Training Days at Lynnhaven Marine: Far from boring

How do you put a value on staff morale and collaboration? Chuck Guthrie spares little expense with his unique – if anxiety-inducing – training days.

As the busy season kicks off, Guthrie closes down Lynnhaven Marine and holds what he calls a “training day.” The idea started with seasonal parties like many businesses hold every year.

“We had a spring party and a fall party for our employees. The old joke was, ‘Kiss your wife goodbye, you’ll see her in the fall.’ So we always had these parties, something simple: we might go to a baseball game,” said Guthrie. “But it got so they were boring  — to me.”

He said like lunch or an after-work happy hour, employees stayed in their workday cliques.

“You’d have a day or an activity and the people tend to group with their departments – the marina people stay with the marina people, the sales people stay with the sales people,” said Guthrie. “I was thinking back then, ‘What we out to do is have some kind of full day event – close the marina – and group the people cross departments.’”

Lynnhaven Marine employees designing their training day boat together.

Lynnhaven Marine employees designing their training day boat together.

And with that, the Lynnhaven Marine training days were born.

In the 13 yearly training days that followed, there were costumes, cover songs, city-wide scavenger hunts, go-kart races and even a little simulated combat.

“We actually went out and did paintball,” said Guthrie. “Man, I got killed. Everybody wanted to shoot the boss!”

This year, Lynnhaven employees were put to task designing boats.

“This year I picked up a whole bunch of stuff and put it in a pile, nobody knew what was going on – they didn’t have a clue,” said Guthrie. “They walked into the marina and I had eight work areas setup. Everybody had the same materials, and they had four hours to design, build, create a boat that we raced in our little basin right there at the marina.”

Employees didn’t just have to build a boat either, they had to decorate it and come up with a sales pitch for their boats.

“They had to build a marketing concept around the boat,” said Guthrie, who made marketing a focus in all of their training days. “Every time we do different these things, somewhere we get a marketing plan in there.

A few Lynnhaven Marine initiatives were actually spawned during the training days including sponsoring beach meet-ups for boaters and getting more video on the site.

“We come up with a lot of stuff,” said Guthrie.  Some is practical some is pie-in-the-sky but it makes them think about doing different things.”

He said there are always a lot of laughs, a bit of embarrassment sometimes but mostly a whole lot of fun away from work. To keep things even more interesting, Guthrie doles out bonuses throughout the day’s event.

A boat taking form as coworkers toil in the background.

A boat taking form as coworkers toil in the background.

“We put a bucket of money in, maybe $10,000. We give all the employees cash rewards for doing little things all day long,” said Guthrie. “You know with 50 people, each person gets $200-$500 dollars based on how much your team does – and they get paid for the whole day.”

While that and the 40-50 hours of planning is no small cost, it’s well worth the investment to get employees working well together.

“You learn something totally different that helps people get along better is my key to the whole thing,” said Guthrie. “How do you put a value on that? We close for the whole day and I pay them the whole day, so there is an expense there, but I personally believe it’s well worth it.”

He said it’s a much better working environment, except for the first day back to work.

“Morale bounces, but productivity gets a little bit of a hit because they’re all talking about how much fun they had the day before,” said Guthrie.

As for the next event, well, that’s a secret that keeps Lynnhaven Marine employees guessing.

“They have no idea what will come out of my crazy head,” said Guthrie.  “So there’s always a sense of apprehension.”

The mighty Lynnertia ready for the water.

The mighty Lynnertia ready for the water.


Do you make time to get your staff motivated or collaborating in novel ways?

 Tell us what you do in the comments below!


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