the pool a little too alluring [and skip the games].
Who leads them?
DS Each team has three captains—one person from our sponsor, Dow AgroSciences, and two people from our leadership development group. We divide them up alphabetically by company to get them on teams without their peers. There are a lot of people who you wouldn’t want on one team (really competitive and aggressive), so we intentionally try not to put them on the same team. Some teams are amazingly fine-tuned right away; others have to work a bit harder at it.
How do you get attendees to feel committed to their teams?
DS What helps make it successful is [that the staff] is in it just like they are. We’re the ones creating it and out there building stuff. They see us working and putting together a program for them. Being active and involved goes a long way.
AW We’re playing songs like “Hip Hop Hooray” and “Who Let the Dogs Out” between sessions, and everyone can wear shorts and a T-shirt. We do two-minute contests between sessions. The environment has to be different than your average meeting.
What prizes and incentives do you offer attendees who score the most points?
AW We give away nothing—they pretty much get what turns out to be $5 each. That goes to show it’s about being on the team and the competition; about being able to say they were the winner next year. They talk about it all year long. We bring them up on stage, play Olympic-style music and put a medal over each member. They go crazy over it.
How do you involve your sponsor, Dow?
AW Dow has six products within our industry, so each team at Academy is named after one of those products.
What has been your biggest challenge planning this event?
DS Weather is the biggest challenge. We’ve moved toward hosting our program in facilities that have a pavilion or something like that. The weather is completely unpredictable. The second challenge is unpredictable participation. You don’t know what will happen when you’re placing [attendees] into teams. One team may have 28 people who actively participate and another may have only 20.
What planning tools and resources do you use?
AW I saw this crazy video on a Japanese game show where the contestants used goggles, so we searched a million videos on YouTube about drunk goggle games. Now we’re going to have a drunk goggle relay.
DS Technology has helped us advance our research. Prior to that, reality TV was huge. We reenacted so many “Survivor” things. Every [staff member] comes to meetings with three new ideas. We got one idea from one of our staff member’s kid’s third-grade field day.