These two definitions offered by BusinessDictionary.com assess teambuilding from an employer perspective, accurately describing both the grouping of individuals in a corporation and how the group is expected to perform:
Companies often need help with the second description, which may include not only motivating the team but also helping the group and individuals within it break through challenges that hold them back.
“There’s nothing wrong with just having fun. Teambuilding can certainly support fun.” — Ira Almeas
Teambuilding is an art, and corporations frequently turn to independent companies and their facilitators for programs specifically designed to coalesce individuals into effective teams. These programs range from a few hours in length to multiday experiences, from physical challenges to more cerebral exercises. They may explicitly build teams with a goal of greater productivity or they may focus on bonding employees to foster better communication and support. Teambuilding programs can be part of a larger meeting or a standalone endeavor. They can be a dynamic part of an incentive reward experience and also of corporate giveback programs.
The task for companies is to find the right programs for their groups.
When Aimee DiCicco, senior vice president of sales at FedEx Office in Dallas, Texas, wanted a program for her sales leadership team (seven managing directors and two officers, including DiCicco), she turned to Four Day Weekend, an improvisation-based organization that had previously worked with larger FedEx Office groups. The goal of the one-day workshop was to create a more efficient and productive team dynamic via new skills gained through creative improvisation exercises facilitated by Four Day Weekend.
David Wilk, the founder and president of Four Day Weekend, explains the core philosophy of FDW’s approach as one of offering a “Yes and…” scenario in a “No but…” world. “Our success is based on collaboration because we know that what we accomplish as a group is far better than what we may come up with individually. Our philosophy works because it teaches a person the value in making teammates look good. The bottom line is that if I make you look good, and you make me look good, then we all look good.
“ ‘Yes and…’ takes your idea and makes it our idea,” Wilk says. “Everyone has buy-in, and we only succeed if we succeed together.”
Before the workshop, DiCicco’s group didn’t fully understand how improvisation could improve outcomes, but they emerged from the experience enlightened and eager to apply what they learned. What they learned was a new way of thinking and doing. “They learned,” DiCicco says, “to think openly, build each other up and build on each other’s ideas. They learned to look not for the ‘no’ but for the ‘yes,’ and that we win only if the team wins as a whole. They learned that there are no bad ideas and that choices with the highest probability are the goal.”
Perhaps the biggest takeaway, DiCicco says, is that they learned how much team members stifle creativity by shutting each other down unintentionally.
A teambuilding program is only effective if the skills and attitudes learned translate back to the workplace, and Four Day Weekend delivered. DiCicco calls the workshop highly successful. “Team decision-making, problem-solving and conflict resolution were the biggest skills we were looking to improve upon as a team,” she notes. “By improving on each, we ended up with better outcomes and better morale, which automatically leads to better performance.”
As with any program, DiCicco notes, it’s a process, and the team has to continue to reinforce what was learned. “You have to keep implementing the skills and putting them into practice,” she says. “It is easy to lapse back into old ways of thinking and doing things.”
Teambuilding experiences aren’t just for members of a single company. They’re also for leaders and managers of far-flung companies who come together in a program and take what they learn back to their respective organizations.
Jamee Natella, founder and executive producer at Blueyed Pictures, a Los Angeles-based commercial and corporate media production company, enhanced her life and work skills in a teambuilding experience, which she arranged with fellow members of the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO), Malibu chapter, in May.
The group met at Miraval Resort & Spa in Tucson, Arizona, known for its wellness and life-in-balance programs such as the Equine Experience, founded and facilitated by Wyatt Webb, author of several books including It’s Not About the Horse (Hay House, 2003).
“Wyatt Webb is the real deal, Natella says. “When you first meet him, he’s sitting on a stool in front of a horse. He starts by saying, ‘There are two things we’re not born with: fear and self-doubt.’ Let’s just say he had me at fear. At the time I met him I was at a crossroad with the direction in my life. He gave me his book What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do: Common Horse Sense (Hay House, 2006). As he states, ‘It’s just common horse sense.’ It helped me understand what I really wanted and needed to move forward. He left a lasting impression on me.”
The YPO group took part in several of Miraval’s programs. “In addition to the Equine Experience, the group participated in the Mindfulness at Miraval lecture with Leigh Weinraub, the guided hike/scavenger hunt, Quantum Leap II, low ropes and zip-lining,” Natella says. “I wanted to give this retreat the entire mindful experience. After all, this is what makes Miraval stand out compared to other resorts.
“Initially, the goal was to create an ‘only in YPO’ experience. I was trying to center the retreat (on) our theme for the YPO year: Now is the Time. I wanted to create activities (in which) I thought I could accomplish not only the theme but also break the mold of what we do each day. These are all activities that take participants out of their comfort zone, help with teambuilding, focus on building trust and therefore deal with fear and self-doubt.”
None more so than the Equine Experience, during which participants have to complete various tasks with horses. This program turned out to be transformational for members of Natella’s group. “During the equine activity,” she says, “one of the women approached the horse and couldn’t achieve the task Wyatt had given her. This woman is usually in control emotionally. To complete the objective, she ended up breaking down her emotional barriers and becoming vulnerable. I had always known this participant to be a very powerful woman letting out little emotion. Being the organizer of the event, I was a little concerned as to what the outcome would be.
“After many tears, she walked away thankful. Throughout the rest of the retreat, we saw her transformation into the woman she truly is instead of the woman she had created in order to run a powerful company. To me, being vulnerable showed more power than the facade she had created. It was after she broke down her emotional barriers that the horse connected with her and she completed the exercise.”
As Webb makes clear in his books and as facilitator of this experience, it’s not about the horse. “Horses can’t verbally communicate,” Natella says. “Therefore they react to human emotions and actions. When this participant was guarded, the horse sensed this. After she acknowledged her fear and self-doubt, the horse trusted her and the exercise was completed. The horse, along with Wyatt, helped to facilitate her emotional transformation.”
The experience can be more challenging than it initially seems. “I noticed a change in the group immediately after the second participant in the equine activity,” Natella says. “The first person approached the horse and completed the exercise right away. When the second person could not complete the task, I noticed that the group started paying closer attention to the exercise, realizing it may be more difficult than first expected. The exercise was different for each person. I suppose it’s about how one feels when approaching the horse and what he or she is willing to confront. You must be bold and take risks.”
In fact, many of the team activities offered at Miraval require participants to challenge themselves. If they can do that, the results can be powerful — and lasting.
“If participants believe in their own power and exceed their expectations — living life freely, leading by example and trusting their gut — it creates a more wholesome environment for self-expression,” Natella says. “The activities at Miraval encourage participants to say what they feel and build team cooperation and trust. After completing this program, all participants became closer. I heard that when they returned to work, situations that had been difficult before were looked at in a different light and became easier to resolve.”
For Natella, the highlight of the Equine Experience was seeing participants break through their emotional fears and barriers. “It was incredible to see the transformation in each individual,” she says. “People tend not to change their inner self unless they are faced with difficult situations or are in a terrible place in life. Wyatt has a way of accomplishing this with each person in a safe environment. Everyone exceeded their own expectations and built lifelong friendships.”
This was Natella’s second time at Miraval, and she says she will continue to go back. Many members of the YPO group have made reservations to return as well — which says much about the value of the experience.
“Since Miraval, the group has continued to grow,” Natella says. “And at times of doubt, we reflect on what we learned at Miraval. I recommend the Equine Experience to all organizations looking to further their productivity and growth. As Henry Ford said, ‘Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.’ Many times a company with low productivity is not investing in its people or listening to their ideas, needs and concerns. Our company is focused on individuals, which creates more productivity and growth, long-lasting loyalty and family. Miraval has helped each YPO leader learn how important these aspects are in running a company.”
On a lighter note, it’s good to know that at Miraval, facing challenges does not mean lack of comfort. “There is one thing I would change about the experience,” Natella muses. “I wish Miraval would just give the entire bed and sheet set in the rooms to each guest as they leave. The beds were so comfortable. I never slept so well!”
She isn’t saying exactly how she would get a bed on board an airplane…
When it comes to teambuilding on an incentive trip, the paradigm changes slightly, but it’s still about creating meaningful relationships.
Ira Almeas, CITE, president of Impact 4 Good, based in West Orange, New Jersey, says teambuilding can be easily incorporated into an incentive trip if planners do their homework. He says it’s important to assess the objectives articulated by the meeting’s stakeholders, to know the demographics of the group and to ensure there’s a fit for teambuilding within the meeting’s time frame, theme, available space and budget.
That research accomplished, Almeas believes teambuilding can work in a variety of ways to enhance incentive trips, including giving attendees a chance to let off steam, as a group icebreaker and as a means for creating new relationships within the group, especially for first-time incentive-trip qualifiers.
“I like all of the teambuilding activities we manage because we first take the time to understand the core objectives versus just seeing an activity,” he says. Examples of teambuilding options he’s put together include creating game-show formats that allow individuals to engage in competitive fun while answering questions — often centered on the meeting content, which then gives stakeholders a way to determine if the meeting content resonated with attendees.
One optimal way to include teambuilding, Almeas says, is to pair it with a corporate social responsibility program (CSR). One memorable activity Almeas’ group facilitated several years ago involved having attendees build bee hives for a bee-farmer cooperative in Jamaica, which bonded the builders, helped the resource-strapped cooperative and gave attendees and locals an opportunity for face-to-face interaction — win-win for all.
Impact 4 Good created another program popular with its incentive groups called Rejuv-a-nation, addressing the growing concern with childhood obesity and the need to get children active at a young age. In 2013, an HR group from an international staffing company participated in the program at Bellagio in Las Vegas.
“I like the fact that this event starts off as a teambuilding activity, getting teams to better understand life balances such as intake of calories and exercise,” Almeas says. “The event is fast-paced and ends in an aha moment for teams. Afterward, a representative from a local charter school or after-school nonprofit organization briefly speaks to the group and shares with them the challenges of students in the community.
“As a surprise, the students run into the room, and together the attendees and children are paired into teams to participate in good old-fashioned field-day activities. The program showcases that being active is fun and fosters friendship. Teams earn recreational equipment as they play together, and in the end, the audience and students discover that all of the earned equipment will be donated to their school or organization. It is just a very positive activity that is life changing for some of the students and memorable for the participants.”
Then again, it doesn’t always have to be about major transformation. “There’s nothing wrong with just having fun,” Almeas says. “Teambuilding can certainly support fun.” C&IT