Providing meetings that change an entire team’s energy and mindset is never easy, but it helps to include discussions about philanthropy and corporate social responsibility (CSR), when appropriate. The recent Smart Meetings webinar, “The Right Way to Give Back While Building Teams,” hosted by Lain Hensley, looked at not only CSR possibilities, but also how to implement them for the best results.

Hensley, president of Innovation & Delivery and co-founder of Odyssey Teams, specializes in constructing unique meetings to bring a team together while reinforcing its bond with the community and customers. Hensley says that when planning an event, he asks, “How deep are we planting the seeds of the experience to help the company and the organizations or the group to plant seeds of the kind of culture they want to create, the relationships they want to have and the kind of perspective they want to convey to their customers, their clients or each other?” When done right, Hensley believes philanthropic meetings can positively reorient the underlying values of a team.

“We give people, by using philanthropy and CSR, a powerful meeting….We’re trying to create a shift, trying to create a change,” he says. “And we know people are inspired to make a change when they see those behaviors, when they feel it—when their head understands it and their heart feels it, and they get a chance to experience it.”

How to Make the Most of Philanthropy and CSR

Lain Hensley
Lain Hensley

The core of Hensley’s philosophy boils down to changing each person’s perspective about the meeting and the company’s work in general. As such, his activities are not competitive and don’t include gimmicks to gamify them. Simply building something together creates an intrinsically good feeling all on its own, a feeling that can carry on through day-to-day work, as well.

Whether it is building bikes for children or assembling prosthetic hands for amputees, the experience of producing a philanthropic product can create a new sense of accomplishment for a group. Bringing the kids in afterward or sending back pictures of amputees receiving prosthetics multiplies that tenfold.

“We pierce the veil of meetings for meetings sake, of a project for a project’s sake,” he says. “Connect your participants as much as possible to the people who get value from what they’ve done.” It is a connection with a customer that modern business rarely provides.

To help such meetings be as productive as possible, Hensley gave a few more general tips.

  1. Bring your values with you wherever you go. If the meeting doesn’t exhibit the values a company claims to support, the connection for the employees won’t be made, either.
  2. Allow the team to see the full life cycle of its product. While an act such as painting houses for a set period is rewarding, producing a philanthropic product from beginning to end and seeing it reach the customer is a much more affecting experience.
  3. Company leadership must participate 100 percent. Seeing the passion and engagement of management will inspire and drive change in employees.
  4. To capitalize on the strong emotions of the meeting, companies need to follow it up by ensuring the day-to-day, usual work of the company is framed in the way it contributes to the community.
  5. Don’t make the meeting optional. It is important that it not be thought of as just a time-wasting field trip. The activities need to be challenging and the entire event needs to feel like it respects participants’ time.