As a company, we regularly set up competitions at work.  From a “Great British Bake Off” inspired challenge, through the Crisp World Cup to the latest Song World Cup, normally something springs up every few months for those of us who want to join in. 

When the pandemic happened, the office shut. We all stayed at home and kept the NHS safe. Although we all still communicated with others from the office, people were sorely missing the office environment and everyone in it. We went from the usual busy office environment to a more sombre separated home environment. 

How did it come about? 

Every week at bbd, we fill in an online progress report.  Now and again, the management team use it to ask questions and get a feedback of how the company feels about different subjects. 

Back in late May, it posed an interesting question.  It simply asked, “How might we build a stronger culture now we’re a distributed team?”. Yes, good question, how? 

Everyone enjoys a competition I thought.  Question is how to do it under current restrictions? 

With everyone at home, this could not be something we did together in the office. As we were all far away from each other, we need to feel more together. More connected.   

Therefore, a team event. How can you do that? Well, there was a competition being conducted over Twitter by Alex Horne, who is the creator of epic show Taskmaster. He was setting Taskmaster type tasks for the nation. You had 72 hours to submit. It was a hit during the early weeks of the pandemic. 

For those unaware of Taskmaster, it is a series of hour shows that have 5 comedians each doing the same task. There a multiple tasks per week. Tasks are set by the Taskmaster, Greg Davies (well, they are really devised by Alex Horne and his kids, but I digress). Alex Horne runs the proceedings, showing Greg videos of the tasks performed by each comedian. The Taskmaster then awards points of between 1-5. There is a show winner and ultimately a series winner, who wins a golden bust of Greg Davies head. 

My family love Taskmaster, and I had previously done a version over Facebook for family and friends. It was an individual version. 

Question was, could I get a Team version to work? All the Taskmaster tasks in the show were done with the comedian and Alex Horne together. 

Next question was – would anyone want to spend time doing the tasks? None of them would be quick. The idea was for teammates to chat and be more sociable outside of work. 

The answer to both was a resounding yes! In hindsight, I do wonder if some people knew what they were letting themselves in for.

The format 

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I devised a format of a 6-week run with teams being up to 3 people. They would have from 3 days and 7 hours to complete the task and submit to me, from when I set the task at the end of our company stand up on a Monday morning. After the previous week’s results were given, I would then set the next week’s task.

The submissions were posted in a Slack channel for the whole company to see on Friday morning. 

I was very surprised to get 8 teams sign up. At this point, I hoped I was up to the challenge of controlling it. 

The Tasks 

I realised early on that this was going to be complicated for me.

Every week, I needed to make a new task that would ensure that everyone was involved, and everyone collaborated. Also, that it was possible to do under pandemic lockdown.

Some tasks were easy to come up with and some were much harder. I had to work each week to ensure that it would not be done quickly by one person and submitted, as that was going against the idea of the competition.

The tasks were as follows:

Week 1: 

Take an ordinary household object and make it extra-ordinary. Most extra-ordinary object wins. 

Entries varied from light bulbs turning into hot air balloons to a snake into a scarf. 

Week 2: 

Write and present an alternative version of a classic bedtime story. Team must present in video form. Team members must alternate reading paragraphs. Best alternative version of a classic bedtime story wins. 

I think this was my favourite week. Entries varied from 3 single words (one per team member) to a newsreader and roving news reporter giving a report based on Rapunzel. 

Week 3: 

Re-enact a classic movie in exactly 2 minutes. Each member of the team must appear at least once.  Best re-enactment of a classic movie in exactly 2 minutes wins. 

Entries varied from versions of Cast Away to The Sixth Sense. 

Week 4: 

Make the Taskmaster laugh out loud. The team that makes the Taskmaster laugh out loud the loudest wins. 

This week was the week that worried me the most.  Entries varied from a work-based cartoon strip based on me to cut outs of my face laughing. 

Week 5: 

I decided to give the teams 2 weeks for a final task. 

Pass an object between team members in the most ingenious way. Team who passes an object in the most ingenious way wins. 

Entries this week varied from passing water to passing corona (beer). 

Here are a some of the submissions: 

Liam and Nick’s “Snoozy Newzzz” entry retelling Rapunzel as a news report, with a roving reporter. 

Josie and Ant’s “Sneeze” entry for passing an object between team members. 

Alfie, Freddie and Karl‘s “Express Pen Delivery” entry for passing an object between team members. 

The results 

I was expecting some great entries week on week and I was not disappointed. The ingenuity and creativeness of my colleagues surpassed my expectations and as a creative agency, they were quite high. 

I have been told that teams spent time head scratching and saying, “What would the Taskmaster find funny?”. Even some departmental meetings started with a quick discussion on this week’s Taskmaster task. 

The eventual winners were a team of 2 that were consistently near the top, right from the first task. 

Did it help “build a stronger culture now we’re a distributed team?”? 

Probably not my place to answer this. 

What I do hope is that this was more than a competition. I hope that it allowed people who were staying at home to reconnect with their work colleagues and escape for a bit, in a way that they might not have if not doing a task. A quick work-related Zoom meeting is not the same type of contact. 

If it made a group of people laugh a couple of times a week, then I think I may have contributed in a small way to helping bbd be a bit less distributed during lockdown.

Steven Fisher
Senior Developer