Weighed down by mounting compliance issues, the microscopic details of auditing assignments and the intense nature of the industry, it is hard to imagine accountants and auditors having a bit of fun. However, one company seems to be knocking down this perception by going the extra mile to demonstrate that communication and team-building skills can be strengthened if employees are given the opportunity to let their hair down. In an annual tradition known as 'Mazariades', international accounting firm Mazars brings together a cross-section of its employees from 50 countries with just one aim in mind - to have fun. 'Many large international accounting firms organise events and conferences for its more senior people to discuss technical issues or the direction of the company, but it is very unusual for a company to have an event just for fun and for less senior members of staff,' said Edmund Chan, practising director at Mazars Hong Kong. Through fun-filled activities, such as outdoor challenges, football games, golf tournaments, quizzes and dinner receptions, the event empowers staff to be resourceful and work together effectively. They get to know each other and integrate into the Mazars culture. 'Mazars had become increasingly internationalised and we wanted to find a way to help employees from offices around the world bond and get to know one another in a more relaxed setting than simply a meeting room,' said Ken Morrison, Mazars' Hong Kong managing director. 'Staff can learn about the culture of colleagues from many overseas offices through these fun activities. Understanding differences helps to integrate employees into the Mazars culture. It also helps personal development and to see the power of teamwork and problem solving.' Last year, the Hong Kong office chose six employees from its 200-strong workforce to participate in the all-expenses-paid, two-day event in Frankfurt, Germany, which drew some 800 employees. Previous events have been held in Spain and the Netherlands. One month before the event, organisers grouped together teams of nine to 10 staff from different offices, each headed by a designated leader. Each group then had to communicate among themselves online to select a team name and symbol before meeting face to face at the event. 'I had absolutely no experience of organising a team for this kind of event before, so I had to quickly find a way to communicate with people from different cultures,' said Tammy Lam, a supervisor of corporate secretarial at Mazars Hong Kong, who was chosen as a team captain last year. 'Not all team members would leave clear messages on the official website, so I had to encourage them and act to achieve a consensus.' The activities vary each year. For example, participants last year competed in a rubber-boat race, a mountain-bike race, an obstacle course and tug-of-war, but they generally focus around team building, an attribute crucial to much of the firm's success. 'Our emphasis is on teamwork,' Mr Chan said. 'In the auditing industry, the work can never be completed by just one person. We typically send teams offsite to work on auditing the accounts of our clients, so being able to work together is very important.' Though participation in the event has no direct bearing on employees' roles or skill sets, Mr Chan pointed out that it did motivate them to work harder because the trip was also seen as a tool of recognition, which could in turn boost retention. 'So far, none of the employees we have sent to the event have left us. I think retention can be seen as a by-product of Mazariades,' Mr Chan said. 'We pick high performers with potential for the event. At Mazars, we believe monetary reward is not the only way to recognise staff wanting to develop their careers with us. This opportunity is a kind of acknowledgment too, and staff members appreciate that.' The event also provides an opportunity for staff to view the firm from a global context. 'Staff not only have the chance to gain broader exposure to different cultures around the world, but can also see the Mazars group in the context of a bigger picture. They can meet senior executives from other offices. That will help them gain more confidence in the firm as a whole,' Mr Chan said. The event has proved to be part of the company's broader effort to build a sustainable platform for individuals who wish to pursue a long-term career. Headquartered in Paris, Mazars specialises in audit, tax and advisory services. In Hong Kong, its work also covers company secretarial, business risk and corporate recovery services. Firm's payback Annual event enhances communication and team-building skills Staff see opportunity as a form of recognition, which indirectly helps with retention All activities designed around teamwork Event puts firm in a global context'