Hyundai hits the road with team-building initiatives (National HR Awards)

Winner, Best Teambuilding Program

By Sarah Dobson

Collaboration is a big part of what makes Hyundai successful, so the 204-employee company regularly plans activities that encourage teamwork and relationship-building. That’s a big reason why the automotive company was given the Best Teambuilding Program Award this year.

“We’re in culture change mode,” says Kirk Merrett, Hyundai’s national HR manager in Markham, Ont. “We’ve had a pretty conservative culture and we’re moving it along the progressive continuum; we’re not fully there yet but that’s what we’re pushing along there. We have new leadership in the company at all levels, but most importantly at the top level, and there’s progressive thinking that’s allowing us to do more of these kinds of activities.”

When people have fun together, they build relationships and that increases collaboration, which is one of Hyundai’s core values. 
“Ultimately, it positively impacts business performance, so our management team understands that by doing these events and having fun together, it ultimately improves the business,” he says.

“None of this works without the right employee population, and so we have a fabulous team that does want to have fun together, and that can’t be said for all workplaces, so our teambuilding program has worked because people enjoy each other.”

Several events
The company’s many teambuilding initiatives include monthly town hall meetings, baseball teams, charity tournaments around soccer and volleyball, pub nights, a kids’ holiday party and adult holiday party, a family BBQ, food truck days, a Halloween costume contest, a Christmas decoration contest and theme days.
New this year were teambuilding days, with a budget of $100 per employee. Departments worked together to come up with an activity they wanted to do and they spent the day away from the office, getting to know each other better.

“We saw everything from laser tag and paint balling to visiting an art gallery to attending a Blue Jays game, kayaking — a huge range. It was actually fun because there was a bit of competition to see who could do the best event — friendly competition,” says Merrett.
A fitness initiative with Global Corporate Challenge also saw nine teams of workers competing in a 100-day challenge with others around the world to help improve their overall health.

A diversity committee also plans and executes events, information bulletins and activities related to cultural holidays and events, including sending flowers to female workers on International Women’s Day, bringing in a speaker from the Muslim community to talk about Ramadan, an Eid potluck, and theme days for Pride, Yom Kippur, Kwanzaa, Diwali, Lunar New Year, Persian New Year and Mother’s and Father’s Day.

Hyundai also has a blood donor team, through Canadian Blood Services, that pledges to reach 50 blood donations by the end of the year, so a regular group of donors heads to the clinic every 56 days to work towards this goal.

“We do try to schedule the folks here around the same time so that people go together and it’s a team atmosphere,” says Merrett. “We provide them with a ‘Team Hyundai’ T-shirt to wear as they donate.”

Each day during the last week of August — Core Value & Team Appreciation Week — represents one of the company’s five core values: customer, challenge, collaboration, people and globality. 

Each day has a dress theme (such as beach day) and a “giving back” component (such as HR making pancakes for everyone) along with a competitive activity among departments (such as a photo scavenger hunt or mini Olympics).

And off-site employees aren’t left out of the equation, participating in initiatives such as pizza delivery, says Lydia Bowser, HR manager at Hyundai in Markham, Ont.
“Any time we do an activity, we always look at how they can do the exact same thing or a variation thereof, so sometimes they choose not to participate if they don’t have enough people or they’re just not interested or maybe they have different interests. But we try to include them as best we can and they all know they can come up with own ideas as well and they’ll contact me.”

Impressive results
And to gauge the success of various company programs, Hyundai in Korea facilitates an annual engagement survey through Towers Watson. The most recent scores saw an increase in the “people” score by eight points, and an increase in “Enjoy coming to work” by 20 points (from 65 to 85).

“Employee engagement is one of our company’s objectives — it’s right up there with sales and profit — and, as I say, our company leaders understand the impact that having fun together can have on the bottom line,” says Merrett.

The survey also saw an increase in “horizontal communication” by five points (from 65 to 70) “which is exactly what we’re trying to increase by having these activities so people work more collaboratively cross-functionally,” he says.

To both maintain and build the team-oriented, collaborative environment, senior leadership encourage employees to take the time and participate in events and also lead by example by participating themselves — as seen when the president and vice-president raced through an inflatable obstacle course at the family BBQ in 2015.

“Our leaders understand the value and want to have fun with their teams,” says Merrett. “We’re a pretty flat organization and so from the entry-level position to the president, there’s four levels, tops, and so… our president knows everybody and he’s joking and participating in the events with everybody else.”

And while some companies have faced budget restraints, that’s not really an issue at Hyundai.

“We don’t spend a lot of money, our events are generally low-budget items,” says Merrett. “There’s a few bigger ones like the teambuilding day, our holiday party… those are big-ticket items but many of the things we do are for $100 or that kind of thing… Fun doesn’t require us to spend a lot of money.”

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