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The key to running a successful real estate brokerage often comes down to having better agents than the competition. But it’s not enough to have the most experienced agents, or even the smartest ones. For a true competitive advantage, a brokerage needs a team of connected, aggressive and motivated agents to thrive as a complete organization.

Many brokers focus on their company culture in order to foster the perfect blend of synergy. Others focus purely on providing hard resources—either in commission splits or support, like marketing, training and technology.

Some, though, are finding success by creating authentic experiences that bond the agents to each other, as well as the brokerage brand. This is being seen throughout the nation, from companies throwing unusual holiday parties, e.g., chartering a party bus into Hollywood, Calif., to participate in a live game show broadcast, to group philanthropy events and paintballing.

Joshua Lybolt, founder of the Chicago-based Lifstyl Real Estate, which reaches a large chunk of the Midwest, puts his agents on a personal development journey called “The Ideal Lifstyl” because, he says, “mindset is key toward keeping agents in the business. We hold fun social events, like brewing our own company beer where our agents get to be part of the actual brewing process.”

Passion Broussard, sales manager of Red Oak Realty in the San Francisco Bay Area, explains that experiences are like a new currency and can be very effective when built into a bonus structure. The company recently took about 30 of its top-producing agents to Safari West in Sonoma to escape the grind and enjoy a day of nature and wine tasting.

“They received gifts and swag, and we all went around the table at lunch and shared our goals for next year, but those goals had to be non-work-related,” Broussard explains.

The idea, she says, is to get everyone relating on a personal level that’s more authentic and inspiring than a typical business culture. This approach is applied to training and development experiences, as well, says Broussard.

“We’ve put together evening sessions to help the agents learn new systems together in small groups where we’ll have wine and food. It makes it feel much less like learning or working. Instead, we’re all laughing and sharing tips and tricks, and other personal stories,” Broussard says. “But by the end of the session, everyone has learned something new, logged into the system and taken action.”

Broussard notes that team-building opportunities can be events of all sizes.

“Every December, our association has a dinner gala, and every year our company sponsors a table and invites about 10-15 agents that wouldn’t necessarily get together outside of the office,” she explains. “It can also be as spontaneous as [our recent] weekly training when we stopped at Peet’s [Coffee], grabbed a bundle of gift cards and had a session where multiple real-life real estate scenarios were proposed and the agents were asked, ‘What would you do?’ Agents would answer and receive gift cards for participating. This made for a really fun class where everyone laughed and learned from each other.”

Such camaraderie tends to make agents more effective as they learn from each other and genuinely enjoy coming to work each day, says Eric Engelbert, founder of Orange County Real Estate in Southern California. He adds that it can spread quickly via word of mouth in the marketplace and via social media, presenting a particular brokerage as an employment destination for other talented agents.

“It’s about trying to create a family environment. The key to keeping people on board is to make it not just work. It’s a family experience,” says Engelbert, who has a background in psychology. “At other brokerages, your value is defined by the money you bring in, but in a family experience, you make agents feel their value is more than just the deals they bring in.”

Engelbert says his method is very appealing to millennial agents who could use mentoring from the more experienced team members and are drawn to the experience-building concept. They love to participate in group activities, whether it’s traditional sports like bowling or softball, or alternative experiences such as group painting classes or obstacle courses.

For the older agents who are settled down with families, they might not be able to take many overnight trips or care to be out paintballing in the woods for several hours. But Engelbert says there are many ways to cross-synergize the team despite having different interests, energy levels and availability. He suggests incorporating the agents’ children into brokerage experiences, such as picnics, sporting events and charity.

“It’s a great way to be inclusive, as well as have fun and get to know everyone as people rather than coworkers,” he explains. “It adds to the family experience, and the younger agents get so much out of having a positive role model.”

Andrew King is a contributing editor to RISMedia.

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