Interview with Lara Storm & Ben Swire
“Most teambuilding is awful,” says Lara Storm, co-founder of Make Believe Works. “They either feel like a waste of time or like work. On one end of the spectrum are the fun and frivolous group activities like virtual wine tastings, zoom magicians, and baby goat farms. These are fun in the moment, but are generally passive and then all the good will created evaporates when it’s done because there’s nothing personal to it. At the other end of the spectrum are team-building activities that can feel like a chore in themselves or are designed around competition as opposed to collaboration: trivia, scavenger hunts, password games, etc. These tend to actually create exhaustion or division between people instead of excitement and bonding. And that’s terrible. After years of pandemic isolation and now new models of remote and hybrid working, people are more desperate than ever for meaningful connection with their colleagues—but they’re not getting it.”
That’s where Make Believe Works comes in.
“We sit in the middle of those two options: our process is deliberate, it’s meaningful, and it’s fun,” says Ben Swire, the other half of Make Believe Works’ leadership team. Make Believe Works hosts remote and in-person workshops for groups that want to deepen existing connections and build up the emotional muscle memory it takes for healthy collaboration. But they do it like no one else.
“We deliver playful but meaningful experiences,” explains Ben. “We use the playfulness of creativity like oven mitts. Used carefully, creativity can help you get a hold on ideas, feelings, aspirations that are too hot to handle in everyday life. And smile while doing it.”
“That imaginative and playful approach lowers inhibitions and energizes participation so that everyone has fun, but they also walk away with new insights into themselves and their colleagues. Our activities both unlock individual intuition and empower group conversations, which together help stimulate new thinking, build new connections, and help people get comfortable taking the risks worth taking. And isn’t that what you want from teambuilding?”
“I hit on this paradoxical balance of opposing currents: Safe Danger,” says Ben. “Risk, yes, but without serious consequences. Vulnerable, yes, but without feeling exposed. That’s why, when I design activities, I have two goals – Reassure and Surprise. In that order. First I want to reassure people that they are safe enough to loosen their grip on the familiar. Then I want them to find something unexpected that they will embrace and take with them.”
Today, Make Believe Works runs workshops for organizations ranging from Fortune 500 stalwarts to first year start-ups, but as helpful as they are for their clients, it turns out that Make Believe Works has had a powerful impact on its founders as well.
Lara Storm —Pushing herself to take charge
“My background is in Financial Inclusion and International Development. But after working my way up the ranks of that sector I found the meaningful aspects of the work increasingly lost in the demands of serving institutions and serving big donors. I really lost sight of the human component.
“Ben had developed these activities and I’d seen them work and even used them with my own teams. But the pandemic shook things up and put that all in clear focus. It gave me a chance and opportunity to take something that I really believed in, with somebody I believed in as my life partner, and try it out. It felt like just the exact thing that I needed, and very nourishing for my spirit.
“This process has allowed me to shed some of those old patterns that weren’t serving me and develop new ones. Finding a unique thing that you can add to the world, taking ownership of it, announcing it to everyone, and being proud of it, is a part of my daily therapy.
“But just as this type of work really energizes me – it’s terrifying at times. It feels like a continuous acknowledgment or realization that we are business owners. It’s pushed me in all the directions that I think I always really wanted to be pushed in, but never had the opportunity. I didn’t have a whole lot of examples to follow – I was half forging my own way and half asking everyone I knew for guidance. That’s been a really key thing since we started: the generosity of people who have gone out of their way to meet with us, give us advice, give me new tools or skills has been a real gift.
“I always thought of myself as an employee, but there was always a part of me which thought I needed to do something, or I needed to do my own thing. Now we have this business and are doing all the things, and trying to grow. I can’t imagine going back. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Ben Swire – Pushing past personal nature
From Mandalas to Holograms, from Rorschach ink blots to temporary tattoos, Ben developed and hosts all the Make Believe Works activities.
“I’m relentlessly curious and Make Believe Works is a way to take that curiosity about things and turn it into something useful. Our activities are not about learning Kintsuge, they’re about learning about each other through Kintsuge. And that’s amazing to watch unfold.
“The earlier part of my creative career felt more like exploring an unknown forest on my own. I was learning to learn. I was learning for me. But now I’ve become a bit more like an expert guide. I know these woods, and I get to take you into the forest, I get to show you something new, share some of the secrets I’ve discovered. I give you a little bit of my experience, and then when you leave you go back to your world, you can take some of this knowledge with you.
“But I’m not a facilitator by nature, I’m a deep, deep introvert, so leading a group and bringing the right energy for everyone to feel welcome, to have a voice, but also feel safe and guided, is as exhausting as it is necessary.”
“He says that,” interrupts Lara, “but of all the facilitators I’ve ever worked with, Ben is definitely the best. We constantly get that feedback from clients.”
“That’s lovely to hear. Thanks. But the truth is, whenever I have to stand up in front of a large group I just try to channel my daughter Quinn. Even at 5-years-old, when Quinn walked into a room she was just like, ‘Hello, you lucky people! Here I am!’ So I tried to learn from her. And I’ve tried to learn from Lara’s business sense as well. I’m not an entrepreneur by nature. It’s not how I normally function so it’s been a real struggle to push myself to think of myself as a small business owner. But it’s been worth it. It’s unlocked a sense of pride and purpose that wasn’t there before.”