Chocs Away, Chaps ; Paintballing Is out. Corporate Bonding Workshops Now Invite Us to Unlock Our Dark (or Milk) Sides. Kate Burt Gets Stuck In
Burt, Kate, The Independent (London, England)
Think team-building, and the images that come to mind probably fall into two categories. There's the once- a-year "company do", when you have a once-a-year conversation with Jim in accounts, and half the office gets embarrassingly drunk and shares all sorts of secrets they later regret. Or there's a more structured, but equally scary, activity which requires deeply practical clothing and involves It's a Knockout-style games that find you building to- scale suspension bridges alongside colleagues you loathe.
But now a whole raft of companies are starting to offer businesses more civilised alternatives. My Chocolate, a small company based in west London, is one of the newest. Twenty-five- year-old Hannah Sexton set up the one- woman business, which offers chocolate-making workshops, a year ago. In her two-and-a-half-hour sessions you get an introductory chat covering the history and appreciation of the topic, and a few Nigella-like demonstrations of basic techniques, before the group splits up and gets stuck into creating and decorating their own chocolates to take home.
Originally, Sexton aimed the service at giggly birthday parties, hen- nights, and children. But, a couple of months in, she discovered an unexpected market: businesses wanting to book her for staff-bonding sessions. These have been an unprecedented success.
"I've done banks, law firms, even the National Lottery. At first I assumed it would be a bit too `girlie' for some people," says Sexton. "But then I took a mobile-phone-company booking, and found myself in front of 25 men and only three women. I thought they'd hate it. But after tasting a bit they all underwent quite a dramatic change. It's all the chemicals in chocolate - it softens them. The more hands-on it gets, they really loosen up - it's like kids messing around with Play-Doh. It also brings out their sensual and sexy side.
"I think another reason is that this isn't the sort of thing most men would think they could come along and do on their own, or even think of doing on their own unless they were sent by work. But if they're made to do it, they enjoy it."
Dan Collins is the managing director of Fresh Tracks, a company which specialises in team-building, and he has been surprised at the take-up of the more creative workshops he offers to business clients. "It's the companies that don't always want something overly structured, but do want much more than the old `go down the pub' team-build," he says. "They figure that, if they're going to spend pounds 80 a head on their staff, they should get more out of it than a drunken night. It makes it a better investment. Plus, in many industries, telecommunications for example, there is a particularly high proportion of Muslim staff, who don't drink; not to mention pregnant women or people who simply don't want to get drunk. This sort of option means they don't get left out.
Sexton came up with the idea of My Chocolate when she dropped out of a fine-art degree course at the Slade, frustrated by the course's lack of creative thinking. She loved cooking, but it took a while before she realised that her future lay in chocolate.
"I love it," she says, "and everyone else is always crazy about it too. …