These days, it's difficult to be unaware of the trending #IceBucketChallenge. Facebook, Twitter, and mainstream news feeds are all filled with videos of people dumping buckets of ice water over their head. Although in some sweltering cities an ice bath may be refreshing, celebrities, actors, sports stars, politicians, CEOs, and millions of other ordinary folks are not joining the viral sensation simply to cool off.
The Ice Bucket Challenge is a fundraising campaign for the ALS Association, an organization that supports research for a cure to ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. The challenge is simple: Take a video of you dumping a bucket of freezing cold ice water on yourself to raise awareness of the illness and then challenge three other people to do the same. They then have 24 hours to drench themselves. The campaign became an Internet sensation and, as of this week, has raised well over $30 million dollars and shows no sign of slowing (ALSA.org).
The challenge actually started with no connection to ALS. Those who joined in initially donated to any charity or organization of their choosing. The campaign became a viral sensation linked to curing Lou Gehrig's disease when Pete Frates, a former college baseball player who has the illness, challenged his friends to the Ice Bucket Challenge. The campaign quickly spread through Frates' network of supporters and the entire Boston area, multiplying exponentially across the country (New York Times, 8/17/14).
The viral sensation has not overlooked businesses. CEOs, executives, and founders of the some of the biggest global companies have participated. Bill Gates, Tim Cook, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Weiner, Oprah Winfrey, Sheryl Sandberg, Satya Nadella, Jeff Bezos, Dick Costolo, and dozens of others have drenched themselves and given generously to ALS. Why are so many business giants jumping on the #IceBucketChallenge band wagon? Because this viral campaign can teach leaders how to build extraordinary teams that not only get things done, but actually get along.
First of all, the challenge is fun. Millions of people wouldn't be participating if it weren't. It's entertaining to see people shiver, gasp, and squeal as they douse themselves in ice water. Take a look at Oprah Winfrey's challenge and try not to smile; or check out Bill Gates' video with a specially designed contraption just to soak himself. If you want to build a team that's going to stay together, let them play together . Check out "Job Talk with Anita Clew," our sister blog, for advice and ideas on how to let your teams have a little fun.
The #IceBucketChallenge has a purpose. Yes, being flooded in freezing ice water is amusing, but ultimately the campaign went viral after it was linked to curing Lou Gehrig's disease and spurred many people to raise awareness of the illness and donate to the ALS Association. The most successful teams understand their common purpose and goal. You must be sure that every single person can identify not just what they are working on, but why they are coming together and what they are working toward.
A key part of the challenge is paying it forward and calling out others to take on the dousing. Your team also needs this kind of grassroots camaraderie. A manager who commands and controls might get the bare minimum done, but group members challenging and supporting each other will elevate your team to a higher level.
Finally, great teams understand that the challenge never really ends, even if the goals are met. The ALS Association of course considers their campaign a success. But their wild victory now brings around new questions and challenges. ALS only earned $1.9 million in the same fundraising period last year. Now they've raised $30 million and counting. ALS has to decide where the money will go and how they're going to move forward. Teams must understand that even success brings its own set of challenges, which must then be met with the same enthusiasm and energy as the original cause.
Readers, have you participated in the #IceBucketChallenge? How can you apply it to team building at your company?