by Andrea Doyle | December 13, 2013
A festive way to create team camaraderie during a winter meeting is by assembling gingerbread houses. Attendees immediately get into the holiday spirit as the sweet smell of gingerbread fills the air. Frosting, gumdrops, pralines, chocolate, jellybeans, and, of course, icing, are just a few of the creative tools that attendees can use to build their works of art. But there are a few steps a planner should take to ensure the house-building activity is a hit.

The group should be broken into teams and each can design, build, and decorate a gingerbread house. These creations foster teamwork, especially since making a house often requires more than one pair of hands for construction. Best of all, at the end of the activity, attendees can take their creations home with them to share with family and friends. Others have arranged to donate them to senior centers or childcare facilities.

To simplify preparations, companies might consider purchasing kits that include everything needed or working with organizations that provide this service. For example, TeamBuilding Unlimited has been organizing gingerbread house teambuilding competitions during the holidays for the past 20 years, usually beginning in December of each year.

"We really customize the activity for the client around what it is they want to do or accomplish at the meeting or holiday party," says Janet Rudolph, president of TeamBuilding Unlimited, which is based in the San Francisco area.

Rudolph is currently developing a gingerbread activity for a biotech company in which they will create an entire "gingerbread village."

"One team will construct their new research lab in gingerbread, another the recreation center, another the cafeteria, and so on," she says. "For a hotel management company, we arranged for each team to build a resort made of gingerbread with the features they would like in their very own real-life resort."

Sugary Showdown

Adding a competitive element to the building can help raise engagement among attendees. The California Self Storage Association (CSSA), a nonprofit trade association dedicated to supporting the self-storage industry in the state, is hosting a Gingerbread House Showdown event on Dec. 15. Three CSSA staff members will compete to see who makes the best gingerbread house for the holiday season. The competitors will include Erin King, CSSA's executive director; Brenda Lafontaine, online business development and marketing manager; and Amaris Burkel, CSSA's new manager of operations and member relations.

"Managing a nonprofit trade association can be a somewhat lonely life. Especially around the holidays, you can miss the camaraderie of being part of a big company," says King. "In 2008, I said to my part-time assistant, 'Let's close for half a day and have some holiday fun by building gingerbread houses.'"

Now that there are three staff members, the competition has heated up. A Facebook poll has been created where industry professionals can vote. The final products will be presented for judgment on CSSA's Facebook page on Dec. 16.

This year, each participant will get an Alpine Gingerbread House Kit and will create her structure independently, incorporating her personality into the house as well as her Facebook posts as the project comes together. The houses will be on display at CSSA's holiday reception and annual meeting.

Hotel Gingerbread Houses

Many hotels stage elaborate, sweet-smelling displays to draw holiday crowds. The Inn at Pocono Manor transforms around the holidays into a magical winter wonderland. Thousands of lights, several decorated Christmas trees, life-size tin soldiers, and a roaring fire in a central fireplace set the scene for an old-fashioned holiday celebration. A full-size gingerbread house takes center stage.

Outside are baby rescue deer for children to feed, a bonfire where all the fixings for s'mores are available, and horse-drawn sleigh rides. There are 237 rooms, and 19 meeting and banquet rooms totaling 25,000 square feet in the resort, often referred to as "The Grand Lady of the Mountains."

Starting on Nov. 30, the Fairmont San Francisco's giant two-story Gingerbread House will be showcased in the hotel's grand lobby. It stands more than 22 feet high and 23 feet wide and includes thousands of home-baked gingerbread bricks and more than a ton of royal icing and candy décor. New this year is the hotel's first gingerbread doghouse.

Constructing a house of this size is a team effort. The hotel's regional vice president and general manager, along with the hotel manager, regional director of sales and marketing, executive chef, and others work together to construct and decorate the house.

"The house is being worked on constantly, so having the team band together is not purely for show," says Melissa Farrar, public relations director at The Fairmont San Francisco, which sits atop Nob Hill. "They unwrap candy, pipe the frosting, and adjust portions that have broken off as well."

The Fairmont San Francisco offers 591 newly renovated guest rooms and suites with tough-to-beat views of the San Francisco Bay Area. It also has 52,000 square feet of meeting space that includes its Grand Ballroom, the famed Venetian Room, where Tony Bennett first sang "I Left My Heart in San Francisco," and a stunning Gold Room.

Holiday Magic at Walt Disney World Resort

Each holiday season, Disney chefs deck the halls in sweet fashion, creating larger-than-life gingerbread masterpieces across the Walt Disney World Resort.

Meeting attendees will enjoy the delightful scent of gingerbread as they enter the lobby of Disney's 867-room Grand Floridian Resort & Spa. The 16-foot-tall Victorian gingerbread house involves more than 400 hours of baking and 160 hours of decorating. This holiday favorite is baked with 1,050 pounds of honey, 600 pounds of powdered sugar, 800 pounds of flour, 700 pounds of chocolate, 140 pints of egg whites, and 180 pounds of apricot glaze.

Attendees can purchase homemade items at the gingerbread house, including stollen bread, chocolate chip cookies, and chocolate-peppermint bark. Guests will also find gingerbread ornaments and miniature gingerbread houses, as well as live demonstrations by pastry chefs on how to create their own holiday gingerbread houses. The Grand Floridian has 40,000 square feet of meeting space.

At Disney's Beach Club Resort which has 1,197 rooms and 73,000 square feet of meeting space, meeting attendees will find a life-size gingerbread carousel. The spinning carousel includes ponies made of chocolate and fondant, giant candy-cane poles, handcrafted poinsettias, and hand-painted portraits of famous Disney characters surrounded by snowflakes.