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Team building - why invest?

We’ve all been there. The team build. Half a day of clichés and craft that culminates in…….actually not that much. And as for the word – team building – it’s become a byword for anything but. Knowing what annoys your team mates and then knowing what annoys them about you rarely develops into a new way of working where we make allowances for our differences and become a homogenous and functional team.

So why do we invest so much in these activities? Probably because we always have and probably because on paper, it appears to be the best way to get a team – with all their differences – working together. It all falls apart when we don’t know the reasons for doing them and exactly what you are trying to achieve.

It’s never been so important to create teams that work well together. Of course they are more productive, reflect your brand better and give great customer service but perhaps more importantly, it gives each individual a very good reason to stay with your organisation.

As the economy picks up and confidence - more importantly – improves, the labour market will become more active. Companies will start to think about growth, and your employees will begin to acknowledge the opportunities elsewhere.

Only the very best organisations kept developing their people during the downturn and fewer still recognised their employees when the buzz word was ‘pay freeze’. For everyone else the seduction of competitors offering more money and better benefits are now becoming a reality.

The other challenge we face is the need to increase productivity. If we are trying to grow our business or just maintain our market share we need our teams to pull out all the stops. We need them to do more of the stuff we know adds value – oh and we want them to do it for no more reward or recognition.

So how do we resolve these issues? How do we make our employees loyal and do more?

First, ask the question who am I recruiting and how? People recruit people like them – this is fine if your hiring managers reflect and embody the culture you want to promote. If not, look again at your recruitment processes and introduce competency questions that reflect how you want every employee and manager to behave.

In terms of culture, is everyone really clear what you stand for? Everyone probably knows what you do as an organisation but does everyone truly understand how you conduct your business? What are the lines that don’t get crossed? How do you want managers to manage? What are the behaviours you want to see more of – and less of?

If you recruit well and have a culture that lets people do their very best then you stand a chance of hanging on to your best people. But that’s not quite enough. Your best people need somewhere to go.

Your top performers won’t stay top performers if they don’t see a future for themselves in your organisation. Career advancement goes hand in hand with recognition and motivation so if they can’t see that next job then they will invariably find it elsewhere. By making sure every single employee understands the structure of your organisation and where they fit into it you can help them to understand how their future plans and aspirations fit into it. The added bonus here is that people working towards the next level or job are more motivated and will have a much more targeted and relevant development plan.

A modern-day team build needs to reflect all of this. It needs to acknowledge that people are transient and have expectations of what the organisation will give them in return for their hard work and loyalty. These team builds have to offer value.

The very first question you should ask when thinking about a teambuilding activity is why? Why go to all the trouble and experience for just a few hours? Only when you have clearly defined the purpose of the event should you even think about proceeding.

When you have identified the purpose your next question should be so that what changes? And the thing that you want to change needs to be measurable.

For example, I was asked to deliver a team build for 40 finance employees. When I asked ‘why’ I was told that they need to work better together. Okay, I get they need to work better but so they can do what? It transpired that they needed to get to know each other better so they could ask for help and offer support when dealing customer issues they need help with. So the real purpose is not to work better together but to improve customer service. This is far more measurable and will ensure everyone sees not only the financial value of your team build but the value of the behavioural change you are effecting.

When you have identified a measurable purpose you need to know how you’ll measure it. If you have measures in place already – use them. There’s no point creating something new in that case. If the output is less tangible then think about conducting an online survey. The most important thing to remember though is to start measuring now so you have data to compare and if you are conducting a survey, conduct one now for the same reason.

So, you know the purpose and you know how to check if it has the effect you intend. So what about the team build itself? How do I navigate through the thousands of choices – is quad biking better than an assault course? Is film making going to add more value than a speed boat down the Thames?

The answer is it doesn’t really matter what the activity is.

The real value of any team build is what you do after it. The debrief is vital. Without it, it’s just an activity where you cannot expect any behavioural change. At best people will have had fun. At worst, they will feel they have been unnecessarily taken away from their job.

The debrief is where you help your employees understand the behaviours they have used over the last few hours and which ones served them and the team well – and which ones didn’t. Get them to discuss what worked for them, what didn’t. Help them to help other people see the impact they had. Feedback is much easier to give and get when the incident is recent so ask them to prepare post it notes for each other: I want to see more of… and I want to see less of… and deliver the notes to each other in a noise-filled free-for-all. Safe, to the point and absolutely based in fact.

The debrief is also there to help them plan how they will transfer their behaviours back to work – in the context of the purpose. Make sure their planning is robust – and agree a mechanism of checking.

Whatever activity you choose it needs to be immersive. Your delegates need to forget all about why they are there and any hidden meanings – they need to get absorbed into the task so that their true behaviours come out. It’s no good conducting an activity where they are reminded of work at every turn otherwise they will just put their work-face on and behave as they think they should.

The activity needs to allow people to mix. They need to talk to each other. This not only helps people get to know each other better but it helps them understand their impact when communication doesn’t happen. Take for example when teams have to work together but instead compete. The communication slows down (or stops) across teams and the shared result they need becomes more unlikely.

Make sure your choice of activity is participative. Don’t just play on a few people’s strengths. Be mindful of how willing people will be to push themselves to do something uncomfortable. If people have high levels of anxiety during the activity they will withdraw and get little from it. Equally, the activity needs to have energy about it to make sure people don’t drift off and start checking emails or making calls.

As I mentioned earlier loyalty is dependent on people feeling recognised and a good quality and purposeful teambuilding event can help this. Your best people know when you have good intentions. They understand behaviours need to change and improvements constantly made. They also understand the personal benefits of feedback, spending time with their colleagues and being challenged in a fun and creative environment.

Teambuilding can be a very powerful tool at your disposal – if used correctly. It needs a purpose, and a measurable effect for it to have any impact at all. That way your employees will not only see the benefits to your organisation, but the benefits to themselves.

Outoftheboxactivities  provides low cost, high impactful teambuilding activities for you to deliver. Included are comprehensive instructions, debrief notes and all the equipment you need. Prices start from just £15 per person.


Contributor: Julie Price @

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