These days, teambuilding activities are the “name of the game,” with meeting planners investing time, resources and energy into establishing and incorporating innovative teambuilding activities into events of all sizes.
For Amy Zellmer, SMMC, vice president of meetings and incentives at GMR Marketing, teambuilding is becoming more multidimensional and immersive. For Zellmer, effective teambuilding events are carefully curated, collaborative experiences within the larger program, and attendees should walk away having learned something about themselves, their peers and their company or the host organization.
“Whether through fun activities, excursion-based teambuilding, or community service, it’s important to weave in elements that teach, foster collaboration and create memories,” Zellmer says.
The impact of technology on our daily interactions with fellow coworkers is also playing a big role in teambuilding trends that we are seeing within the meetings and events industry. As Zellmer explains, technology leads our daily communications and lessens the need for personal interaction. This can boost productivity, but the cost is less face-to-face time.
“Relationship building is, and always will be, an advantage to those who realize its importance,” Zellmer says. “A team that invests in their cohesiveness and prioritizes purposeful personal interaction will see stronger results when things are going well, and will face challenges more proactively when they’re not.”
Hillary Bamont, account director at Key Events, says the concept of teambuilding has definitely changed throughout the past several years because the work environment, and those who are entering the work environment, are changing the way we communicate.
As Bamont explains, different generations have a preference on how they communicate. For example, most Gen Xers like to pick up the phone or have a face-to-face conversation whereas most millennials prefer email or text.
“This creates a human disconnect and barriers which can sometimes lead to a tense work environment,” Bamont says. “Teambuilding is more important now than ever because it bridges those gaps and cultivates relationships that need to be reinforced in order to build successful teams.”
She points to a teambuilding activity they did for a corporate social responsibility (CSR) program. “We produced a summer picnic for a major San Francisco Bay Area tech client and worked with a nonprofit called ‘Project Wreckless’ — a program that brings at-risk youth off the streets and into a vocational program that provides automotive repair and restoration skills that preps them for future jobs and careers in the automotive field. For a $5,000 donation, the organization provides the shell of a vintage car to paint motivational messages and pictures onto the car. It’s designed as an interactive activity for group events and then the car gets repainted in white as a blank canvas for a future event. This integrates into the vocational training as at-youth teens learn how to paint and restore cars through this process,” she says.
According to Kristine Liggio, CMP, executive director at the Center for Automotive Education & Training, the type of teambuilding that resonates with attendees really depends on the company. In Liggio’s experience, budgets for employee events took a major hit after the economy went down in 2008. “It’s come back to some degree, but not nearly at the level it once was,” Liggio says. “A company with a younger staff is more likely to emphasize teambuilding events.”
Trends to Notice
A big trend facing the teambuilding arena resides in the area of CSR. According to Bamont, teams feel a sense of gratification when they are giving back to their communities. “We have started to organize CSR components with incentive trips,” Bamont says. Key Events recently organized a trip to a school for the disabled in Mexico where the group spent the day with the kids and put together new wheelchairs for them. “It was incredibly gratifying to be a part of something that we will continue to do for groups,” Bamont says.
The most popular teambuilding events the Key Events team is seeing include programs that have a CSR component attached to it. They also are seeing less of the “beach Olympics”-type teambuilding events and companies are focusing more on charities or nonprofit organizations that are near and dear to their company culture.
“We just coordinated a city clean up day in downtown San Francisco for a technology firm where street teams were put together to clean the streets of San Francisco and to hand out bagged lunches to homeless people,” Bamont says. “Tapping into people’s emotions in a positive way brings out the best in everybody.”
Over the holidays, the Key Events meeting planners also worked with a team of about 100 people for a major high-tech firm. The lead of this division felt like people were overworked and needed to bond with their teammates in a way that really tapped into their personal emotions as sort of a “reality check.”
As Bamont explains, teams were divided into groups of 10 and each team was given $250 cash to “pay it forward.” They could disperse the money any way they wanted, but the only requirement was they had to document it through a presentation.
“There wasn’t a dry eye in the room after each story was told,” Bamont says. “We did everything from groups going into a children’s hospital and giving a family with a terminally ill child money to help with Christmas presents, to paying for someone’s groceries to buying coats for the homeless and gifting them on the street. It was a fulfilling day for all and something the company has incorporated into every department.”
Liggio stresses that adults in general want teambuilding events that are fun, although definitions of what is “fun” may be different based on the generation. And they also want to have a solid takeaway where they feel their time was well spent.
“Ax throwing is a new thing that started last year and seems to have caught on,” Liggio says. “I personally haven’t done one but a few colleagues have. Gaming events using technology, outdoor and adventure events, culinary events and charity events are very popular. Surprisingly, alcoholic events have become less popular for the younger employees.”
Escape rooms also became a trend a few years ago and planners think it’s still a great activity for teambuilding.
“If the goal is to get staff to bond, have fun and work together in an environment outside the office, this is a winner,” Liggio says. Analytical thinkers enjoy the mental challenge, extroverts enjoy the team environment and introverts can participate as much or as little as they want without feeling put on the spot.
“There is an element of competition — to beat the clock — and you can create teams running several escape rooms at the same time,” Liggio says.
Establishing the Best TeamBuilding Activities
When it comes to creating innovative, memorable and impactful teambuilding activities for a group, one thing that the meeting planners at Key Events always ask is: What are some of the business challenges teams are currently facing and what is the goal? To improve morale? To reinforce team relationships? To understand each person’s personality?
Then the planners recommend activities based upon those answers. “It also depends on the groups involved,” Bamont says. “Some groups within organizations tend to be incredibly competitive so we build teambuilding events around sports or games, whereas another group may tend to be more reserved so we try to focus more on teambuilding that brings out their personality types.”
Liggio says the main question meeting planners need to ask with any event is almost always the same: What is your client ultimately trying to achieve? But that is often easier said than done, as it is not always easy to get to the real answer.
Do they want to reward the team with a fun experience outside the office? Are they trying to get buy-in for a new way of doing things? Are they trying to solve personnel issues, departmental issues or generational gaps? Is this a “one-off” or will there be a series of follow up events?
“It’s also really important to know the past history. What worked? What didn’t? Why?” Liggio says.
Lauren Grech, CEO & co-founder of LLG Events & LLG Agency, says the most effective teambuilding activities a planner can incorporate into an event are those that are charitable and give back to a certain community or cause.
“This is a perfect way to enhance the passion around your meeting or event’s theme, because it connects the theme to something purposeful,” Grech says. “And by volunteering and participating in philanthropy, people always receive more than they give. It’s a ‘feel-good’ activity where people are proud of their time spent helping others, and it creates lasting memories and great word-of-mouth marketing for your meeting or event.”
Of course, teambuilding isn’t appropriate for every event. For example, as Zellmer points out, it’s not the best use of time when attendees are unlikely to need each other once they leave the room. But the opposite applies among attendees with similar roles and responsibilities, especially when they are from geographically diverse locations.
“In these cases, building a strong network of peers is critical when attendees don’t collaborate on a regular basis,” Zellmer says. “A good example would be a meetings industry program, where teambuilding can help vendors and buyers broaden their networks.”
It’s vital that meeting planners understand the purpose of a program, attendee demographics, and any challenges the company or organization may be facing. This context can help planners assess the teambuilding need and select activities that directly support desired results.
Also, as Zellmer explains, teams whose performance is interdependent but who rarely spend time together will need a different activity than a team that works together every day.
“Celebratory events require a different approach to teambuilding than an annual sales conference or leadership meeting,” Zellmer says. “And, of course, in all cases, planners must additionally factor for logistical challenges, budget, agenda and key learning from previous events. Ultimately, selecting a teambuilding activity requires deliberate fact finding and purposeful planning to net the best results.”
For GMR Marketing’s meetings and incentives group, it’s not the actual activity that drives their decision, but the opportunity to incorporate key messaging and align with the desired results.
“Teambuilding, regardless of the activity, requires thoughtful integration into a well-curated attendee journey,” Zellmer says.
A recent program challenged GMR Marketing to foster collaboration, encourage participation from a diverse group of attendees, and share key messaging in a fun, high-energy atmosphere.
“By telling a story through the power of experience, we exposed attendees to information previously shared in a more traditional format,” Zellmer says. “Attendees completed custom challenges that required teamwork and showcased individual attributes. In the end, teams found themselves with a new bank of knowledge they then used to curate the ending to the story.”
And while the traditional mindset might believe that teambuilding activities wouldn’t apply to a conference or event where there are competitors within the market, Grech says there is an opportunity for everyone in this industry to create service-level agreements.
“Working together is the only way to ensure we pull off a seamless event with the highest quality and levels of service possible,” Grech says. “The questions you’ll want to ask should be to decide which exercises are best for your audience, so pay attention to the overall event theme and what will resonate within your attendee’s demographics.”
It’s important for meeting and event planners to re-evaluate what they hope to achieve with their teambuilding. Yes, networking and furthering relationships is obviously great, but you can educate more on collaboration with these exercises as well.
For example, a technology-based exercise might seek to educate on social media policies, using intriguing event media to decipher who should be tagged and credited when posting about an event that had multiple vendors working on it. “It might involve physical demonstrations of building event decor to explain how roles and responsibilities are allocated between planning and design teams,” Grech says.
Teambuilding activities can certainly prove challenging for the orchestrators as meeting planners are dealing with many different types of personalities and interpersonal relationships.
Not surprisingly, the most common mistake made as it relates to teambuilding activities is not understating the audience. Bamont advises meeting planners to take time to ask the right questions and to understand what resonates with the groups for whom they are coordinating the teambuilding.
“There are so many factors that go into creating a teambuilding event and if it’s not orchestrated correctly, it won’t be effective,” Bamont says.
Another big mistake for planners to avoid would be to not do proper follow through after the event. As Liggio explains, a meeting planner can have the most engaged teambuilding event, but if there is no management follow up, it might completely undo and even reverse any positive effects. This might not fall under the meeting planner’s job responsibilities, so it’s not always easy to accomplish.
“Getting the wrong read on the participants can also be a disaster,” Liggio says. “I am sure many people can remember being at some event where they were rolling their eyes at having to do some mortifying ice-breaking exercise. Adults like fun, but at the same time, they are still adults. You have to keep that in mind when trying to figure out what activities they might respond to.”
Zellmer also advises meeting planners to avoid choosing activities based on buzz, rather than strategy. Just because it’s trendy doesn’t make it a good fit.
At GMR Marketing, their focus has always been on crafting experiences that aren’t just impressive in the moment, but that have a lasting impact on attendees. As Zellmer explains, the power of a strategically designed experience to make real change for an organization is unquestionable, but is just starting to be really understood in many industries.
“Taking time upfront to learn about the organization, the purpose of the program, the attendees and the desired outcome will help you craft an experience that positively impacts attendees,” Zellmer says. “Skipping the research could mean the teambuilding falls flat and is possibly counterproductive.”
On the Horizon
There is a huge push for teambuilding events around helping the environment. Bamont predicts we will see everything from beach clean up days to teambuilding focused on developing plans on how companies can reduce their carbon footprints. “People are passionate about this and applying passion to teambuilding will never go away,” Bamont says.
What’s more, Zellmer believes that, as technology continues to change the way we work together, we’ll only see the demand for live teambuilding activities, as part of larger events and experiences, continue to rise. “And the standards — the client’s demand that the activity stays true to the program’s purpose and drives the desired result — will continue to rise as well,” Zellmer says.
Like other meeting and event professionals, Grech hopes that teambuilding will continue to be integrated into meetings and events with education in mind, so that the industry can instill these standards of collaboration and community for future generations.
“If we, as the industry, are setting these standards, then the media and representation of our events will follow,” Grech says. “There will be less ‘stealing’ of event media and improper crediting, and greater transparency for clients on the large number of event professionals involved in executing a successful meeting or event.” C&IT