Team Building Tips: Set a Realistic Timeframe

2. Make sure that you set a realistic timeframe for what you want to accomplish

This post almost seems to fall within the realm of common sense.  Some may wonder why I’ve bothered to devote even one inch of cyberspace to this topic. The answer is quite simple and you would know it if you were at the receiving end of some of the calls we’ve taken. It’s one of the top 2 reasons team building sessions get derailed.

So let me start by saying that a business simulation with a proper introduction to set the context, an engaging activity that is not going to come off as “fluffy” or trivial, debriefing, and business application exercises that link what one has learned back to the job  is just not doable in 1 hour, 2 hours or even half a day.

How much time do you need?

The BARE Minimum

At minimum, here is a suggested outline:

Example of Half Day Team Building Format

With this format you will likely receive feedback from analytical learners that the session was rushed and the debriefing/application exercises were much too short. You would need at least another hour if your group is highly analytical.

  • 1 Hour – Briefing Session Including Senior Management Presentation/Preparation
  • 1 Hour – Mini-Simulation or Recreational Activity with 1 or 2 specific learning points
  • 1/2 Hour – Debriefing Preparation Exercise
  • 1/2 Hour – Debriefing Panels
  • 1/2 Hour – Short Application or Brainstorming Session in Groups
  • 1/2 Hour – Breakout Group Presentations (Maximum 2 – 3 Groups – 10 – 15 minutes each)
  • Lunch – Facilitator provides wrap up over dessert

TOTAL = 4 Hours
…..and  this is VERY TIGHT

So why do companies find themselves trying to cram a team building session into a timeframe that is not realistic?  I don’t know and I hope that this post generates some discussion and uncovers some answers.  Perhaps the team building is an after thought. Perhaps the planning committee is too rushed and overwhelmed with business priorities to really think things through. One thing is certain, even if they are planning to organize and facilitate the team building reatreat internally, many organizations would benefit from involving an external or internal event planner or business facilitator early in the process to ensure that the agenda is realistic and doable.

But what if you’re stuck and you only have 2 hours. What should you do then?  Scale back your expectations. In 2 hours, you can either do an interactive keynote with a short group exercise or a targeted simulation and short debriefing session. That’s it. Anybody who tries to sell you more is selling you snake oil.

A Realistic Option

Now it may seem strange for a company to give kudos to a competitor  and I don’t get paid to say this but Eagle’s Fight and i2learn have managed to pull off some simulations that are perfect for large groups and short timeframes.  They won’t be inexpensive. To get maximim bang for your buck, it’s important for a member of your team  to do some context setting ahead of time . (Otherwise the analytical learners may not “get it” and  they pay perceive the session as just a game.)  Get someone with credibility in your organization to do a targeted 15 minute presentation highlighting some of the key business issues you feel the simulation will address. Then, hand it over to Eagle’s Flight to work their magic.

What will the Eagle’s Flight team do for you?

Even though we do compete on some projects (sometimes we win ,sometimes they win)  and I have worked on a project team for them in the past, I take my hat off to them and I must give credit where credit is due.  I  was recently their guest near their Guelph Ontario head office  at a showcase for 2 of their shorter programmes. A couple of years ago, they also invited me to attend thier  Toronto showcase for Redline Racing. It  was a fantastic 2 hour programme with high production values. It’s perfect for sales rallies and conferences. The minimum group size is 300. The simulation is engaging. The debrief consists of just a few key questions that participants discuss at their table and a brief presentation by one of their top facilitators. If you can increase your time frame to 3 hours, this will allow for a longer and more in-depth debrief.

The other 2 hour team building simulations they offer are “The Bridge”, “Coral Banks”, “Jungle Fire”, and “Windjammer”. I did have the pleasure of attending the shocases for “Windjammer” and “Coral Banks” in Guelph. They were also engaging and Coral Banks brought the whole room together to highlight the importance of collaboration and cross-functional teamwork.   When you call them, be sure to tell them that Anne Thornley-Brown from Executive Oasis International sent you.

So if you’re stuck with a short timeframe, one of the Eagle’s Flight programmes may just fit the bill.

So, how much time is really enough?

If you want to provide an integrated teambuilding simulation and give your teams enough time to thoroughly digest what they have learned and come back with a game plan that they can take back to work,  2 1/2 days is ideal. Yes it may sound like a lot but here is how it would look.

Day 1

Arrive at venue in the morning and check-in

Pre-briefing for Simulation Team Leaders (1 Hour)


1 Hour Executive Briefing – Leave a buffer, executives usually go overtime

The Simulation

  • Team Briefing – 2 /12 Hours
  • Flexible – Team Recreational Activity or Team Competition Related to Simulation Theme
  • Early Dinner
  • Simulation Continues
  • Debriefing Prep. Questions (Analytical Learners need time to think and process)
  • Recreational Activity  or Team Challenge – people can only focus for so long

Day 2

  • 2 – 2 1/2 Hours – Simulation Continues
  • Recreational Activity or Team Challenge
  • 1 Hour – Lunch
  • 1/2 Hour – More Debriefing Prep. Questions
  • 1 Hour – Debriefing Panels
  • 1 Hour – Business Application Exercise (Issue Analysis in Breakout Groups)
  • 1 Hour – Breakout Group Mini Presentation Development
  • Free Time – putting your team up at a beautiful resort and giving them no downtime is guaranteed to backfire.
  • 1/2 Hour – Morning and Afternoon Breaks

Day 3

  • 1 Hour More Time to work on Presentations
  • Other Business Agenda Items
  • Breakout Group Mini-Presentations Interspersed Throughout Agenda
  • Lunch
  • Action Plan/Next Steps
  • Wrap up

If you go through this process, no one will leave complaining that the session was a time waster. You’ll also avoid some of the criticism that were recently leveled at AIG for spending $440,000 for a retreat in California.  Instead, not only will your team have fun, instead of just fulff, they’ll also focus on something of relevance to the business that your team can actually use to improve the bottom line.

Update: January 5, 2011

Failing to allocate enough time continues to be one of the major team building pitfalls. For this reason, I have created 2 other blog entries in an attempt to encourage companies to re-think their team building strategies.

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