Time Out round up alternative team building activities, including trying out improv classes, cooking together, doing a treasure hunt and more
We’ll hold up our hands and say that even though we picked it, we approached our evening with the People’s Republic of Comedy Shanghai (PRCS) with something akin to paralysing dread – after all, nobody wants to humiliate themselves in front of their co-workers – so on the evening of our session, the only thing to do was to arrive early and speedily sink a couple of beers to steady our nerves. The actors at the PRCS – who perform weekly at the Kung Fu Komedy Club – are used to facing such attitudes, but they’re a charismatic bunch, and it is their job to wring the cringes out of you.
‘Besides being exciting and an excellent brain lubricant for the participants, improv exercises build connections between teams incredibly fast,’ says Christopher Brantley, one of the five American actors who make up the current cast. What they offer depends on what you want out of it – for a Christmas party, we’d imagine maximum fun as opposed to lesson-learning. The workshops tend to start with a few minutes introducing the idea of improv to the participants, with an example game to illustrate. The group is then split into smaller teams of around six to work on various games that have been chosen in consultation with the company. If requested, the PRCS can even put on a show at the end.
We started with some basic warm-ups, before moving onto dance routines, culminating in creating mini-advertisements for bizarre fictional products. There’s nowhere to hide, but it’s truly collaborative, and there’s a kick in witnessing the previously unseen comic talents of your co-workers given a chance to emerge. There’s even an opportunity to get earnest at the end when you relate what you’ve learnt, which we did, before returning to silently judging each other in the office the next morning. We’re pleased to report, though, that we had a great time, and improv with the PRCS is the winner of our unofficial Most Pleasantly Surprised By award.
Who would have thought that in the backwoods of Pudong, in the middle of an industrial estate, there would be a fully-functioning bubble football arena? Bubble football is pretty much exactly as it sounds: you strap on a giant bubble suit and play football, basically. Oh, and you knock each other over lots. The first team to score three goals wins, and you’ve got to topple two different opponents before you can score.
While it goes without saying that the Time Out editorial staff are the finest of physical specimens, being encased within a sphere of thick plastic on a muggy Shanghai day for 45 minutes takes its toll on even the most superior of bodies (alright, maybe we need to get in the gym), so be prepared to huff and puff a bit.
The set-up is three-a-side, and we went with only six of us, meaning there was no let up in terms of playing – for this reason it’s apparently more suitable for larger numbers, who can tag team in and out and cheer and jeer each other on. It is, of course, hilarious fun, although the game did not pass without incident: somebody was taken out with such force that their glasses went flying over and out the top of their bubble and another did their foot in, but maybe that’s just because we’re all such hardcore competitors with alarming bloodlust.
While a bit out of the way, Jinqiao Arena has its own bar and can negotiate special rates for event catering – they’re currently in the process of trying to hook up a special Christmas dinner, for example. Dodgeball is also available on-site, as well as the altogether more genteel lawn bowls, although if you’ve got beef with your co-workers, brutally slamming into them at full speed and then watching them do washing machine-style rotations across the pitch provides the kind of visual comedy that daydreams at your desk are made of.
Jinqiao Arena is at Lane 29, 2622 Jinqiao Lu, near Jinxiu Dong Lu, Pudong
. 100RMB per person for a 90-minute booking.
If all other ideas flop, everyone likes to eat. With Cook in Shanghai, you start from the very beginning, with a visit to a local wet market, where you’re guided through a few Chinese market curiosities: black-skinned chicken corpses, enormous, sad-looking toads on death row, and more animal innards than you can shake an intestine at. Cook in Shanghai keep it vanilla, though, with a nice tame recipe to get you started. They offer a variety of different classes, from home-style or healthy cooking to dim sum and vegetarian, but we opted for a typical four-dish Shanghainese meal: pan-fried rice noodles, fish-fragrant aubergine, wontons and Chinese steamed yellow fish. You’re given a fistful of cash and a shopping list, and then acquiring the ingredients is up to you. Don’t forget to haggle (which we did with zeal).
Cook in Shanghai was started by a group of four friends after they took a cooking class themselves, inspiring a passion for it. They’ve created something that’s reflective of their business’ origins: cosy and informal. As our numbers were small, we did our class in one of their apartments, which made it feel like cooking with friends.
While some ingredients are being prepared for you, you’re treated to a tea ceremony. After that, you’re expected to pull your weight. While we weren’t strictly competing, it didn’t stop things getting edgy over who could chop their aubergine into the most perfect pieces or make the prettiest wonton. Best of all, though, after you’ve cooked, you get to stuff your face, which is what Christmas is all about, really.
Cook in Shanghai is at 269 Zhaojiabang Lu, near Jiashan Lu, Xuhui district (2178 2428; www.cookinshanghai.com). Open by appointment only. Private classes start from 950RMB; times and locations are flexible.
Locking yourself in a dark room with your colleagues may sound like the sure-fire route to an office bust-up, but that’s just what’s on offer from the increasingly popular locked-room mystery houses like Mr X.
After depositing all our belongings in a locker we’re led into the ominous-sounding ‘Final Judgement’ room – other themes include ‘Mysterious Night’, ‘Angel Island’ and ‘Death Race’ – and given an hour to solve a series of puzzles in a quest to escape to freedom. Following a brief explanation of the rules and basic premise of the game (this bit takes place in Chinese only, so make sure you have at least one Chinese speaker on the team), we work our way through three layers of inner rooms that reveal themselves as we crack each numeric or logical puzzle – but we won’t spoil the secrets by sharing all the details here.
With some rooms child-compatible and others more reminiscent of something out of Saw II, this venue caters for a range of ages and moods. Most of the puzzles require multiple steps, and people, to crack, making teamwork essential if you don’t want to find yourselves stuck in that room forever. Pushing the team element even further, each section focuses on different areas of strength, such as logical, physical and even musical aptitude which mean each member gets a chance to step up and prove their mettle. Unless everyone’s rubbish at everything, of course, which might make for a sorry end.
Mr X is at 825 Dingxi Lu, near Yanan Xi Lu, Changning district.
Chinint was definitely the most professional outfit we came across – you can tell because when we met with them, they were wearing matching orange windbreakers and everything. Then again, providing fun activities for companies is Chinint’s raison d’être. Once you’ve made a booking, the team will begin researching your company and putting together a customised treasure hunt experience that’s designed especially for you – because it is in this sense bespoke, we knew very little about what to expect. That, coupled with the thought and care gone in to the task – ours included props emblazoned in the Time Out logo – definitely adds to the whole experience.
The way the treasure hunt itself works is also right up Time Out’s street. ‘We use the city as a playground,’ says Chinint’s creative director Olivier. ‘We really enjoy using everything the city has to offer, whether it’s the history, the architecture, food, or stories of famous people.’ That being said, we had to start off by spelling words out with our bums (don’t ask). Chinint works solely with foreign companies, and the point of much of their work is to knit together the brains of foreigners and Chinese, so we were divided into three groups with a mixture of each. Then, clues distributed, the real challenge began. We tore around the winding lanes doing scent tests and guerrilla arts and crafts for the next two hours, and this probably was the most genuinely exciting experience of everything we tried out for this feature. Each group is chaperoned – the guides won’t help you, no matter how nicely you bat your eyelashes – and some of it is quite taxing, but always fun, and is a memorable experience to share with your colleagues.
Chinint work in locations all over the city, and you can discuss with them the sort of thing you’re after. Brave companies might opt for the ‘survival camp’ weekend which is four hours from Shanghai, although whether its employees want to celebrate Christmas in such a manner is another matter entirely.
Big E have gone for the ‘something for everyone’ approach with their Pudong entertainment center, incongruously located in the bowels of Donchang Lu metro station. Once you’ve actually managed to find the place, you’ll discover a winning combo of laser tag, miniature golf and KTV – a Party Plus package gets everyone within your group a 15-minute pass for each activity. There’s also a bar with air hockey, foosball and billiards, which you can enjoy free usage of, along with three drinks tickets each.
Many of our number hadn’t done laser tag for 20 years, so strapping on the LED-fitted chest pack was a fabulously nostalgic experience. The rather intimidating introductory video sternly advised us that no running and no swearing were allowed – but once let loose in the neon-streaked maze, with squelchy electronic music pulsating through the sound system, we did both without let-up because we were so excited that we couldn’t help it (not that Time Out condones such behaviour). We left remembering why laser tag has endured throughout the ages – because it is the best thing ever. Following that, we only spent a brief turn in the KTV room – there were only a couple of English songs on the playlist, so you’d better know your Chinese pop otherwise you’ll be relegated to munching the complimentary popcorn and fruit plate in silence on the sofa.
Finally onto the mini golf, which takes place in a kind of windowless, backstreet darkroom: the course environs were Atlantis-themed, with huge murals of Greek gods in ultraviolet paint. While the course isn’t the most creative (not a windmill or miniature pirate ship in sight) it’s short enough that it ends before it gets tedious. Or so we’d assume: we were stuck on the final obstacle for what seemed like hours. For the Time Out staff it was less competitive and instead allowed mutual bonding over all of us being equally crap at golf.
Big E is at World Plaza, Floor B2, 855 Pudong Nan Lu, near Dongchang Lu, Pudong. Packages for groups of ten people or more start at 120RMB per person.
Using the ‘open source’ LEGO SERIOUS PLAY (LSP) methodology, co-founders and facilitators at Constructive.xyz Oliver Clark and Oliver Knapman run customised workshops for teams, with themes ranging from ‘identity and culture’ to ‘real time strategy’.
The LSP workshop model is highly hands-on and focuses squarely on the experience of creating something physical. It’s meant to provoke and disrupt – in a constructive way. The workshop is based on a series of ‘challenges’ proposed by the facilitators, our spur-of-the-moment LEGO ‘answers’ and our possibly-embarrassingly-earnest explanations of their meaning. The challenges begin straightforward and literal (‘build a tower in two minutes’) but quickly transition into the realm of metaphor (‘illustrate a bad boss’, ‘show your role on the team’). Even with only ten people, it’s amazing all the different ways a tower can look, not to mention the more conceptual models.