Team Building During a Recession: Stretching Your Budget


Stretching Your Budget for Team Building During a Recession

By Anne Thornley-Brown, President
Executive Oasis International

For companies that are doing well, it is still possible to have it all. If your organization is facing challenges, it’s time to take stock and re-visit your company’s approach to team building. It’s important to avoid the mistakes that some of the companies receiving bailout money made. It’s been all over the media. Instead of focusing on resolving their issues, some of these companies have continued to spend money for expensive events, trips, and lavish entertainment. Companies that are facing financial challenges can avoid similar embarrasment. It’s possible to provide team building that has bottom line value, save money and still have fun doing it.

The key to stretching your team building dollars is to keep the essence of the team building and eliminate non value added activities. In other words, use your budget to obtain expert facilitation to address your business needs and find other ways to save money. Sometimes, the need to save money can create a richer programme. Here are some ideas to deliver powerful programmes that eliminate fluff and add bottom line value:


  1. Immediately just completely cut the frivolous activities that are masquerading as team building

    Here is the latest craze. Literally the HEIGHT of of frivolity disguised as team building.

    FORGET playing paintball. Companies are sending staff to experience a plane crash in simulators run by British Airways as the ultimate team-building exercise.

    For £130 a head, employees are taken to a hangar at Heathrow where they board a shortened version of a Boeing 737 mounted on a motion platform.

    After “takeoff”, they are plunged into darkness and put into a nose-dive from 3,000 ft as the cabin begins to fill with smoke.

    Once the plane has hit the ground, the “passengers” have to get out as fast as they can through the front and rear exits. By this stage, the employees are so pumped up that on three separate occasions businessmen have shorn through a half-inch steel bolt by hand so as to lift a 45lb overhead escape hatch and climb onto the plane’s wing.

    The half-day “crash courses” are so popular that BA has taken more than 350 bookings from about 8,500 oil executives, bankers, civil servants and staff at the Football Association.

    Nothing builds a team like a nosedive

    I hope that I am not the only one who sees something wrong with this picture. I am a former summer flight attendant (during my university days). I think that companies can learn a lot about team building from airline crews. A simulated flight in which members of your team act as crew would have great value if the entire exercise is properly debriefed. However, I think THIS is taking things a bit too far. It’s fine for emergency procedures training but team buidling? I don’t think so.

    (See our blog entry Why Companies are Cutting Team Building for examples.)

    At a time when organizations are facing financial contraints, why waste valuable team building dollars on activities that are of questionable value and in some cases unsafe?

  2. With the money you save, eliminate half day “quick fixes”. It’s time to dig deep and focus on sessions of at least a day that give your team tools and strategies to generate ideas to:

    • attract new business
    • cut costs
    • improve business results

  3. Reduce the number of employee events that are strictly recreational. Too many organizations have been trying to pass these off as team building.
  4. Pool the funds you have been using for recreation and entertainment to offer value added facilitated business team building that addresses your company’s specific business issues and challenges
  5. Bring team building “on-site”.
  6. Another suggestion is to do all or part of the session on-site or during the day at a hotel near you.
    You’ll save a lot in hotel costs, meals, even transportation.
  7. If you’re going to hold your team building retreat at a resort or hotel, schedule it sooner rather than later.

    With reduced occupancy rates due to the recession, many hotels are offering deep discounts. Your company can now stay at even 5 star resorts in locations like Canada, Jamaica, Dubai, Oman, and Abu Dhabi for a fraction of what they would normally spend. 6 and 7 star resorts are offering specials. These bargains will disappear when the economy picks up.

  8. Explore more cost effective venues such as community colleges and universities or even high schools (from April to August), summer camps (all times of the year except the summer), community centres, and even some country clubs.

    Sometimes organizations do the opposite. They spend a lot of money for an expensive resort or airport hotel and then scrimp by engaging an inexperienced and inexpensive facilitator.

  9. Start the session on-site, hold part of it off-site, and conclude it off-site. Your session would look something like this.

    - Week 1: On-site: Executive and Team Briefing
    – Week 2: Off-site: Simulation and recreation and debriefing. (1 night/2 full days with an early start)
    – Week 3: On-site: Business Application Exercises

  10. Instead of getting your marketing or ad agency to organize team building, go directly to an organization that specializes in facilitated business team building. The agency will be outsourcing execution anyway and they will add a HEFTY mark-up
  11. If you are going to need team building for many departments, use a boutique firm that specializes in team building to help you design and execute an integrated strategy. You’ll save money due to the volume.
    If each department does its own thing, you’ll pay top dollar every time,
  12. Consider one stop shopping with a service bundle.

    If you need to do an executive retreat, team building, an incentive trip, and some recretional and corporate events, enjoy the benefits and the savings of one stop shopping. Executive Oasis International offers one stop shopping in Canada, Jamaica, Dubai, Oman, Singapore, and Malaysia. There are firms in the USA, the UK and Europe that can also help you save money through one stop shopping.

  13. Use a cooking school, catering department from a community college or local restaurant to cater your on-site session.
  14. For an overnight event, use a campsite in the Spring, Summer or Fall . You’ll be able to include all kinds of activities in a business simulation and still give your team a chance to relax, unwind and bond.

    Here are some examples:

    Wilderness Survival
    Desert Survival

  15. For a daytime event, use a conservation area

  16. Select a session that can incorporate a business related project and still retain the fun factor. The benefit is that your organization will be raising the bar, resolving issues and pulling together as a team while STILL having fun. Here is an example:

    Visexecutaries: Apprentice Team Building

  17. Modify your schedule. If you’re concerned about losing productivity, instead of taking people away for a 3 day retreat, why not have a session once per week or break the team building up into two 1 1/2 day sessions spread 2 weeks apart. If you’re doing something that incorporates a work related project like Visexecutaries, this format would be perfect.
  18. Cut booze out of the budget. This won’t make you very popular but it will save you a lot of money and ENSURE that team members are FOCUSED for the entire session.

Executive Oasis International offers business simulations for team building, executive retreats and incentive travel. Featured destinations include Canada, Jamaica, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Oman, Egypt, Singapore, and Malaysia.
Other Resources and Articles


  • Apprentice Team Building
  • Inc. Inc.: Breaking Down Silos
  • Survivor Team Building
  • Off-sites That Work

  • Off-sites That Work iii

    About these ads

4 Responses

  1. Nice post – this seems to be a theme you have been weaving.
    I also have been reflecting on this for some time. What I find is that Team Building becomes recreational when exceutives feel that it is “soft skills” (I hate that word almost as much as team building).

    When team development is viewed as a “soft skill” with no measureable roi executives put the team building choice to commitee.

    When I used to work at a conference center that offered “Team Building” that was recreational. The companies viewed team building as a take out menu – we wat zip line, mohawk walk, trap towers….

    When I would ask about outcomes and goals is usually was, first surprise What we can do that also? then the standard communication and trust answers.

    Now that I own my own consulting firm the focus is on development as opposed to team building.

    When you put “soft skills team building” to commitee and the leaders view it as not necessary to the bottom line. The value is lost!

  2. I did some writing focusing on this theme a few years ago. At the time, I expressed concern that the trend of passing off recreation as team building was a dangerous one. You can see it here at our sister company website:

    Corporate Team Building Primer

    As you know, there have recently been headlines about companies spending money on expensive corporate events and luxury trips even when there performance is poor and they have received bailout money. I thought that the time was right to revisit this theme and devote a few blog entries to exploring both the benefits and abuses of team building.

    The reason I wrote the original article was that I was starting to receive more and more calls for strictly recreational events. At first I was surprised that companies would spend money to put up a group at a resort for a couple of days simply to play and party. No goals, no objectives just something cool to do. To me, the focus seemed to be in the wrong place. There were the companies that booked top of the line resorts and conference facilities and had little left in their budget for the facilitator or the keynote speake. We did lose some business because companies wanted to shorten simulations to free up more time for shopping and relaxing on the beach. The term “team building retreat” was basically becoming a cover to free up the money for a company paid get-away. There seemed to be more interest in making sure that there was an open bar than in ensuring that there were clear and measurable business related outcomes. I predicted that there would be a backlash and that, eventually, team building would come to be perceived as “fluff” and a discretionary item that would be cut as soon as tough times came. Unfortunately, this is exactly what has been happening.

    During tough times when “business as usual” is no longer working, there is a real need to think outside the box and come up with new ideas and strategies to boost corporate performance. Even companies that are doing well need to be proactive, equiped with a game plan and agile enough to respond in face of the deteriorating economy. Companies to need to create a climate in which brainstorming, innovation, teamwork and collaboration are fostered. Team building can help with this and add real value. Unfortunately, the term “team building” has become so dilluted that it brings to mind recreation. The term “corporate retreat” has come to mean “fun in the sun”, drinking and partying rather than an opportunity to re-set your course and fine-tuning business strategy. I am with you Michael. It would be great to come up with a different term.

    In terms of soft skills, I prefer to use the terms non-technical skills, transferable skills or cross-functional skills. It is a shame that some organizational still don’t get the fact that technical skills are not enough to run an effective business. Once you have worked for a manager who is strong technically but lacking in interpersonal skills, one has no difficulty in remember the toxic environment that they can create and the debilitating impact on team and company performance. No company can serve on the basis of technical skills and financial acumen alone.

    As for your comment about decisions by committee, again I agree with you 100%. When one considers the budget for a team building retreat, it is hard to understand why an executive would view this as an ideal developmental project for a group of inexperienced employees. Let them plan the company picnic or the Christmas party. Team building can add a lot of value but not if it is “dumbed down” to the point that it is no more than an excuse to get out of the office.

  3. Yes Michael. I am doing a series at the moment.

    I did some writing focusing on this theme a few years ago. At the time, I expressed concern that the trend of passing off recreation as team building was a dangerous one. You can see it here at our sister company website:

    Corporate Team Building Primer

    As you know, there have recently been headlines about companies spending money on expensive corporate events and luxury trips even when there performance is poor and they have received bailout money. I thought that the time was right to revisit this theme and devote a few blog entries to exploring both the benefits and abuses of team building.

    The reason I wrote the original article was that I was starting to receive more and more calls for strictly recreational events. Now, recreation and entertainment have their place but I think that there has been an imbalance. We forget that we are running business not country clubs for employees. Yes there should be recreational events but there should be more sessions focused on improving performance.

    I was surprised that companies were prepared to spend a lot of money to put up a group at a resort for a couple of days simply to play and party. No goals, no objectives just something cool to do. By contrast, the budgets for business related team building retreats and sessions seemed to be shrinking. To me, the focus seemed to be in the wrong place.

    There were the companies that booked top of the line resorts and conference facilities and had little left in their budget for the facilitator or the keynote speake. We did lose some business because companies wanted to shorten simulations to free up more time for shopping and relaxing on the beach. In all conscience I couldn’t do that. It felt like taking money under false pretenses. The term “team building retreat” was basically becoming a cover to free up the money for a company paid get-away. There seemed to be more interest in making sure that there was an open bar than in ensuring that there were clear and measurable business related outcomes.

    I predicted that there would be a backlash and that, eventually, team building would come to be perceived as “fluff” and a discretionary item that would be cut as soon as tough times came. Unfortunately, this is exactly what has been happening.

    During tough times when “business as usual” is no longer working, there is a real need to think outside the box and come up with new ideas and strategies to boost corporate performance. Even companies that are doing well need to be proactive, equiped with a game plan and agile enough to respond in face of the deteriorating economy. Companies to need to create a climate in which brainstorming, innovation, teamwork and collaboration are fostered. Team building can help with this and add real value. Unfortunately, the term “team building” has become so dilluted that it brings to mind recreation. The term “corporate retreat” has come to mean “fun in the sun”, drinking and partying rather than an opportunity to re-set your course and fine-tuning business strategy. I am with you Michael. It would be great to come up with a different term.

    In terms of soft skills, I prefer to use the terms non-technical skills, transferable skills or cross-functional skills. It is a shame that some organizational still don’t get the fact that technical skills are not enough to run an effective business. Once you have worked for a manager who is strong technically but lacking in interpersonal skills, one has no difficulty in remember the toxic environment that they can create and the debilitating impact on team and company performance. No company can serve on the basis of technical skills and financial acumen alone.

    As for your comment about decisions by committee, again I agree with you 100%. When we get calls from committees to plan retreats and there are no executives involved to “steer the ship”, I get really concerned. When one considers the budget for a team building retreat, it is hard to understand why an executive would view this as an ideal developmental project for a group of inexperienced employees. If you want to give a committee experience, let them plan the company picnic or the Christmas party not something that can add strategic value.

    Team building can add a lot of value but not if it is “dumbed down” to the point that it is no more than an excuse to get out of the office.

  4. [...] Team Building During a Stretching Your Budget for Team Building During a Recession. By Anne Thornley-Brown, President … Oman, and Abu Dhabi for a fraction of what they would normally spend. 6 … [...]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 66 other followers