Play With a Purpose in Santa Cruz County

Match your goals to a team-building experience where the redwoods meet Monterey Bay.

A wide choice of team-building options provides priceless tools for meetings in Santa Cruz County. A 30-minute drive from Silicon Valley, groups can transform workplace challenges into opportunities for personal and professional growth, boosting satisfaction and productivity by improving communication, collaboration, and problem-solving skills. If your teams could use any of the following improvements, consider a visit to Santa Cruz County, where the world’s most successful tech community—and others—come to meet, recharge, and commune with nature on the California coast.

1. Better Communication: Activities where participants must exchange ideas and instructions with enhanced clarity can lead to better appreciation for others’ perspectives and improve communication across the team.

Kim Clary, Director of Client Success at Odyssey Teams, recalled a team-building event her company organized for about 150 people at Santa Cruz’s Hotel Paradox, Autograph Collection. Called Life Cycles, the program illustrates several of Odyssey’s founding principles, including corporate social responsibility. The Life Cycles teams built bikes for underserved local children while experiencing firsthand how their actions impacted their coworkers and the kids.

“When it was over,” Clary said, “the group went outdoors to bask in the beauty of Santa Cruz, debrief, and digest the experience. If you give a group something to think about, something to do, and something to feel, they will never forget what they learned.”

Like most of the county’s conference-friendly hotels, Chaminade Resort & Spa offers team-building programs to suit virtually any need or interest. Groups seeking improved communication will frequently choose Chaminade’s Boat Building Competition (complete with a sink-or-swim climax) or the Eggxperiment, which calls for teams to invent and build protective devices to safeguard an egg dropped from above.

2. Boosted Morale & Motivation: Endorphin- and adrenalin-fueled challenges in natural settings can raise spirits and help participants build confidence and creative potential, solve problems, and generate new ideas.

At the beach, the Dream Inn Santa Cruz encourages teams to learn the Sport of Kings, where mainland surfing was born over a century ago. Located steps from the hotel, the home-base trailer of the surf school Club Ed fronts Cowell Beach with epic views of Steamer Lane, one of the best places to surf in the United States. Surfing lessons from a local requires students to conquer their fears, embrace change, and persist through initial failures—all lessons equally useful in the workplace.

3. Quick Connection: Motivation and productivity can plummet if a company’s new hires or newly formed groups feel like strangers on a team. To the rescue: relationship building. This team-building category embraces countless situations where colleagues can wind down, share something new, and build memories together.

Ideal for newly formed teams or cross-functional teams that need to coalesce quickly, the Pizza Project at Seascape Beach Resort invites groups of up to 50 to prepare dinner together with the help of the chef and an outdoor pizza oven. Planners can also book a private four-hour Brew Cruz for 10 to 15 people and follow the trail of local craft breweries, meet the brewmasters, sip some suds, and soak up a little history while bonding over beer.

The sense of camaraderie and belonging that comes from letting loose in comfortable, casual settings fosters a positive, supportive atmosphere to bring back home to the workplace.

4. Strengthened Trust & Collaboration: Trust is essential for a functional team. Group challenges that require interdependence and activities that encourage shared thoughts and feelings can bridge gaps between colleagues and create a lasting sense of unity in a team.

A classically adventurous team-building example for raising trust levels and individual and team confidence is to tackle the ropes course at Chaminade (led by Synergy Learning Systems) or Mount Hermon Adventures, where ropes, suspension bridges, and zip lines are also offered in a forested setting. 

The Quest, another activity from Synergy Learning Systems, has teams navigate a series of outdoor challenges to escape “the island” using limited supplies, enough calories to complete only one challenge, and a map or GPS device. The dynamics of risk-taking, support, and success in this type of adrenalin-inducing competition easily translate into more effective planning, coaching, and collaboration at the office. They can also quickly identify a group’s collective strengths and need for development.

5. Improved Problem Solving & Innovation: Activities designed around brainstorming, negotiation, compromise, and consensus-building allow leaders and their groups to hone their professional skills through friendly competition.

To combine problem-solving, negotiation, and fun, the Dream Inn’s Director of Sales and Marketing, Dan Smart, suggests their Iron Chef competition. Visiting groups divide in teams of two to four people, and the hotel supplies everything else, including aprons, equipment, pantry supplies, judges, and a secret key ingredient. <Click here to see how NBC’s “California Live” featured the hotel’s Iron Chef event in an episode last year.>

Of course, these examples only scratch the surface of team-building options in Santa Cruz County. You’ll find seemingly endless customizable choices to build your own team-building itinerary based on the goals you set for your group. As you consider everything from escape rooms to high-tech scavenger hunts, beach cleanups to stargazing, train rides through the redwoods to whale-watching cruises on Monterey Bay, remember: The key to success is tailoring the activity to the specific challenges your team faces while allowing for a fun and casual atmosphere.

And here’s another important point to share with stakeholders: Team building of every kind opens the door to individual recognition and reward. According to the American Psychological Association, people who are involved with their coworkers and happy with their work are “twice as likely to be thriving in their lives overall—reporting strong relationships, effective money management, good health, and engagement in their communities—as those who are disengaged and unhappy at work.” When employees feel valued, connected, and motivated, they’re more likely to approach their work with enthusiasm and dedication, leading to increased productivity and overall success for the organization.

By Annette Burden