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More Than a Fun Day Out: Experts Advise on the Best Team-Building Excercise Tips

More Than a Fun Day Out: Experts Advise on the Best Team-Building Excercise Tips

Although teambuilding is seen by some as a chore and by others as an expenses-paid day out, these exercises have real benefits

Emily Ford | The Times

Corporate team building is such an industry that it’s hard to remember when getting sweaty wasn’t a business objective. But is orienteering really going to improve relations when you’re knee-deep in manure and Dave from accounts has no sense of direction? Three experts share advice on how to get the best from your bunch.

1. Know your objectives. “You need to think about what you want to achieve,” says Emma Donaldson-Feilder, a team events consultant and chartered occupational psychologist. One thing is certain: “If you’re not clear [about your goals] at the beginning, it’s very difficult to know whether you’ve achieved them,” she says.

2. Work out where you are.
Will Sudworth, learning and development partner at AstraZene-ca, the pharmaceutical company, says you first need to understand whether your employees are a team or a group. “I’ve asked eight people what their team is there for and got eight different answers.” He recommends doing psychometric tests to understand individual characters better before you embark on an exercise.

3. Get them involved.
“Teams that help to design an event get more out of it because they take ownership,” Donaldson-Feilder says. “Ask them for ideas for the kinds of things they want to do, or let them put it in place by booking venues.”

4. One day or two?
“Short exercises can be useful to make a point,” Sudworth says. “[But] we like people to invest in two-day events. Having an evening together also allows the team to relax and socialize more informally.”

5. Choose carefully.
Tailor plans to your purpose. Kerry Everett, the head of cabin crew at Silverjet, a luxury airline, had to train a team of flight attendants from scratch. She chose line dancing. “Spatial awareness and coordination are part of their work. On board they need to know where everyone is to work in harmony.”

6. Be sensitive.
“Not everyone is comfortable dancing,” Everett says, so don’t force people to do things. Donaldson-Feilder says to be mindful of differences. “If someone doesn’t drink, make sure the whole event doesn’t revolve around alcohol.” Understanding your team’s limits is also advisable. “There’s no point in doing a rough-and-tumble exercise if [people] feel anxious because they’re not fit enough,” she adds. And spare a thought for work-life balance before you ask people to give up a weekend.

7. Let your hair down.
“Employing an external trainer on the day allows you to participate as a team member, not a manager,” Donaldson-Feilder says. It also spares you the practicalities. “You don’t need to worry about timekeeping or making sure that everyone is involved.”

8. Work first, play later.
Sudworth sets his team “must wins” to keep their minds on the job. “Teambuilding is sometimes seen as a gimmick. There’s power in things being fun, but it has to be integrated with the business purpose.”

9. Measure success.
Everett’s flight attendants still refer to their team training “so we know it worked”, she says. Sudworth advises looking for clues in performance: “Results speak for themselves.” Formal methods can be useful. “We do anonymous surveys and use benchmarking tools to assess team effectiveness.”

10. Follow up.
“Always do a debrief,” Donaldson-Feilder says. “Find out what they learned and write down some points to take forward.”

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Find out more…

Get up to speed with the latest thinking on how teambuilding activities can boost your business by reading Teambuilding That Gets Results (Quick Start Your Business) by Linda and Harriet Diamond (Sourcebooks, $15)

Discover why leadership causes some teams to succeed and others to fail, in Leading Teams: Setting the Stage for Great Performances by J. Richard Hackman, one of the world’s leading experts on group behaviour (Harvard Business School Press, $25)

Team tactics, team psychology and how to run prize-winning sessions are all discussed in depth in Teambuilding: The Road to Success by Rinus Michels (Reedswain Incorporated, $22)

Courtesy of © 2008 YellowBrix, Inc.

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