For many organisations, team building events or ‘away days’ are seen as a key to learning and development within the company – and they can certainly bring significant benefits to a business. A well thought out, well organised team building event can encourage cooperation between staff members, promote an environment of openness and communication, improve problem solving skills, increase motivation and ultimately improve overall employee performance.
However, the key words here are ‘well thought out’ and ‘well organised’ – qualities which, for many team building events, are all too often absent. Rather than working with experts in the field to design an event that is engaging, enjoyable and aligns with the company’s goals, managers all too often fall back on a combination of clichéd and downright crazy event ideas that will have their employees running for the hills.
Survival of the Fittest
From cook offs, to selling competitions and even sumo wrestling(!), events which pit colleagues against each other are a popular choice for many companies. However, rather than building a strong, cohesive team, if not handled carefully this approach can have the opposite effect. An element of competition can of course be a good thing, inspiring focus and passion, but it can also take over, putting the focus on competing rather than collaborating. Taken to extremes, it also has the potential to humiliate workers and affect the morale of those on the ‘losing team’. Stories such as this one, where the winners were allowed to humiliate the losers by feeding them baby food and making them wear nappies, show how competition can get out of hand. This particular example even resulted in the company being successfully sued!
Taking it to extremes
Outdoor and sporting activities are often seen as a great opportunity for team building and they can work really well, enabling people to work collectively as a team towards a common goal. It is when a daredevil boss decides to up the ante by introducing an extreme sport that things can get problematic. For some people, activities such as bungee jumping, abseiling and potholing can be great fun. However it is important to remember that what is fun for some people is torture for others – especially for those who are claustrophobic, scared of heights or just generally not athletically inclined. The important thing here is to talk to your team and find out how ‘extreme’ they are happy to go!
We’ve all heard of flash mobs, which are defined by Wikipedia as “a large group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and pointless act for a brief time, then quickly disperse” and widely used by brands as a form of guerrilla marketing. Well, now they’re moving into the world of team building. At your next team away day you could find yourself performing an impromptu ‘Thriller’ dance at your local train station with 30 of your colleagues. The main problem with this is similar to the one above – while some people love being the centre of attention, for others just the thought of performing in public is enough to bring them out in a rash. You also have to make sure that it isn’t just a “pointless act” and that you can articulate its purpose – if people have to be humiliated they at least want to know it’s for a good reason!
Insult to Injury
One team building exercise which seems to be growing in popularity is one that focuses on giving each other ‘constructive feedback’. This often translates as telling your colleagues what you dislike about them. Of course, you’re also supposed to tell each other what you do like, but it’s the negatives that people are most likely to remember. Somewhat unsurprisingly this can lead to tension and negativity within the team – the opposite intended outcome of a team building event!
Trust in Me
By now, almost everyone is familiar with the ‘trust fall’ – the failsafe team building exercise for companies, motivational speakers and social groups everywhere, where you are encouraged to fall backwards and trust your colleague to catch you. Due to its clichéd (and often ridiculed) reputation, this exercise has seen a fall in popularity. However, while the ‘trust fall’ may be on the wane, some companies are taking the ‘trust and openness’ theme to awkward new extremes with activities such as massages from colleagues and even communal baths. This approach is unlikely to improve staff relations – instead it will add a whole other level of awkwardness to your day to day interactions.
The potential for team building events is limitless, as is the potential for them to go wrong! Most of the above team building ideas have some merit, but left in the wrong hands they can be hugely counter-productive. That is why it is so important to hire a great team building events company to ensure that your events meet the needs of your company and staff and, most importantly, do not end in disaster.
Charlie Berry is the Event Director for London based Zing Events, a corporate event company that delivers innovative and creative team building activities.