Racing to the finish line in one of 12 labours (challenges) at the Hercules Trophy inter-company team building event. Off-site corporate bonding programmes are not new to this part of the world, but they have always been regarded as the game for the big organisations. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: It need not be all toil and long hours for those working in small and mid-sized enterprises. A new corporate bonding programme that has had a good run in Europe is now all set to make its presence felt in Dubai next month.

Teams representing the participating companies will vie for the Hercules Trophy, which its founder said was designed specifically with SMEs in mind. The crux of the many exercises is an opportunity to break a lot of sweat and simulate closer bonding. This would, in turn, resonate well in the workplace when the employee puts all that he played and learnt into practice.

"Team building works best when people are placed in unfamiliar environments and into situations where they have to think, act and perform as a team," said Yves Vekemans, CEO and president of Hercules Trophy. "Fundamentally, the format enables teams to build high levels of trust — colleagues are taken out of their comfort zones in doing activities they normally wouldn't."

Off-site corporate bonding programmes are not new to this part of the world, but they have always been seen as the game for the big organisations, employing hundreds of people at work and who remain relative strangers to others. And the cost of participation has inhibited mid-scale companies from giving such programmes a closer look.

But the Hercules Trophy makes it a point of going after the SMEs, which is partially explained by its place of origin, Belgium.

Using sport

Vekemans said: "99.8 per cent of all our companies are SMEs and 69.5 per cent of our total work force is employed by them. Sport has always been a good tool to connect people and have them work towards common goals.

"But there was no spec-ific sports event that lent itself to corporate team building. So, together with my partners, we created the Hercules Trophy [in 1999]. Team building, as opposed to team bonding, has longevity." The timing of the launch in Dubai is more than a coincidence.

Recent initiatives from the government specifically talk of creating favourable conditions for SMEs to emerge and flourish. While always being a vital cog in the local economy, they now see their status being elevated.

A one-day event, the Hercules Trophy is designed over 12 "labours" or challenges. During this time, participants are taken through five basic stages in effective team-building — build trust in their team; master conflict; commit to their people; become accountable for their actions, and achieve results.

While the participating fees are also more accessible, Vekemans insists that it is not the sole point of differentiation.

"The only difference between an SME and a larger company is how many teams they decide to enter," he said. "Our registration fees remain the same irrespective of company size. "But the format allows companies the flexibility to structure their teams in a way that delivers best organisational results.

For example, a business may want to break down silos within their organisation, unite people who work on different projects or strengthen an existing team further. "The inter-company competition format adds another dimension that is very difficult to replicate in small-sized work places. It taps into people's competitive spirit and sense of organisational pride."


This means for a five-member team, it would be Dh7,850, it goes up to Dh8,300 for a six-member one and Dh8,750 for a team of seven. More than 90 companies have confirmed for the launch event in Dubai.

"We have many departments within our business and I find bringing them all together from time to time creates a positive working environment," said Luanna Bicknell, head of marketing at Move One, a Dubai-based relocation services company.

"It also enables the different departments to put faces to the names of people they only tend to engage with via e-mail."

For Mark Kenaghan, general manager at the consumer goods distributor Ditra Sitra, it is about unity and which "can only be achieved if we have a team that works as one.

Being a smaller company we are responsible for a wider variety of tasks, so it is even more important."

But Vekeman is already thinking beyond the event. "The buzz created by the one day translates into at least six months of improved teamwork. It's all about chemistry and physics: pure positive energy and emotional resonance."

Company expectations

  • Motivated human capital and improved talent retention.n Improved teamwork which increases productivity and effectiveness.n An enhanced business network.n Employee pride in representing the organisation.