Team Building Exercises - Choosing the Right One

Alan Hunt

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When a prospective new client calls us up and expresses an interest in team building, we ask a simple question - what do you want to achieve out of it? You might be surprised at how many people don't have an answer. After a short pause, we might get a reply along the lines of “well, we want it to be fun. . . " and then it tails off again.

If you don't know what you want from a team building event, you shouldn't be surprised if you don't get it. Of course, you might get lucky and hit upon the right activity to deliver the outcomes you needed even if you didn't realise that you wanted them at the time. You might win the lottery next week as well - but it is probably best not to plan for it though. Ah - “plan". Now there's an idea. . .

All good plans start with the desired end result. What is it that you are trying to achieve? Before you select a team building activity, you probably want to have two types of goal - session and longer term. The latter should help make it plain where the former sits in the development process. That is, a team building session needs to be happening for a reason and have a defined role in moving you towards what you are trying to achieve overall. The session goals should be measurable and understood by the team's management, the team and the activity provider. That is, a team building session needs to achieve its part in the development process.

You'll notice that I haven't mentioned the activity itself yet. That's because choosing it comes last on the checklist. Once you know what you want it to achieve, then you can set about finding the activity that best delivers against your criteria. Yet all too often people start with an idea of what they want to do rather than what they want to achieve.

For example, a surprisingly common opening comment to us is “In a previous job I went on a treasure hunt and I think it'd be good for my new team to do the same". When asked “why?", the answer is usually “well, it was fun". That's fine if fun is the only thing that you are looking for, but it seems such a waste when it is possible to combine fun with something that also has a point to it. Something that improves the team rather than just placates it.

If we ask “would you like to bring the whole team closer together?" and the answer is affirmative then an activity that is naturally competitive such as a treasure hunt strikes us as a bad idea. Similarly, taking people to naturally individual activities such as quad-biking or clay pigeon shooting isn't the best way to illustrate how to make the team more effective.

So what are the key elements in selecting the right activity? My experience suggests the following four components:

1) It should be relevant to the group. For example, if the team is office based, they will struggle to see the relevance of climbing mountains back in the workplace - as much as they might enjoy it.

2) It should require the same kind of skill sets and team approaches that are necessary for the group's real work. For example, if you want a team to develop their decision-making skills to improve their effectiveness at work, it needs to have strong elements of decision-making within it.

3) It should be fully inclusive. That is, all team members need to be enthused by the activity. Activities are sometime chosen by a clique within the team to their own preferences and this can actually split a team rather than build it if their idea of heaven is one or more colleagues’ vision of hell.

4) It should have a proven track record in delivering the kind of outcomes that you are looking to achieve. Or you need to trust the deliverer implicitly if it is a new activity.

Now that sounds like the makings of a plan.

Copyright 2006 Sandstone Limited

Alan is Managing Director of Sandstone, a leading UK team building company. He enjoys creating innovative activities that combine fun with genuine team development. In his spare time, he does voluntary work for the RNIB.


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