Looking for a few simple guidelines that will greatly enhance the success of team building? We are pleased to present a baker's dozen to boost the benefits of your next team building session or retreat:

1. Clarify your objectives.

Sometimes the terms “team recreation” and “team building” are used interchangeably. They are not the same thing.


Team recreation is intended to get your team involved in an activity or experience just for the fun of it. There are no business objectives or outcomes.


Team building seeks to enhance team cohesiveness and performance to improve business results. Often team building does involve some recreation but recreation is a means to an end, not the end. Team building can be delivered on-site, off-site as a day session or at a hotel or resort involving overnight stays, locally or at a foreign destination

The phases of needed for effective team building are:

- executive briefing to identify key business issues, communicate your support, and clarify how team building is relevant the key business issues (1 hour)
- context setting and team briefing by facilitator ( 1 1/2 - 2 hours)
- recreation (flexible & optional)
- simulation (3 - 8 hours)
- debriefing (1 hour)
- business application exercises (1 - 1 /2 hours for prep., 5 to 15 minutes per group for presentations)
- business agenda items (flexible)

2. Clarify your decision-making criteria, process, and timing.

Be prepared to make a decision 1 or 2 weeks after receiving a quote. Delays can increase costs and the likelihood that preferred venues and dates will be booked.

3. Match your timeframe to your objectives.

Failing to allocate enough time for the desired objectives is one of the main reasons that team building fails. Here is a guideline to timing based on your objectives:

Half day:

- strictly for recreation

1 Day:

Appropriate for:

- recreation with business meeting
- very simple simulation with debriefing, short business
- application exercise and brief report back from breakout groups

2 days:

- suitable for simulation (or recreation), debriefing, and in-depth business analysis and short presentations from breakout groups

2 1/2 to 3 days:

- suitable for simulation that includes recreation, debriefing, in-depth business analysis, business meeting

3 1/2 to 4 days:

- suitable if you also want to include customer and supplier presentations

4. Don't pack the agenda and build in some buffers.

Make allowances for some down time even if it means adding half a day. One of the worst things you can do is take your team to a beautiful location and give them no time to relax and enjoy it.

Allow ample time for transportation delays and for people to settle into the venue, especially during the winter or if you are leaving the country. Remember,. a late night arrival and early start is efficient but it’s bound to create resentment and generate.

5. Start planning well in advance and before you lock in your final dates.

Ideally, you should be contacting suppliers at least 8 to 12 weeks prior to your session for something local. (For foreign travel, 3 - 6 months is best especially if the destination is popular.) Allow about a week for quotes.

6. Brief your assistant fully.

Be certain that the person to whom you delegate the task of obtaining quotes from suppliers is clear about:

- preferred dates - it is always best to have 2 or 3 options
- group size, composition and degree of physical fitness
- your objectives (see number 1)
- timeframe (3 days, 2 days, 1 day, 1/2 day)
- budget

7. Delegate fact finding but never decision making.

The decision maker should ALWAYS have a conversation with the senior facilitator or event planner from the firm with whom you are thinking of doing business to ensure that all pertinent information has been communicated and provided. Unless your session is strictly recreational, decision-making by committee should be avoided. A committee is great for exploring options and giving input but an executive should always make the decision.

8. Set the tone with pre-communication.

Use an e-mail or carefully crafted communication piece on your intranet to convey objectives, expecations and code of conduct. For example, if your group is in the habit of having a drunken fest, re-think your approach in the light of:

- recent court decisions about company liability for accidents caused by intoxicated employees
- how that would appear to shareholders
- the impact on your company's reputation if the press got wind of it

9. Ensure full attendance by the entire team for the duration of the session.

It is difficult to achieve results when key players are popping in and out of the meeting. This may be challenging it can be done if back up is arranged and there is a briefing about some of the business issues that are likely to emerge. Let your customers and suppliers know how long you will be away from the office, when you are returning and who to contact.

10. Keep your briefing brief.

People have limited attention spans. A half hour presentation followed by a half an hour for questions is more than sufficient to kick things off. Going overtime, puts pressure on the rest of the agenda and frustrates the members of your team. You can always build more airtime into the agenda during the business portion of your retreat or session when all of the team building is finished.

11. Arrange for regular checkpoints with the facilitator or event planner and involve him or her in all course corrections.

Discuss how things are going and come up with solutions together if there are any concerns.

12. Don't cut the simulation or debriefing short.

Remember, analytical learners won't “get it” just based on experience. They need time to think and process. If you panic and cut things short, they will never have an opportunity to get value out of the session.

13. Follow up, follow up, follow up!

Author's Bio: 

Anne Thornley-Brown is the President of The Training Oasis, Inc., a Toronto based consulting firm specializing in team building.

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