Team-building 101

A team-building exercise can meld individual employees into a cohesive unit with shared goals, strategy and even sense of humour. But what’s the best way to do it? 

1. Explain goals

explain goals

Sarah Bright, head of events at BMA House, has spent a decade looking at the effectiveness of team-building exercises. She recommends being highly explicit about what staff are being enrolled for. “With each task you set it’s worth doing what’s called ‘frontloading’ to the employees,” she explains. “Frontloading is where you explain exactly what skills they will be developing before they begin. If employees understand why they are participating, they will be more engaged.”

2. Spend big

spend bigHow much should you budget for team-building? It depends on the return on investment. Asset management software company Snow Software spends a small fortune taking all 430 staff skiing if yearly growth targets are met. Matt Fisher, Snow vice president of marketing, says: “We spent between half a million and a million pounds this year, but growth in that past 12 months was well in excess of £10 million, so the return on investment is strong. It is also a key part of our recruitment strategy. It’s important that Snow is a place where people actively want to work. The trip is one part of a wider engagement strategy to recruit and retain the best in the business.”

3. Try speed-dating

speed dating

Elaine Grix helps the likes of PepsiCo and Heathrow Airport build effective teams. Her top tactic is a clever take on speed-dating. “It sounds harsh, but trust me on this,” she says. “Everyone in the room says one thing they appreciate about the person they work with and one thing they could do better. They thank each other and they move on to the next team member. Initially people dread this exercise as they presume others will only have negative things to say. When they learn what their colleagues appreciate about them, it can really change a group’s dynamic for the better. Some teams I’ve worked with have found this exercise so effective they’ve brought it into their regular team meetings and now regularly de-brief with a ‘speed-dating’ session.”

4. Go abroad

go abroad

While the UK has a superlative events sector, there is a whole world to explore. Black Pepper Software organises overseas trips for staff and their partners, with hugely positive feedback. “This year we’ll be going to Madrid, having previously visited Dusseldorf, Florence, Copenhagen and Amsterdam to name but a few,” says director Mark Stevenson. To squeeze maximum enjoyment, he uses geo-tagging software to let staff share photos and experiences from the trips. “Although the primary purpose of these events is to relax and have fun, connecting with members of the team we don’t interact with on a daily basis often results in knowledge-sharing and creative ideas being discussed,” he says.

5. Introduce competition

introduce competition

TV’s Great British Bake Off proved competition can supercharge something as mundane as icing a cake. Venturi’s Table cookery school runs similar team-building exercises for the likes of Shell and GlaxoSmithKline, and co-owner Bella Blackett says competition adds spice. “Recently one of our clients told us that their team worked fantastically well together, almost too well. They get on like a house on fire and the client wanted to inject a little competitive spirit,” she says. “So we spilt up the group, pairing some of the best-friend combinations and set them head to head against each other, with time trials on compiling certain dishes, and taste tests at the end judged by one of the Venturi’s Table cookery school directors.”

6. Abolish competition

abolish competition

One size never fits all. Some companies will feel competition is wrong for their ethos. So why not try something more inclusive, such as music-based team-building? Consultancy Brass Neck runs a variety of day courses based on instruments and musical activities. Clients include the BBC and Jamie Oliver Food Foundation. The musical work is pure collaboration with zero competition. Mark Grainger, founder of Brass Neck, says: “We find that competitive team-building can leave people deflated if they end up fitting into the ‘loser’ category. Singling out people’s weaknesses can have an adverse effect and take away from the benefits of the team-building session, so best to leave the school sports team attitude at the door.”

7. Be profound

be profound

What is team-building all about? Having fun? Learning each other’s quirks? It’s much more than that, says Nick Jankel, who runs courses for Nike and Intel. “Unless you are aiming to change hearts and minds don’t bother. It’s too expensive to do for a jolly,” he says. Instead, seek to go deep. “Design the experience actually to open people’s hearts to each other, so they see each other and experience each other in a new way, with a new frame of reference.” Done right, genuine trust can be built. “Trust is gold dust in corporations,” says Mr Jankel. “Trust is what provides people with a context to go the extra mile on a project or innovate. Without trust, people are too fearful to risk a change in their status, reputation or income.”

8. Evaluate

evaluate

Did your event hit its goals? The only way to find out is to survey the participants. For example, computer brand Dell runs a management challenge in the Brecon Beacons. Teams of six compete in a range of sports including a 31km course of mountain-bike riding, running, canoeing and hiking in the first day alone. Tim Griffin, vice president and managing director, Dell UK, reports: “After previous Dell management challenges, we have surveyed the participants, and 85 per cent felt their leadership and coaching skills had improved, 95 per cent felt their team work had improved as a result of the event, 84 per cent felt more confident and self-aware, 90 per cent believed they were fitter and gained endurance, and 82 per cent felt their communication was more effective.” The numbers will be used to shape next year’s challenge.