Each year Google Austria invites some of its customers to gather for a day of collaboration and discussion. This event is specifically designed to promote Google’s services as useful tools, to promote cooperation across hierarchies, and to show ways to turn threats into opportunities. The day is structured around talks in the morning, a lunch, some group activity, and then a keynote address. This year I was approached to provide the group activity, which was going to be a big, ambitious game.
My mandate was to design an experience for 200 (later 240) participants using an over-arching theme that engaged Google’s guests in something memorable and promoted the event’s core message. Beyond that I had a lot of latitude. As long as they left saying “You had to be there, man” – or, rather – “Das muss man selbst erlebt haben!”
Pretty quickly I came up with a core idea and general plan. There would be a sort of steampunk-y story to wrap around a series of small games, culminating in something big and flashy and memorable. The story was the easy part:
On September 2, 1899, Nikola Tesla wrote a brief comment in his laboratory notes:
I have arranged to have my device constructed in great secrecy in Varaždin, Croatia. It will then be transported by rail to Vienna via Graz, a distance of scarcely 250 kilometers. My Austrian benefactor has agreed to bury the device to preserve it for some future age when its use may become necessary. Both he and I have retained complete instructions concerning its hidden location, assembly and operation.
Tesla’s copy of these documents were no doubt lost in his 1895 laboratory fire. The identity of his Austrian benefactor has remained a mystery, and will likely never be known. The buried object was assumed lost – until now.
Recent excavations at a construction site uncovered a series of cast iron cylinders, all welded shut, all two meters in diameter and four meters long. Inside the cylinders, carefully packed against the ravages of time, were delicate turn-of-the-last-century scientific objects. The cylinders and their strange contents were taken to the The Technisches Museum Wien, where they were briefly marveled at and then forgotten in a basement.
But you know the truth – this is Tesla’s legendary “Vienna Apparatus”, rumored by some to be a terrible weapon and by others to be the work of an utter crank. Either way, you must know. It might be the most dangerous weapon the world has ever seen – Tesla certainly boasted of possessing such a thing. You’ve found your way into the museum, but you only have a few hours before you are discovered. Can you assemble the Vienna Apparatus and learn its secrets before it is too late?”
The “Vienna Apparatus” was assembled from a series of five small challenges that all required teamwork, but varied from brain teasers to physical exercises. The participants were divided into groups of a dozen or less, and rotated between the various challenges. Some were much harder than others! Each participant had one of four roles within their group, and all activities relied on specific roles for leadership, to make sure that no one dominated every activity. Participants were placed in groups across hierarchies, and the event’s badges did not indicate what any attendee did, just where they worked.
All this controlled chaos culminated in the assembly of three gigantic soma cubes, seven-part puzzles that I asked them to build as large as they could manage (and, as it turned out, as large as Austrian health and safety regulations allowed!). I had imagined them forming 3 meter cubes, which would have been epic, but the final cubes were still very large, remarkable, and fun to play with. Combined with some light theming and Tesla-inspired jargon that I enjoyed generating way too much, the experience portion of the event proved to be a success. Not everyone loved it, which was to be expected, but it definitely had that “Das muss man selbst erlebt haben!” factor.
To watch the action unfold, check out this video of the event (in German, of course).
We develop custom large group activities centred around education, team building, and fun for a variety of clients, including The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Kaiser Permanente Healthcare, and UC Berkeley. If you’re interested in developing exciting group experiences like the one above, please get in touch via our contact form.