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The Team Building Principles Google, Adobe and Life Time Fitness Learned from Cirque du Soleil

Jennifer Xue
Jennifer Xue

Cirque du Soleil’s brand is synonymous with professionalism, perfection, magic, and high-performing teams.

With SPARK Sessions and Experiences, the circus now offers more than sparkles in children’s eyes who are mesmerized by their performers, artists, athletes, and technologists.

They offer a once-in-a-lifetime experience. “We like to think of it as Harvard Leadership Institute meets Alice in Wonderland,” says Kris Chanski, Producer of Client Experiences for SPARK.

Primarily, SPARK Sessions and Experiences are designed to share the unique approaches Cirque du Soleil takes on creativity, branding, talent acquisition, and other topics relevant to top performing companies. James Jay Guilford, Creator and Content Strategist for SPARK, says these sessions are a logical next step for Cirque du Soleil.

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“Cirque’s dual identity as both a corporate entity and a contemporary circus requires us to employ nonconventional methods to solve challenges all modern businesses must face” explains Guilford. “By default, we have to think out of the box about things like talent acquisition – especially if the talent you want to acquire is an expert acro-contortionist.”

Started in April 2015, SPARK has hosted corporations like Google, Adobe, Home Depot, Hewlett Packard Enterprises, SABMiller, and Life Time Fitness to name a few.  “Some of these top-performing companies came to use Cirque because we are uniquely positioned to speak on topics such as talent acquisition or dynamic customer experiences,” says Guilford.  “Think about it.  The nature of our shows requires us to seek and invest in top talent.  Moreover, since audiences come to Cirque for spectacle, we are tasked to deliver amazing CX every night.”

Kris Chanski, producer of Cirque Experiences says, “We have many clients that come to Cirque seeking our signature wow-factor. Some use SPARK Experiences to reward their top-performing team members. Others want to provide out-of-the-box wow moment for their most valuable clients.”

Cirque offers short one-hour SPARK Experiences which provide groups of 80 to 300 the unique behind-the-scenes interactive moments in their Las Vegas Theaters. Also, Cirque offers SPARK Sessions. These team building and training modules are more learning-centric. “Even in ur Sessions,” Guilford says, “we infuse the learning with that unique Cirque approach.” As an example, groups have learned Cirque Arts on Cirque equipment from artists in the show as an experience in collaboration and trust. “The icing on the cake for SPARK Sessions and Experiences,” says Chanski, “is when seeing the show after having the rare glimpse behind the scenes.”

Participants would be invited to the rare “backstage pass” where they can see this mammoth magical business entity holistically. For instance, a show can have seven to 12 departments that collaborate on a daily basis, and every show has over 100 different cues, some of which must be executed to the second. Also, groups can see the business behind the circus, and explore topics such as marketing, accounting, and community outreach.

In SPARK Team Building Sessions, participating groups work on simulations of Cirque’s casting and creation process. They meet the instructors, artists, and choreographer to learn skills such as clowning, aerial, and dance.

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In SPARK Learning Sessions, participants are led by Cirque Experts on topics such as branding, human capital investment, and operational excellence. And the learning experience is enhanced by the technical display in theaters. Some session include a private viewing of an act. One of the most popular sessions is called "Journey into the Hull of KÀ. At KÀ, Cirque’s nine-story-high Las Vegas Theater, a group of 50 to 180 get an up-close experience of KÀ’s state-of-the-art sound system. Then, they are brought on to the lifts, where they travel 2 stories beneath the theater as the 280,000-pound rotating stage whirls above their heads.

For corporate groups who desire custom built sessions, SPARK Sessions also offers their expertise to design a unique experience based on the group’s needs and goals. For youth, SPARK Sessions provides similar experiences call SPARK the Youth.

Created by a dynamic duo, James “Jay” Guilford, an experienced team-building trainer, and Kris Chanski, the Producer of Client Experiences, SPARK Sessions provides unprecedented opportunities for corporations and groups to work, play, and learn alongside Cirque’s world-class performers in their actual workspaces. The name “SPARK” itself was inspired by Lyn Heward and John U. Bacon’s book, SPARK: Igniting the Fire within Us All.

Having trained numerous corporate and youth groups for the Cirque, Guilford has provided five tips to bring out the best in teams.

1. Embrace the Gray Space

“Gray space” explains Guilford, “is the air we catch in between leaping and landing.  For corporate groups, it is the purgatory that exists between ideation and the actual process, product, or bottom line figure. Finding and embracing your group’s “gray space” is the key to turning measurable goals into reality.

2. Use Words That Invite Collaboration

In SPARK team meetings, using words “but” and “no” are forbidden. Staple words and phrases for our team are “also,” “I agree,” “and,” and “help me understand.” Communicating in a positive way brings out creativity within and nurtures the spirit of collaboration.

3. Use Progressive Language When Giving Feedback

When giving feedback, Guilford suggests you use a “when-then” approach. For instance, instead of saying, “You confirmed the client walk-thru late, which held up my meeting." Say this, ”Thanks for your assistance. Please confirm the walk-thru early. When you confirm the walk-thru in advance, then this allows me to make consecutive meetings on time." (let’s bold and italicize the when/then in this sentence)

4. Praise Others by Pointing

Shining a spotlight on team members has a profoundly positive impact. For instance, when an intern completed the Web design of our blog, Guilford and Chanski ushered the intern into the office of the VP of Marketing and Sales so that the whole team could sing her praises. “Frontline employees often get lost in the shadows of management,” says Guilford. “This can be fixed by spotlighting a job well done.”

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5. Adopt a Growth Mindset

This term which was coined by Dr. Carol Dweck, which refers to a perspective that skills can be developed through learning experiences, dedication, and hard work. It puts no ceiling on a person’s ability to learn and flourish. This point of view helps Cirque du Soleil transform top athletes into dynamic performing artists.  Guilford says, “We keep a growth mindset perspective to help us continually identify and maximize the potential of our people.”

SPARK Sessions and Experiences by Cirque du Soleil provide an unprecedented magical opportunity to work, learn, and play from Cirque du Soleil, an entertainment powerhouse that employs high-performing teams. Let their magic brings out the spark in your team.

Image Credit: Monkeybusinessimages / Getty Images
Jennifer Xue
Jennifer Xue Member
Certified Expert Jennifer Xue is a serial entrepreneur, award-winning author, and columnist based in Northern California. She has proven record in brand awareness, gaining traction, and creative marketing. She's passionate about family business and small business ventures. She has been helping family and small businesses gaining traction and brand awareness in the last 15 years. She has published 2,000+ articles and 100+ ebooks/reports worldwide. She also taught 50+ college-level essay and paper writing classes. She is the author of White Paper Writing for Business published by and two more forthcoming titles. Her works have been published in Forbes, Fortune, Esquire, Cosmopolitan, Good Men Project, Influencive, Business2Community, Korea Times, Brunei Times, Jakarta Post, Jakarta Globe, among others. She is the founder and chief editor of, a business and career ebook publisher, and, an online publication aiming at balancing technology with humanity. Her blog and writing portfolio is