Planner Spotlight: Using the Cult Film Offfice Space for Teambuilding

Feb. 1, 2006: Successful Meetings magazine


"Looks like you've been missing a lot of work lately."

"I wouldn't say I've been missing it, Bob."

That exchange, from the cult film Office Space, is exactly the sort of commentary that makes the my-job-sucks comedy resonate even seven years after its release. So it's no surprise that when the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Austin, TX, began marketing its "Ultimate Office Space Party" a couple of years ago as a corporate event, it instantly became the theater's most popular offering.

Companies from Dell to Whole Foods to IBM have rented out the art-house cinema for the three-hour shindig, says Samantha Cox, Alamo's director of private and corporate events. But it's not just about laughing at Lumbergh (the passive-aggressive middle manager), Milton (the nerdy, abused collator), or the Bobs (so-called "efficiency" consultants). Cox works hard to make the party as interactive as possible, with contests for "Best Excuse for Not Coming to Work" and "Most Despicable Office Prank." She also passes out prizes to anyone who shows up in costume (her favorite was the guy who replicated the movie poster by arriving covered entirely in Post-it notes), and even gives an award for "Best Flair."

Attendees start off with a history course of office life, in the form of 1950s corporate-training films screened while people arrive and have lunch (Alamo has a full menu and a liquor license). Next, depending on the company, there may be a serious portion, with a PowerPoint presentation or a speech. Then teams hand in their entries for "best excuses" or "most despicable prank"—and it's show time.

Cox says that the hardest part of her job is drawing people out: "The execution side of things is so turn-key that it's more about how we can get everyone to participate and have a great experience," she says. "Some groups really get into the spirit, but when you have a very reserved group, it's almost awkward."

Cox doesn't force people to join in—"that only makes it worse"—but instead focuses on fine- tuning. For instance, during the birthday-cake scene (when Milton is forced to keep passing his slice until he ends up not getting one), Cox recently started wheeling out a sheet cake. "If people don't want to stand up in front of their boss and read their best excuse for not showing up, well, maybe their experience would be better if they had cake."

A Flair for Fun
If there's one thing all employees have in common, it's apparently the desire to destroy office equipment. Cox used to let everyone reenact the movie's most famous scene—when Peter, Samir, and Michael Bolton smash a recalcitrant printer to bits—but now restricts this to contest winners only. "It got out of hand and became a mob mentality," she explains. "Parts were flying all over and I was afraid people would get hurt." Also, knowing that only winners get to wield sledgehammers makes everyone more competitive, she adds.

All in all, it sounds like the perfect antidote for anyone with a bad case of the Mondays.

By The Numbers:

Cost: $18-30 per person

Attendees: 15-100

Time spent planning: A half-day