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Elephants in Main Street: Stephen Blades

A different take on teambuilding helps one player differentiate itself from its competitors.

Juliet Pitman

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Stephen Blades of Elephants in Main Street

If, when arriving for a team-buildingsession, Stephen Blades’ clients expect to shoot each other with paint balls, racedirt bikes or do their best impression of Kamp Staaldraad, they will bedisappointed. Rather, they might find themselvesplanning, filming, producing, editing and acting in their own movie about wheretheir team is going. Or they might create a newspaper as a team of“journalists”, reporting not on their past, but on their future, writing thenews for the year ahead. Alternatively they could get a crash course indarkroom photography and do an exhibition of black and white photos thatcapture the culture of their organisation. It’s a different take on teambuildingbut then Blades’ vision has always been a little left-field, somethingevidenced by his company’s name. “I was on honeymoon in Thailand on anincredibly busy main road that was congested with cars, and there, cruisingthrough the chaos, was an elephant. I wanted to create a company that capturedthis ability to cut through the noise andmove steadily forward amid chaos. So that’s where the company name, Elephants in Main Street, came from,” he says.

Takingteambuilding to the next level

Blades’ ingenuity lies in takingteambuilding – long plagued by a reputation for being arbitrary, contrived andunable to teach lessons that can be translated back to the real work context –to the next level. What the company offers is fun andcreative stuff, but its true value resides in far more than this. Traditionalteambuilding uses team-centred events to help participants come to grips withchallenges, team dynamics and differing opinions and, in so doing,learn about how their view might differ from other people in their team. Theend goal is that everyone works together. But Elephants in Main Street seeks to go a step further.“The kinds of exercises we organise help people to develop a tangible pictureof their company’s vision, mission, values or goals for tomorrow. Getting ateam to understand these things, and work towards them with a common purpose,is one of the biggest challenges facing companies today,” Blades explains.

Translationis the secret ingredient

Underpinning everything is one of thecompany’s key differentiators – a focus on ensuring that what is learnt in theteambuilding is relevant to, and can be applied in, a real-life work setting.The idea is to be not only innovative, but high-impact as well. Blades has aunique take on how to make this happen. “The translation should take placebefore the teambuilding even begins. Many companies want to have a team-buildbecause they think it’s the done thing, but we won’t work like that. We want toknow precisely what they want to achieve upfront. Some 70% of the work involves uncovering their desired outcomes and then planning the events accordingly.This is where the translation starts. “If you go into a teambuilding exercisenot knowing what you want the experience to teach your team, of course theywon’t take any applicable learnings back to the office. You’re doomed from thestart,” he says.

Meetingmarket demands

Blades and his team have invested agreat deal in developing a unique suite of products. He explains, “We havefive: Creative Expressive, like the movies, newspaper and photography sessions,which focus on culture and goals; Creative Technical, in which participantsaddress the way in which they solve problems; Cognitive Experiential, in whichthey learn through practical experience; Socialisers, which falls into the moretraditional teambuilding focus of getting people to know each other and worktogether; and Creative Adventure, which includes adventure-type sessions for morephysically inclined people.”

This combination of carefully craftedand differentiated offerings allows Elephants in Main Street to take a customised approachto meeting a wide variety of client requirements. “Different companies havedifferent needs. Some of them may want the more traditional type ofteambuilding sessions, so we meet that need as well, but we always make surethat what we offer is well thought through, relevant and different from thenorm,” he says. The company serves clients all over theworld; South Africa is theflagship office but it has expanded to the UK,Singapore, Dubai,Namibia and Australia. Andwhile its services may not be the cheapest in the industry, they’re effective,helping the company and its clients to cut through the current economic chaosand keep moving forward. Much like that elephant in the Thai traffic.

  • Company: Elephants in Main Street
  • Player: Stephen Blades
  • Est 1995
  • Contact: +27 11 476 7300

Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.

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25 Of The Most Successful Business Ideas In South Africa

Find out who’s making waves in numerous industries and how they managed to differentiate themselves in local and international industries.

Nicole Crampton

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“Disruption is all about risk-taking, trusting your intuition, and rejecting the way things are supposed to be. Disruption goes way beyond advertising, it forces you to think about where you want your brand to go and how to get there,” says Richard Branson.

South Africa has its fair share of innovative and disruptive businesses taking both local and international industries by storm. From cutting edge space technology to reimagined logistics, and innovative business models, here are 25 of the most successful business ideas in South Africa:

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27 Of The Richest People In South Africa

Here are 27 of South Africa’s richest people, but how did they achieve this level of wealth? Find out here.

Nicole Crampton

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Learn the secrets of SA’s most successful business people, here is the list of the 27 richest people in South Africa:

In a world with growing entrepreneurship success stories, victory is often measured in terms of money. The feat of achieving a place on this list is, however, years of hard work, determination and persistence. “One has to set high standards… I can never be happy with mediocre performance,” advises Patrice Motsepe.

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  1. Elisabeth Bradley
  2. Sharon Wapnick
  3. Bridgette Radebe
  4. Irene Charnley
  5. Wendy Ackerman
  6. Paul Harris
  7. Wendy Appelbaum
  8. Mark Shuttleworth
  9. Desmond Sacco
  10. Giovanni Ravazzotti
  11. Markus Jooste
  12. Gus Attridge
  13. Gerrit Thomas Ferreira
  14. Cyril Ramaphosa
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  16. Raymond Ackerman
  17. Michiel Le Roux
  18. Lauritz Dippenaar
  19. Jannie Mouton
  20. Stephen Saad
  21. Patrice Motsepe
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  23. Koos Bekker
  24. Ivan Glasenberg
  25. Christoffel Wiese
  26. Johann Rupert
  27. Nicky Oppenheimer
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Watch List: 50 Top SA Black Entrepreneurs To Watch

South Africa needs more entrepreneurs to build businesses that can make a positive impact on the economy. These up-and-coming black entrepreneurs are showing how it can be done.

Nicole Crampton

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Early-stage South African entrepreneurial activity is at an all-time high of 11%, according to Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, and entrepreneurial intentions have also increased to 11.7%. With both activity and intentions growing significantly year-on-year, there are more businesses opening up around South Africa than ever before.

The increase in entrepreneurship has seen the rise of more black entrepreneurs across numerous sectors. From beauty brands to legal services and even tech start-ups, these are 50 top black entrepreneurs to watch:

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