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ON most afternoons, Corey McCarthy and Antonette Maysonet are hard at work in the offices of Optimedia, a SoHo media agency. Today, though, they’re stalking a Greenwich Village sidewalk with a different agenda – cornering a passerby who looks like Paris Hilton.

By the afternoon’s end, McCarthy, Maysonet and coworkers Krista Maloney and Christina Henrich need to photograph themselves with a celebrity look-alike – as well as a police officer, a street performer, a product belonging to a client and numerous other targets. So they approach the Hilton doppelganger (“Has anyone ever told you you look like Paris Hilton?” Maysonet asks) and coax her into posing for a shot.

Today it’s all part of a day’s work for some 70 Optimedia employees, who are going head-to-head in a scavenger hunt run by City Hunt. The game involves splitting up into teams and roaming the city solving clues and meeting various other challenges.

If it’s an unusual way to spend a workday afternoon, it’s becoming less so. Looking to build loyalty and improve communication among co-workers, companies are increasingly turning to team-building activities – and the range of those activities is growing, be it scavenger hunts, bungee jumping or battling at paintball.

City Hunt’s business – largely scavenger hunts and clue-based museum adventures for finance and pharmaceutical companies – has grown about 40 percent per year in the last three years, according to CEO Ben Hoffman.

Talking cure

Why the rush to get office workers to put their heads together in a different setting? Event companies and experts point to a number of reasons, including a younger work force, a need to retain and energize workers in a tight labor market, and a desire to foster face-to-face interaction in the age of digital communication.

“People used to go to work for one company and stay there 30 years. Now they work for three years and move on. So everything they’ve learned – institutional memory – gets lost,” Smith says. Companies “are all looking to make sure their teams can work together, be productive, and want to stay.”

That’s where the off-site exercises come in. Whether you’re building a boat or hunting around town for hidden caches, you’re solving problems – as a team. An entry-level person may have more tech experience and be good at something that an older, more experienced worker finds challenging, so roles get turned around. Ideally, people learn to respect one another and communicate better.

“Team-building events build listening skills,” says City Hunt’s Hoffman.

That was the hope for Edwards Lifesciences, a firm that creates pioneers technologies to treat cardiovascular disease, which recently completed its first City Hunt competition. The alliances created during team-building events drive sales by fostering a sense of solidarity and cooperation among the sales staff, says Jayne Balaguer, regional sales director for the firm.

“Salespeople are out working independently, and team building helps them stay connected to the company and to each other, using each other as resources,” she says.

What she finds is that team building helps salespeople get to know each other, talk more, share experiences – and, importantly, share their sales successes. It also helps keep the team consistent and teaches new people just coming in.

“Our division is growing, so we’re adding reps all the time. You end up having two separate sales forces – guys who’ve been here for a while, and guys who went through sales training two weeks ago. You mix them up, and you start getting cross-pollination.”

A day at the races

There’s yet another reason companies are turning to team-building events – to show their employees a good time. Hanging around outdoors on a workday isn’t a bad perk, especially if you’re jetting across wakes on the Hudson on a gusty day or poking around MoMA for a masterpiece that’s your next clue.

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