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Making connections Featured

6:14pm EDT July 29, 2006
Many companies struggle with how to promote teamwork among employees. Some business leaders try meetings and exercises on teambuilding, while others hope throwing a company picnic will encourage employees to get to know one another.

Perhaps a better, but often-overlooked alternative, is through philanthropy. Embracing a cause or getting involved in community activities gives employees a positive way to interact while at the same time benefiting people in the community.

Cleveland’s Forest City Enterprises Inc., a commercial and residential real estate company with $8 billion in assets, has embraced this idea for years. But the company stepped up efforts even further three years ago with the advent of its Community Day.

The event takes place in cities across the country where Forest City has offices.

“We’ll send about 1,400 employees out across the country to help in about 35 or 40 nonprofit organizations,” says Allan Krulak, Forest City’s vice president and director of community affairs. “They will spend the whole day painting and cleaning and doing landscaping - whatever it takes.

“The accomplishments are amazing, because when you send 100 employees out to one location to do painting and landscaping and cleaning up, there is a significant difference from the beginning of the day to the end of the day. It makes the employees feel good, and we know it makes a difference to the nonprofit organization.”

For Forest City, the idea of philanthropy ties in closely with many of the company’s core principles, especially sustainability, teamwork and integrity. Community Day is also a great way to promote what many of the company’s employees were already doing.

“What got this started is our employees have been doing this for years on their own,” Krulak says. “We just thought it would be nice to give them time off from work to do a lot more, to meet their fellow employees, to work with them out on a job site.”

With more than 4,000 employees in 25 states, Krulak has found it’s a better way to bond employees than any teamwork exercise or company picnic could have done.

“Many of the employees don’t know each other,” he says. “They work on different floors in the building, they work in different departments. They’re getting together for the very first time meeting their fellow employees. You get a lot of teamwork out of it.”

Not only is the event a great way to build teamwork, it also has an effect on employee morale.

“Part of it is the satisfaction that they make a difference by helping out,” Krulak says. “At the same time, they are sharing a common experience with their fellow associates. They gain new friendships. It connects them directly to their communities and the people we do business with.”

The event has grown each year as employees share their experiences with those who haven’t yet participated.

“Once the employees do it, they like doing it and they want to come back,” Krulak says. “They tell the other employees who didn’t do it, and the next year they all pitch in. ... It’s an experience that they’ll remember forever - that they seem to remember forever. We talk about it all year long.”

Regardless of a company’s size or how many causes it undertakes, there’s no question that it’s a win-win for everyone involved, Krulak says.

“I don’t know how much Forest City benefits from this or how much the organization does. It’s hard to calculate,” Krulak says. “We just know it’s important and something that we’re supposed to do.”

HOW TO REACH: Forest City Enterprises Inc., www.forestcity.net