Introducing the Virtual Color War

In 1983 I was hustled off to camp for 8 weeks in Casco, Maine.

In camp tradition, the highlight of the summer was Color War, a multi-day event where the camp was divided into two teams to compete in sports, arts and other creative endeavors.

Exactly when Color War would start was a mystery. One day the pitter-patter of a marching band drumbeat would creep into existence, barely audible through the cross-camp speakers. It signified that Color Was near; the drums would continue for days on end, getting incrementally louder, building energy, adding tension.

Then, something major would happen. That year, there was pandemonium down by the docks — a boat was speeding to shore, carrying someone who had been hurt in a lake accident. Campers crowded, anxiously peering at the bleeding, unconscious man offloaded from the boat. Counselors started CPR; people were shouting for the camp doctor; the youngest campers were bawling and even the oldest kids were clearly terrified. An ambulance arrived, sirens blaring, and the paramedics swept into action, parting the crowd, checking vitals, applying bandages. They eventually loaded the maimed man into the back of the ambulance, climbed into the front and drove away.

But wait. As they ascended the dirt road out of camp, the back doors of the ambulance flew open. Blue and red streamers were shot high into ther air. The bleeding man was hanging off the doors, suddenly healed, and in unison with the EMTs, they were cheering and shouting.

“Color War. Color War. Color War!”

Campers noticed the drums had stopped. Color War had started.

I, for one, would like to thank Camp Samoset for providing me a lifetime of minor anxiety.

Speaking of anxiety, over the past few months, countless organizations have been dealing with their fair share: Covid, a transformation to remote work, and new social norms, expectations and realities for all coworker interactions.

For better or worse, every organization has felt some form of impact. So how do you maintain social connectivity? How do you replace the daily in-person interaction that forms bonds of unity and cohesiveness? 5 o’clock zoom happy hours can only do so much.

In a remote corporate world, Virtual Color War, a variant on the camp activity of old, may just be what the doctor ordered…

VCW Phase I: Introduce VCW to the Company.

Phase I tips:

  • “Announce” Color War a few days / week before it actually starts.
  • If you utilize Slack or another centralized communication platform, drop slides right into the main communication channel. Think of this like the beginning of camp drums.
  • Over the next few days keep dropping hints about potential activities. Don’t disclose too much. The “what the hell is this?” tension will build.
  • It’s paramount you assign an amazing Color Boss. Someone inside the company with cultural chemistry — and someone who can have a bit of fun.

Phase II: Announce Virtual Color War is Starting!

VCW Phase II Tips:

  • Arrange to have a color-themed team announcement sent to each individual’s home, specifically identifying which color team they’re on. (We chose color-themed logo-branded M&Ms )
  • As people start receiving their teams, provide slides that update timing and who is on which team.
  • A VCW should run for a little more than a week. As employees are still working on actual work…they’ll need time to plan some activities. Spreading over a weekend gives people time to re-energize.
  • Bonus: we also sent people wrist and headbands to wear during activities — that way they could sport their colors in videos and pictures.

Phase III: Virtual Color War

Share a set of activities that can be performed remotely.

  • Create a central slack channel (or other shared forum) for all Color War activity submissions. One place where team’s submit their activities and the Color Boss can review and deliver points. The faster the Color Boss works to distribute points, the better.
  • Each team should find their own way to plan and communicate (i.e.: their own slack channel)
  • Don’t fret on point value too much — they’re just a guideline to motivate.
  • The Color Boss should have the right to grant and take away any amount of points. Extra bonuses for creativity, take away points for trash talking and all that. The more variability, the more fun.
  • Activities with kids are a plus — great way to inspire at home AND get to know your co-workers a bit. Pets, too.
  • Activities focused on the company’s mission or including the company’s logo should be highlighted.
  • Find ways for teams have to work together on some activities — and others where they are directly competing (sending each other nasty recipes to make as an example).
  • Let people get creative and they’ll start creating their own activities.

Here’s what we did for Flipside’s VCW 2020:

VCW Phase IV: The Closing Ceremony

  • A few days later, hold a remote winning ceremony, where the Color Boss announces the winning team.
  • Personal preference is to not have an updated leaderboard throughout the event. Keeps people guessing about who is in the lead, makes the winning ceremony more of a surprise.
  • Also, Don’t Come In Last

An online version of this deck can be found here.

Finally, a special shout out to Redman for a ridiculous cameo for the Red Team:

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