Successful Large Scale Conference Team Building: Ciena Employees Donate to Charities through Team Building Initiatives

A group of ten people, fresh from a conference, posing together on an outdoor terrace with a cityscape and green landscape in the background, epitomizing team building at its finest.

Successfully integrating team building into a large-scale company conference can be challenging and involves many factors to consider. But if done well, it can significantly impact your business.

According to GoTo Events, “Traditional [conference team building] formats focus on straightforward verbal communication to build connections… While this approach can still be effective, the trend of experiential conference ice breakers, energizers, and team building activities in the events industry prevailed in 2023, and it’s expected that companies will increasingly embrace interactive experiences in 2024.” As the demand for interactive conference team building experiences continues to grow, it is essential to keep a finger on the pulse of what conference attendees want to take away from a team building experience.

Per Cvent, “personalization is key…When they can choose topics that excite them, there’s more energy and increased engagement in the room.”

“Today, the meeting industry trend includes fresh event concepts and meetings with meaning, innovation, and insight. Just as importantly, attendees are looking for elements inclusive of behavioral science, well-being, and a connection to the world at large. In short, today’s attendees want meetings to have a purpose. These “purposeful meetings” are a large part of why 80% of event planners say that their jobs involve more experience creation than they did 2 to 5 years ago.” 

At BEST, our needs assessment helps us to perfect the art of designing and delivering successful team building programs at large-scale corporate conferences. We connect the business needs and goals with the impactful outcomes of the programs offered. Our goal is to deliver the significant outcome our clients desire.

Ciena’s Wish for Large-Scale Conference Team Building

Ciena Corporation is a networking systems and software company based in Maryland. Ciena reached out to BEST in July of 2023 to begin planning a team building program for their 1200-person Sales & Marketing Kickoff Conference scheduled to take place in Las Vegas that November.

Specifically, Ciena was looking for programming options with a significant charitable component to provide employees with a unique and engaging experience while giving back to the community. They also recognized that with a large group, one size would not fit all; their goal was to select several program options targeting employees of different personality types, from the more introverted to the more high-spirited.

As it turned out, the dates Ciena had selected for their conference coincided with the major Formula 1 race scheduled to take place in Las Vegas, which added unique logistical hurdles to their conference planning. The high profile and attendance for the Formula 1 race added challenges in shipping and receiving materials, securing accommodations for event staff, onsite security, and navigating the area the day of the event for staff, attendees, and charitable representatives. 

Making It Happen: Conference Team Building with Best Corporate Events

This left us with two goals: devise a combination of conference team building programs to deliver the desired outcomes Ciena envisioned for their group and find creative and realistic ways to work around the logistical challenges posed by the coinciding Formula 1 event. 

Developing a Custom Solution

The first component to tackle was developing a custom multi-program solution. With our extensive lineup of charitable team building programs, we had various options to consider. Given the size of their overall group and Ciena’s desire to accomplish the maximum possible philanthropic impact with increased donation quantities, we recommended a selection of charitable programs that would run simultaneously. Employees registered for the program that resonated with them most, with a rough expectation of 250 participants per activity.

Ciena initially wanted to explore our Autism Awareness Sensory Donation, Build-a-Wheelchair®, Earth Wind and Solar, Mini Golf Build & Food Donation, and Operation Toy Donation programs. Given the proximity of their event date to Thanksgiving, the Mini Golf Build and Food Donation program was appealing to Ciena to pitch in for those less fortunate on the holiday, incorporating traditional Thanksgiving foods into the donation lineup. They also were interested in benefiting veterans’ resource groups through the Build-a-Wheelchair program. They also wanted a toy donation option with the holiday season approaching, incorporating some festive wrapping paper for added cheer. Finally, they hoped to benefit youth and families experiencing homelessness and, naturally, as a software company, support education in STEM. 

After discussion with our team and internal review, Ciena had modified requests for their conference team building program selection. They still wanted to do an activity involving food donations but weren’t enthused about relating it to mini golf. So, our team recommended our Donation Nation program, featuring Thanksgiving food products as the donation items. Based on our charity coordinator’s experience with veteran resource centers and similar organizations, Ciena opted to do a combined Build-a-Wheelchair®/Build-a-Rollator program to create donation items for recipients with varying mobility needs. They also opted to merge our Bears and Blankets program with their goal of supporting youth and families experiencing homelessness by selecting a targeted charity that serves homeless families. Operation Toy Donation remained in the mix as the ideal way to incorporate festive holiday spirit. Finally, for the more introverted members of their group, building sensory kits for the Autism Awareness Sensory Donation program was the perfect fit. 

Overcoming Logistical Challenges

Then came the logistical hurdles posed by the timing overlap with Formula 1. The first hurdle was shipping, receiving, and handling materials. With large-scale events, particularly those that incorporate in-kind charitable donations, many materials must get to the event venue to deliver the program. Our dedicated warehouse team is accustomed to shipping large quantities of materials, but the wrench in the works was Formula 1. With streets shut down in preparation for the race and space at a premium with a mass influx of visitors to Las Vegas as spectators, getting materials where they needed to be even earlier than our usual goal was imperative. Once on-site, our team worked closely with the venue to determine where materials would be stored until the event day and when our team would have access to the event space for setup prior to the activities.

The next hurdle was coordinating the day of event access for staff and non-profit organization donation recipients amid Formula 1 crowds. From securing accommodations and parking to coordinating routes to the venue to bypass road closures, this extra layer was essential to iron out before the event day to ensure a smooth conference team building experience. The BEST team wanted a smooth, stress-free event day experience for the client; we didn’t want them bombarded with late staff, parking woes, or other logistical stressors. Our production team coordinated event staff parking at a public lot off the Strip, and a shuttle transfer service that would bring staff to the venue from the lot ensuring timely arrivals. Due to the influx of Formula 1 visitors in Vegas, the hotel also heightened their security, requiring detailed staff schedules, or a ‘security crew list’ outlining who would be onsite, where, and precise days and times. Finally, the representatives from the receiving charities would attend the activities to speak to the participants and depart with the donation items; that meant they needed large vehicles and loading dock access following the event. So, our production team again worked in tandem with the venue to orchestrate a loading dock plan for the representatives to load and depart with their donations. 

The BEST team is no stranger to challenging circumstances and rose to the occasion to coordinate out-of-the-ordinary logistics for smooth execution. From staff arriving days ahead of time to confirm receipt of materials and check for damage, to having not one but two onsite program managers to coordinate on the day of event because the event spaces were on two separate floors, our team was able to ensure our team building programs fit seamlessly into the large scale of this conference.

Conference Team Building & Giving Back: A One-Day, Large-Scale Success

It was all hands on deck when the conference finally arrived to deliver the five simultaneous events. Our Production team arrived a couple of days early to ensure the materials were received, stored, and accounted for. Five of our trusted facilitators were on site to run the programs, along with support facilitator staff and our administrative staff. The BEST team completed the setup the day before to ensure all the necessary materials were in place and the programs were ready to go. We had five dedicated spaces, one for each activity.

Autism Awareness Sensory Donation

The Autism Awareness Sensory Donation program brings the group together to not only assemble sensory support kits for donation to autism therapy programs but to enhance participants’ awareness and understanding of autism spectrum disorders through engaging sensory activities. This program was selected as a good option for the more introverted members of Ciena’s attendees. Some attendees also selected this activity for personal reasons that made it meaningful for them. 

Bears and Blankets

Ciena chose our Bears and Blankets program and selected a recipient organization to address Ciena’s stated goal of supporting youth and families experiencing homelessness. The comfort of a huggable bear friend and blanket for families with children experiencing homelessness created a truly impactful donation, and a morale-boosting experience for the participants.

Operation Toy Donation

With Operation Toy Donation, the beauty is in the outcome – a group of happy children and a proud team of employees. During this program, participants assemble festively decorated storage containers full of children’s toys and necessities for donation. Making a difference in a child’s life, especially during the holidays, was a meaningful goal that Ciena set out to achieve with this activity.

Donation Nation Thanksgiving 

Our Donation Nation Care Packs program is one of our most flexible CSR programs. The donation packs are customized to suit both the client’s giving goals and the receiving organization’s needs. In this case, because of the timing of their event near the holiday season, Ciena wanted to feature Thanksgiving food products to help provide Thanksgiving meals for less fortunate members of the community.

Build-a-Wheelchair® & Build-a-Rollator

Build-a-Wheelchair® and Build-a-Rollator are both giveback programs focused on benefiting individuals with mobility challenges. Often, these donations go to veterans resource groups and similar organizations, which align well with Ciena’s goal of supporting veterans. BEST always tries to stay knowledgeable about the needs of our charitable partners, so we know that rollators (rolling walkers) are in high demand but often in low supply at receiving organizations. A combined donation of wheelchairs and rollators was a great solution.

Due to the ‘Ciena Cares’ programming placement at the end of the conference schedule, unfortunately, travel timing conflicts impacted attendance for all of their programs, and required a last-minute shift to earlier finish times for all conference team building activities. With lower-than-anticipated participant counts and widespread early departures, the BEST team and remaining participants ensured the same volume of donation materials were built and assembled. The BEST team kicked it into high gear to motivate the attendees to accomplish more builds in less time – and even jumped in to help the efforts. 

Measurable Success: Engagement and Impact

The most critical measure of success from these events was the tremendous positive impact the donations had on organizations in the community. Through these programs, Ciena donated: 

  • 60 sensory support kits, 
  • 84 large bins of toys and children’s necessities, 
  • 24 wheelchairs, 
  • 48 rollators, 
  • 360 bears and blankets
  • over 2,000 pounds of Thanksgiving food items

Receiving organizations included Family Promise of Las Vegas, Wheelcharrier / Race to Erase 22, Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth, FEAT (Families for Effective Autism Treatment) of Southern Nevada, and the Three Square Food Bank.

The execution of the event was very successful, and the organizers from Ciena were very pleased with how smoothly the day of the event went. Happily, many of the participants were also pleased with the conference team building activities and enjoyed the opportunity to participate in giveback with their colleagues.

Recent employee feedback highlighted some valuable takeaways for Ciena and BEST to remember for future events. The placement of the activities at the end of the conference limited involvement due to conflicting travel schedules and limited the impact of the CSR programs’ team building and networking aspects. Some participants pointed out that Ciena would have incorporated these activities better at the beginning of the conference to make the networking more impactful and help attendees get to know one another better. This feedback also signaled to BEST that supporting clients in setting expectations for attendees is a vital piece of the puzzle to boost enthusiasm and participation in conference activities that may be optional for attendees.

Plan Conference Team Building Events for Your Next Large-Scale Retreat

The extensive logistics and thoughtful planning that went into preparing for and executing this large-scale event paid off with a successfully delivered experience for Ciena’s team. Including high-quality team building activities enhances the attendee experience at company conferences by providing opportunities for interaction with colleagues in a more relaxed environment. When those activities include a charitable component, the meaningfulness of the experience increases their impact exponentially.

Partnering with an experienced and capable team building provider ensures that the logistics don’t hinder the outcome. Your partner handles all the planning and facilitation for your team building, so you can stay focused on planning the rest of your conference and be confident that your partner will deliver the impactful conference team building experience you envision smoothly. Reach out to Best Corporate Events today to partner with the experts on large-scale team building for your next company conference!

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