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Emory OTT celebrates staff achievement with unique teambuilding activities

This article appeared in the April 2015 issue of Technology Transfer Tactics. Click here for a free sample issue or click here to subscribe.

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Staff in Emory University’s Office of Technology Transfer (OTT) are treated to clever and amusing diversions such as monthly contests and celebratory bell-ringing to encourage and reward achievements.

Operations director Linda Kesselring says she doesn’t consider the activities incentives per se, just lighthearted ways to “boost morale, encourage team-building, and break things up.” The OTT does offer a traditional financial incentive program but felt it could be beneficial to allow staffers to “have a little fun in a high-pressure environment.”

As part of an ongoing effort to recognize accomplishments and promote group camaraderie, OTT team members devised a “punny” monthly award based on an existing office nickname.

Some staff already jokingly referred to themselves as “OTT-ers” so the office ran with the name and had a stuffed otter mounted, turning the animal into a mascot trophy for a monthly OTTer award. (See Figure 1.)


Winning associates earn the privilege of housing the prized OTTer trophy, which is frequently dressed in seasonal or themed attire, in their office for the month. The furry mascot is so popular with staff, past employees have been given replica OTTers as parting gifts.

Nine licensing criteria (See Figure 2), including numbers of high net worth licenses fully executed, term sheets submitted, and tech briefs sent out, are used to determine which licensing associate is the monthly OTTer award winner. A dramatic drumroll precedes the announcement of the winner, which takes place during staff meetings.


The OTTer is up for grabs to the top-scoring associate each month, regardless of whether they’ve won previously, which leads to plenty of good-natured competition in the office. “We’ve had people win two months in a row. There’s never been a tie, but we’ve definitely done some playful trash talk about who’s going down and things like that,” says licensing associate Lisa Matragrano. “It’s fun to have that friendly competition amongst your colleagues. Something that involves the whole office is important.”

Adding to the bragging rights, the top award winner for the year is also presented with a special certificate that they can keep on permanent display.

Winners are expected to deliver acceptance speeches to let the office know just how they accomplished their big win. “It’s a way to have the licensing team share what’s going on with people in the office who wouldn’t normally hear about it,” says Kesselring. This encourages lighthearted communication and lively meetings, as opposed to stuffy “OK, let’s go around the table at a staff meeting and force people to talk about what they’ve been up to.”

Another fun way the OTT celebrates staff accomplishments is by ringing the “Git-R-Done” bell, a large brass bell that hangs in the hallway just outside executive director Todd Sherer’s office. Any time an AUTM-reportable agreement is executed, the bell peals out in recognition. The bell is loud enough to be heard throughout the entire office, and its ringing is usually followed by employees’ celebratory clapping and hooting. A photo of the bell is posted to Twitter every time it’s given a ring.

Kesselring and Matragrano, always looking out for new teambuilding activities, agree that the most popular employee reward programs are both lighthearted and focused on creating fun for the office as a group.

Contact Kesselring at 404-727-3857 or; contact Matragrano at 404-727-7218 or

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