At American Chemical Society, employees let loose with a ‘madcap’ scavenger hunt

Organization: American Chemical
Society.

Location: The District.

Employees: 570 locally; 2,000
nationwide.

On a warm day last fall, Michael Mury and his co-workers dashed around downtown Washington with a whimsical to-do list: Take photos of themselves in front of five embassies. Nab a sample-size spoon from a frozen yogurt shop. Make a stone rubbing of something that dates prior to 1920.

Mury and his teammates took on these and dozens of other offbeat tasks as part of a scavenger hunt that pits employees of the American Chemical Society against one other for an afternoon of friendly competition.

“It felt very ‘Amazing Race’-like,” Mury said, referring to the CBS reality show.

Items on the scavenger hunt list are worth different numbers of points, depending on how difficult it is to find them or complete them. A picture of someone wearing yellow, for example, is worth just one point. But a photo of a team member inside a food truck is worth 10 points.

The teams get just 10 minutes to strategize and then have one hour to rack up as many points as they can.

“There’s sort of a madcap feel to it,” said Mary Kirchhoff, director of the District-based organization’s education division.

Mury said last year’s event often got downright silly. He and his team closed an elevator door on another team that was hot on their trail. A third team got a scolding from a cab driver as they tried to pile into his vehicle for a photo.

But the scavenger hunt isn’t just an afternoon of hijinks. ACS staffers say it helps build camaraderie. Participants are intentionally put into teams with co-workers they don’t often work with so it becomes an opportunity to get better acquainted.

“I did hear comments from people, ‘I never knew this about a certain person. I never knew this person was so competitive,’ ” Mury said.

These stronger relationships, employees say, leads to better collaboration back at the office.

“It fits into our bigger focus of trying to really create an engaged workforce,” Kirchhoff said.

Sarah Halzack is The Washington Post's national retail reporter. She has previously covered the local job market and the business of talent and hiring. She has also served as a Web producer for business and economic news.
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