It’s one thing to plan meeting and incentive activities that are fun for attendees. But it’s an entirely different thing to plan fun activities that also motivate, build camaraderie and develop attitudes and skills that benefit a company’s business goals.
That’s the purpose of teambuilding, and it continues to be as popular as ever. Companies use an ever-growing variety of teambuilding activities to give workers a common sense of purpose and inspire creativity.
The U.S. division of Netherlands-based Wolters Kluwer, a global firm that provides products and services for industries that include financial services, accounting and taxes, used teambuilding at its two-day annual sales meeting in Tampa earlier this year, according to Lori Sullivan, director of learning solutions. The two-hour session involved building bicycles for members of a local Boys & Girls Club.
The activity was designed to reinforce themes of accountability, being an agent of change and creating products with customers in mind.
The 100 attendees who gathered in the hotel ballroom were not told who they were building bikes for until the end of the session. “They were divided into five teams and each team built a complete bike,” says Sullivan. “Each team got a box of tools. However, we purposely left out some tools, like a screwdriver, for some teams so they would have to borrow it from another team and learn how to share it and work together in a way that allowed both groups to finish.”
At the end of the session, one person from each group gave a short presentation describing the experience. Later, Sullivan says they surprised the group by introducing members of the Boys & Girls Clubs who were on hand to accept the bikes.
The experience was emotional says Sullivan. “There were people crying and completely overwhelmed. They became even more concerned about the bikes working correctly. The product they were engaged in producing instantly became more personal because they felt a deep connection with the ‘customers.’ ” That was precisely the desired impact, adds Sullivan.
Attendees met with the children for about 10 minutes. When the kids took their bikes to a different room to have them checked out by mechanics, the employees gathered to “have a discussion about what the message was and how it was relevant to their jobs.”
Wolters Kluwer includes a teambuilding event every year for the annual sales meeting despite budget constraints. “Budget is always a factor, but not so much that we would not do teambuilding,” says Sullivan. “Our senior leadership has a commitment to learning. Our work force is spread across the country so there is a commitment to make the time and spend the money for them to travel and be together.”
As teambuilding programs, especially Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs, are becoming more popular, savvy planners are discovering ways to stretch tight budgets.
For instance, they are creating shorter teambuilding activities (some are one hour or less) and holding them onsite at hotels or in-house at corporate facilities to avoid paying venue and transportation costs.
In addition, off-the-shelf teambuilding activities are popular because many companies lack the budget for customized programs. Meanwhile, some companies are designing their own programs.
“I’ve noticed over the past few years that when people say teambuilding it doesn’t always mean the traditional teambuilding,” says Zorianna Smith, CMP, DMCP, director of marketing and product development for AlliedPRA Northern California and Hawaii. “A lot of times it’s an activity that they think of as teambuilding. It can be something relatively simple. It’s not as facilitated but it is more free-form and includes networking.”
Such teambuilding activities include cooking classes, shoe-decorating, wine-blending, sushi-rolling, cupcake-decorating and chocolate-making, and even organized recreational activities such as bowling.
However, some planners use the term teambuilding simply to describe an activity that attendees enjoy together, says Smith. “Many times they say they want a teambuilding activity and we suggest traditional teambuilding activities. Then they want something recreational like group biking, kayaking, hiking or horseback riding.”
But is it really teambuilding? “Yes, it is,” says Smith. “It’s just a different way of doing it. It’s more about people coming together and interacting and building a bond and taking it back to the workplace. Maybe it’s not as measurable in terms of what was learned, but it’s effective in a teambuilding way because they connect and learn a little about each other.”
Last October, a major credit card company held a brief teambuilding session during a meeting in a hotel for 160 technology employees. “They did a series of small competitions led by a facilitator,” says the planner of the event. “After a demonstration by the facilitator and practice session, the group was split up into groups of eight to 10 people at round tables.”
The games included cup-stacking, putting playing cards in a specific sequence, and tossing and catching pencils over your back. “One of the challenges involved having one person from each team learn a song in a different language and sing it on stage. Each group was scored and the winning team received ribbons in an awards ceremony.”
The teambuilding event had a specific purpose. “We wanted to allow people to have fun after a day of meetings and enjoy their colleagues in a different setting,” says the planner. “It was definitely loud and there was a lot of energy in the room with laughing and cheering. People were engaged and focused.”
A departure from the typical teambuilding endeavor is sporting clay competitions such as the one offered at Streamsong Resort where groups enjoy a fresh and exhilarating out-of-doors opportunity to compete and build camaraderie among colleagues. “Sporting clay activities instill skills such as teamwork, self-confidence, discipline, safety and other workplace values, says Tyler Ramsdell, sports and recreation manager at Streamsong Resort. “Having the discipline to hit a moving target requires a high level of preparation, concentration and frequent adjustments. Men and women alike find the sporting clay experience exciting, empowering and something they are eager to do again,” Tyler says.
Teams of four to eight participants advance through a series of stands and are presented with a wide variety of targets that duplicate flight patterns. Every player gets six attempts at each stand and their individual score contributes to the team total. Team scores are tallied and a champion is crowned. The entire event takes about two hours and creates a lifetime of memories.
Streamsong Resort is home to two award-winning golf courses, and has announced plans to build a third course in 2017.
Another two-hour teambuilding program is available at Bowlmor AMF’s 18 locations around the U.S. Their Super-bowl special includes two hours of bowling and shoes, a selection of food and drink items, a signable bowling pin and a teambuilding guide.
Some companies are committed to making their teambuilding programs better every year. That’s why 500 sales executives for a large financial firm assembled prosthetic hands for third-world children during a five-day incentive trip last summer. “We always have to beat last year’s program,” says the planner of the incentive. “That factor goes into creating a program that meets business objectives. If you can create such a program then you have a winner. Doing teambuilding for the sake of teambuilding without purpose is a waste of time.”
The teambuilding activity started with attendees watching a video to relate the purpose of the activity.
Having attendees understand the purpose of a teambuilding program, especially one that involves CSR, is crucial. “It is a real key in programs like this,” says the planner. “They understood that the purpose was to give more mobility to kids in third-world countries who can’t get prosthetics. Also, kids outgrow their prosthetics every six months and they have to be replaced.”
The group was divided into teams of 10 people who used specially designed kits to build the hands. “They used magic markers to decorate the cases with drawings and write messages of encouragement,” says the planner. “It was complicated, but they read and followed the instructions.”
The program was the talk of the group throughout the meeting. “It was emotional, powerful, engaging and energizing,” says the planner. “In the financial industry, top performers are sophisticated people who look for a sophisticated experience that evokes emotion, is creative and has a purpose. That’s exactly what they got.”
Some companies are employing technology to allow employees to experience CSR-like activities that stoke similar emotions. For example, EA Loans, a lending company based in Walnut Creek, California, uses software called YouEarnedIt. Last Thanksgiving, employees nationwide redeemed points they earned through YouEarnedIt to buy turkey dinners that they then delivered to local communities. Employees shared their stories with each other through the website.
“The trends in teambuilding will involve innovation and technology,” says Greg Palomino, CMP, CDMP, CWP, CSEP, CTA, the CEO at CRE8AD8, an international award-winning event and travel management firm based in San Antonio. “You just can’t continue to do the same (teambuilding activities). The challenge is that many companies are using activities that have been set in stone for years and are used to doing things the same way every year. This means you don’t receive new, innovative and cool ideas for teambuilding.”
Palomino adds, “These trends will also incorporate ideas that may not be 100 percent tested, but those companies that are willing to explore that will find themselves at an advantage. Interaction is always the key with teambuilding. The more hands-on you are, the better results you’ll see. Couple these with incentive trips and you’ve got a winner.”
“Interaction is always the key with teambuilding. The more hands-on you are, the better results you’ll see. Couple these with incentive trips and you’ve got a winner.” — Greg Palomino
Planners can choose from an ever-growing variety of teambuilding programs to foster teamwork, leadership development and employee engagement. Teambuilding exercises help employees improve their abilities to take beneficial risks, identity their roles within a team and allocate resources.
At their best, teambuilding programs connect activities to an organization’s business goals and culture; or seek simply to build camaraderie or treasured memories. No matter the ultimate goal, planners can find the appropriate blueprint to achieve success. I&FMM