When you were a child, didn’t you get tired of having your parents tell you the same thing over and over? However, as we have more “life experiences,” you have to realize the benefits of “over communicating.” This is because when small things slip through the cracks you cannot always cover them up. In fact, some small errors can lead to big problems, both professionally as well as personally. So make sure you think things through very thoroughly, question the details, and reconfirm more than once. It sounds very simple, but it’s not.
Here’s a case in point—when a potential client asks us to provide a team building activity for their group, we need to ascertain exactly what constitutes success for this client. For example, we once orchestrated an event for 1400 people in Europe. We had only three weeks to put every detail of the event in place, and participants had a great time. However, our client did not ask for our assistance in “marketing” the activity and we assumed that they were taking care of getting people to participate. Wrong. What little information given to attendees about the event plus very poor weather left many wondering if it was worth the effort or even necessary to be part of a team building activity. We ended up with very good attendance, but know that it could have been great if we had asked about this detail and questioned our client more thoroughly about what they were doing to generate excitement about the event. Lesson: Get your vendor partners more involved, and as vendors, be more involved in every aspect, because each part of the meeting affects every other part.
Don’t make assumptions! Just because you have an excellent activity for your meeting in place, does the space and venue really lend itself to the event? You need to consider what the best set-up is for the activity and can this actually be accomplished in the time frame given. If an air wall needs to be pulled or tables and chairs moved, is there time and will the venue’s staff take care of it when needed? Ask the question. Sometimes hotel staff is not available to make these changes because of other meetings and commitments, and sometimes, what you are requesting is just not realistic (like turning a huge ballroom in 15 minutes).
Ask about every detail. Some of our activities require something as simple as a pen. Many hotels and meeting places provide paper and pens, but you can’t assume they will automatically have them for your activity. Ask them. If unsure, bring your own.
Don’t wait until the last minute and do push people for answers. Everyone is very busy, and sometimes people take longer than expected to return calls or answer questions. But you can nicely press them for answers. You do not want to find out that something can’t be done on the day of your meeting or event. You may step on toes if you have to go directly to the source for an answer (we all have to work through layers of people at times)—but it is better to get the answer and know what you have to work with when there is plenty of time to make adjustments rather than be scrambling at the “11th hour.” Apologize later for doing the “end around,” but assure everyone that it was in the best interest of the event’s success… and that reflects on all.
- Make detailed lists and ask questions about every aspect of the function.
- Recap in writing the conversations and agreements. Just because someone “said” something doesn’t make it so.
- Don’t make assumptions that someone else is taking care of it. Check and double check.
- Be supportive to all who are working with you (colleagues and vendor/partners). A positive attitude will get you more than finger-pointing.
In this roller coaster business climate, people need “team building” more than ever, but budget is a big concern. What can you do to get the best team building experience while saving money? Here are some options—obvious and not so obvious.
- Stay local and use community resources to save on site rental fees and transportation. City parks are excellent places to have team building activities. They are often either free or offer very reasonable rental rates for local businesses and residents. Community Centers have meeting rooms for rent at great prices, and some come with AV extras (screen, sound, projection). You can also have incredibly fun, effective team building events right in your own office complex. Use of the parking lot or lawn areas are options too.
- Be flexible on dates if possible. Just like hotels and event sites, team building companies have peaks and valleys in bookings. If you are willing to hold your event during slower times, the company will be more likely to be more flexible on pricing.
- Negotiate. What can be done to help the cost, if anything? Don’t be afraid to ask. Some of these items have helped our customers stay within tight budgets:
- Switching to an event that takes less time or staffing.
- Providing assistants to help set-up or run the event. This works in some cases, when “extra bodies” that don’t require specialized training are needed.
- More participants. Combine a couple of department meetings. It costs a team building company about the same amount of money to provide an event for 8 as it does for 20.
- Barter. Can you offer the team building company a service or product in exchange for their services?
- Do-it-yourself. You can get manuals or books with team exercises. Additionally, some team building companies provide simple, small scale activities that can be custom packaged with a facilitator’s manual provided. It does require some time to go through the event details, and it takes someone with experience running events and giving directions. But many companies have people who are qualified to do this.
What does it take to be a team? Just because you meet with or work with the same people on a regular basis does not mean you are a team. Can you transform a group into a team? Certain conditions must exist. Here are the primary requirements:
- A team needs a reason to be together. A common goal, project, or plan that requires forward movement and results.
- Team members need to be committed to working with each other to achieve the goal(s). This also means being able to cooperate and put aside personal agendas for the good of the team and its goals.
- All members need to contribute and be accountable. This does not mean they are all alike or contribute equally. However, it does mean that members are actively a part of achieving the goals established.
- Change and continuous improvement are what teamwork is all about. Stagnate, do nothing and the team will cease to exist.
- Leadership. This is the person or persons who will keep the team together, focused and moving forward. It is not a dictator so much as a facilitator and person who will insure that everyone is communicating and on the same page. It is the person who will gather results, help the team to analyze them, make adjustments and incorporate them into future plans.
- Time. More teams fall apart because people could not find the time to make it work. They did not see that the long run benefits were worth the time commitment.
You may have used a professional team building company in the past, you may have organized fun excursions and activities for your group in the name of "team building," but how do you know if it is really working. If your goal is just to go out and have fun, then just about any social activity will suffice. However, if you are really trying to build a more effective team, a fun activity alone will not do it. It is going to take concerted effort over a long period of time.
After nearly 20 years in the team building arena, we see that there are all sorts of companies that purport to do "team building." Some companies do their own team building -- with varying degrees of success. But it is evident that "team building" falls into several different categories:
\Level 1: Party, picnic, excursion. These are fun, group events that are typically planned internally. They may or may not include organized games (like volleyball, bocce or picnic games). The result is that people get to interact with others that they don't know-- helping to increase camaraderie and create a better comfort level at work.
Level 2: Organized team building activity. These are events that are engaging and fun, but also require people to use the skills that they need to be successful at work: communication, group problem solving, building consensus, etc. It is a more pointed team building experience. It is a step up from Level #1, but it's value is highly dependent upon the person or persons facilitating the activity. If the facilitator fails to make the connection of the activity to the workplace, it is a huge opportunity lost. Good debriefing provides incredible value.
Level 3: This is what we call "serious team building." It is a combination of training and practicing using relevant game activities. Encouraging participants to share their own experiences and ideas, brainstorming, listening and being committed to moving forward-- these are all key elements of a Level 3 Team Building program. If a team is having serious obstacles to working together effectively, we suggest a number of tools, including one-on-one interviews prior to a team building program. These "conversations" seek to discover the perpective of each team member individually. This allows a facilitator to understand the dynamics of a team and why they are failing, before trying to prescribe something that will help them. This is the most professional approach to team building.
Most businesses usually request a Level 2 team building activity. However, as the economy has become so uncertain and teams are "right-sizing" everywhere, companies are finding a greater need for a Level 3 approach. This is more hard-hitting, encouraging immediate change, and is longer lasting. It is also an excellent use of monetary resources and provides a better return on investment.
Scavenger/Treasure Hunts—when are they the right event?
When people call us for team building, they often say “we want something really interactive where people get to know each other better.” Sometimes that is followed by “What about a scavenger hunt?” These days, many are caught up in the intrigue and fun of reality TV’s “Amazing Race,” and “hunts” can be designed to have that theme and flavor. However, it is not the right type of activity for everyone, and sometimes they just defeat the purpose of team building and interaction.
Scavenger hunt-type of activities are great for:
- A group that would like to explore at new city, resort or amusement park while doing some team building at the same time.
- Moderately active to very active groups. If you have people that have trouble walking, it can deflate their spirit and their team’s spirit. Take pregnant and over weight people into account too.
- Learning to plan, coordinate and communicate. If these are your team building objectives, a hunt can be perfect.
- Providing variety in the tasks required.
- Getting outdoors.
- Having a less structured event, since people can choose where to go and when, what to do and how.
Do not choose a hunt activity if:
- Your objective is having people interact and get to know each other. A hunt splits up the teams for the most part. We do have some that require inter-team collaboration, but for the most part, the teams are operating independently.
- The design of it creates too much risk for participants. Do not allow participants to drive themselves around if the event fosters a “race” atmosphere. There are ways of making it safe while still being competitive.
- Your selection committee loves the idea, but are not taking into account all the other participants. You want to insure that everyone feels comfortable participating and that they can.
- The area you are covering in the activity does not really lend itself to a hunt.
- Your group just did a scavenger hunt last year. There are so many team building activities to choose from; wow them with something new and unexpected.
For more information on the wide variety of scavenger hunts available, contact Corporate Games at 800-790-GAME (4263).
This is a fun way to start a meeting and an effective tool to start building a team. It allows people to find out what they have in common. When the exercise is over, often people will continue conversations about the shared experiences and interests that have been revealed.
Here's how it works. Everyone stands in a circle. One person is selected to start talking about him or herself. The person can talk about their job, where they grew up, went to school, etc. All the other people are instructed to jump into the "conversation" by raising their hand --as soon as the speaker says something that they have in common. The speaker will point to someone (who has raised their hand)--to continue the talk, using the subject that they have in common as a starting point for talking about themselves.
Try it! It is a great way to encourage "bonding."
Whenever we ask teams to choose a "leader," that person inadvertently believes that s/he must tell people what to do and how to do it. This is not the role of a good team leader. A team leader is someone who
1. Facilitates discussion among the entire team. Insures that all members have a chance to share their ideas.
2. Is able to summarize the wide variety of ideas from team members.
3. Helps the team to focus in the strategy session and not get side-tracked.
4. Facilitates the group problem solving process and brings the team to a decision on a plan of action.
5. Keeps track of time and deadlines and helps the team move forward accordingly.
6. May make some decisions if appropriate. In some cases, it will be a group decision, in others, the team leader will take stock of all ideas and make a decision. It depends upon the situation.
7. Insures that every person on the team understands the project and the plan in exactly the same way. This will avoid error, confusion and duplicated efforts.
8. Treats all team members with respect and makes sure to value each person's contribution.
9. Operates as a member of the team.
Great team leaders are people that others will want to follow.
If you are truly interested in fostering a great team, you need to have a starting point. This is especially true if you have "inherited" someone else's team, which is quite common in business today. Where do you begin?
Whatever you do, please do not just sit back and "observe." That may have some merit, but the best and easiest way to find out about how a team is doing is to ask them. This can be in the form of one-on-one or group "interviews" as well as team meetings. However, one of the best tools that we have developed at Corporate Games is our Team Assessment. It is easy to administer and it will provide loads of valuable information. Here is a streamlined summary of how to do it:
1. Explain to your team that you are meeting to take stock of how the group is functioning as a team, and to ask them to assist in creating ways to improve the team.
2. Divide your team into small discussion groups (3- 10 people each, depending on the size of your total team) and ask each group to come up with a list of adjectives that describe a successful team. Each discussion group will have its own list of 10- 20 descriptors-- such as "Trust," "Clear Goals," "Openness," etc., etc.
3. Ask the first group to read their list as you write down the words on a flip chart. "Post-It" flipchart paper is best. Then, ask the other groups what they have --and add any new words that have not already been mentioned.
4. Next, ask each group to take a look at the whole list of words and based on their own experience with the team, to rate the entire team against each of the adjectives-- on a scale of 1 to 10. 10 is the best, with 1 being dismal. This means that each discussion group will have its own set of ratings-- though they are scoring the entire team.
5. Give each discussion group a colored marker (each must have a different color), and have one person from each group post their scores, using their colored marker, on the flipchart list of words. So, for example, if you have 3 discussion groupss, next to each one of the words on the flipchart, there will eventually be 3 different scores-- one from each of your 3 groups.
6. Everyone will be very interested in how all the scores compare. Some will be close or similar, and others will vary widely. Facilitate a discussion on how the groups came up with some of the scores. Focus particularly on scores that are widely divergent.
7. Finally have each group decide what ONE area could use improvement immediately-- and how they would go about it.
8. You need to follow up on their ideas. Hopefully these are suggestions that you can all agree upon and act on fairly easily and rapidly.
9. The "Assessment" scores that you collect will now serve as a benchmark for the future, and help you determine how your team is doing. You will ask them to score these items again in 6 months to a year.
The "Team Assessment" is the perfect way to determine your teams strengths and weaknesses --and provide direction as to how to improve.
When we ask our prospective clients what their group did for a team building exercise in years past, we sometimes hear "We went to a baseball game." or "We went wine tasting." or " We did a jazz aerobics, but some people couldn't keep up." or "We wanted to do paintball, but some of the team members did not like that idea."
A corporate team building activity must be something that EVERYONE on your team can participate in and enjoy. Yes, they may feel uncomfortable at first, but it should never be an activity where someone is downright scared or negatively singled out because of their lack of athleticism or daring. The people on your team were presumably hired, because they bring value and expertise to the team. Real team building should build on those skills and increase the ability of team members to interact and solve problems together. You do not need to belittle people or force them into something that goes against their nature in order to build a good business team.
So-- consider that not everyone likes to drink wine, not everyone is physically fit, not everyone feels comfortable with ropes courses or war games like paintball. These have their place, and small "homogeneous teams" with members that are very similar and have the same tastes can get a tremendous amount of enjoyment from them. However, 99% of the time, teams are very diverse.
Additionally, a good team building activity requires communication and interaction among the team members. Going to see a baseball game or on some excursion does not require people to talk to each other. Typically, people will sit with their friends and talk to them. They will not go out of their way to be with team members they really don't know well (which is the point of team building).
The best team building events, therefore, must have broad appeal, be an activity that every team member can participate in, require communication, interaction, encourage getting people to know others they are not familiar with, be fun and engaging, and ultimately perceived as being a good and valuable use of time. If the event or activity you select does not meet these criteria, you should rethink your choice.