Forget Paintball; Hip Hop Is The Freshest Exercise In Team Building

A Pittsburgh organization is helping students and businesses alike discover their strengths through a unique program that charges them with creating a hip-hop CD from conception to completion. Each person is assigned an executive position and has the unique opportunity to see what it’s like to run a mock record label.


A group of executives are stripped of their names and job titles. Soon after they walk in the door, they’re only allowed to refer to each other using their newly created hip-hop names (don’t laugh yet, DJ Pencil Pusher). No longer defined narrowly by the positions they hold within their organization, they’re challenged to see themselves as something different–to engage with each other through creativity. Although this might sound like a storyline for a new reality TV show, it’s actually part of an intensive hip-hop leadership training program that’s helping organizations better engage and motivate their employees.

Founded in 2007 by Emmy-Award winning producer Emmai Alaquiva as a free after-school mentoring and arts education program for children in grades K-12, the Hip-Hop On L.O.C.K. Project quickly grew from just 16 kids to helping thousands in the greater Pittsburgh area in a few short years. And as word spread, so did interest from leaders at large corporations including FedEx Ground, Bayer, the Pittsburgh City Police, and UPMC, as well as small businesses, nonprofits, and educational institutions.

Creative, highly customized curriculum

Building upon the subject areas developed while working with students, Hip-Hop On L.O.C.K. customizes each leadership training program based on the unique goals of each organization. Their highly interactive workshops cover topics including the history of hip hop, writing, math and music, and music production.

If time permits, each group is also encouraged to participate in a community service project, a program they refer to as “Throwback to the Community.” Offering such an outlet as an extension to their core programming is not only a great way to help the local communities in which the participants live and serve, but is also another highly-effective way to promote team building through shared experiences.

More practical than a ropes course

Unlike traditional team-building activities such as paintball and ropes courses which lack a practical application in most work settings, participants in the Hip-Hop On L.O.C.K. program are charged with coming together to create something tangible–to create a music CD from conception to completion. Each person is assigned an executive position (sound engineer, producer, singer, promoter, marketing, etc.) and has the unique opportunity to see what it’s like to run a mock record label.

By removing some of the physical aspects normally associated with typical team-building activities, the program is also better equipped to accommodate those with physical limitations, helping participants unlock their creative potential without having to worry about someone catching them as they fall backwards out of a tree or getting hit by a paint ball whizzing by at a hundred miles an hour.


How might hip hop help your organization?

The Hip-Hop On L.O.C.K. Project combines art with team building and leadership development to create a unique and memorable experience for organizations looking for an alternative to traditional skill-building workshops.

How might you be able to build upon their example to better engage and promote team building with your employees? Share your thoughts below.

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[image: Flickr user Garrett Coyte]


About the author

Shawn Graham partners with small businesses to create, implement, and manage performance-driven marketing strategies. His knowledge base includes media relations, business development, customer engagement, web marketing, and strategic planning