Team Building During a Recession: Should Companies Cut it?

Team Building During a Recession

Should companies cut team building during a recession?

By Anne Thornley-Brown, President
Executive Oasis International

The short answer is no. During a recession, team building is even MORE important than during good times. Why? During a recession, the margin for error is narrow. It is more important than ever to:

  • generate new ideas and solutions to business challenges
  • keep the lines of communication open
  • ensure that employees get a clear and accurate messages about company plans and performance, otherwise the rumour mill takes over
  • boost morale
  • build commitment
  • enhance cross-functional teamwork
  • reduce friction and misunderstandings
  • resolve conflicts

Expertly facilitated team building with a solid strategy for follow-up can address ALL of these areas.

Companies that are “in the know” realize that sooner or later, almost every organization will go through tough times. The solutions lie with your people. Who other than the members of your team who are familiar with your customers and processes are in the best position to generate useful ideas to cut costs and generate new business? CEO’s from Toyota and other Japanese companies get it.

Hammered by waning global demand and a surging yen, Toyota slashed its earnings forecast again Monday and now expects it will barely break even for the year through March with a net profit of just 50 billion yen ($555 million).

Watanabe vowed Toyota would grow so lean it will be able to realize profitability even if its worldwide sales slide to as low as 7 million vehicles – what he called the basic “bottom line” for Toyota.

He promised his workers would offer “ideas as well as sweat” to steer the automaker through difficult times.

He promised his workers would offer “ideas as well as sweat” to steer the automaker through difficult times.
Source: BusinessWeek – Dec 22, 2008

An expertly facilitated team building session can give your team tools and strategies to brainstorm and generate breakthrough strategies to resolve even your most pressing challenges. If your company is facing challenges, team building is an ideal vehicle to equip your team with new tools and strategies and launch or kick off initiatives that will get your organization back on track. If your company is doing well, use team building to design a process that will help you be proactive, monitor what is going on in the marketplace, identify alternatives, and course correct as required.

The Path Towards Team Building with a Bottom Line Focus

Instead of wasting money on frivilous pursuits and activities that are strictly recreational, why not follow a tried and tested approach for team building that is actually going to add value:

Invest in sessions that can actually give teams the tools they need to solve problems, resolve differences, identify new markets for your company’s products and services, generate ideas to cut costs, and generate more revenue. Use a trained internal or external facilitator Your session can STILL be packaged as an enjoyable event that is fun and safe for all participants. It’s time to get back to basics with this tried and true approach to team building:

  • BRIEF Executive Presentation Highlighting Organizational Goals, Strengths and Challenges
  • Team Briefing to Link Team Building to the Company’s Realities
  • Simulation that incorporates business exercises and recreational activities
  • Debriefing to Uncover “Take-Aways” That Can be Used At Work
  • Business Issue AnalysisBreak your group into project teams and have them analyze specific business issues using the tools introduced in the Simulation to uncover possible solutions.
  • Goals/Objectives/Next Steps
  • Implementation
  • Follow up SessionsTeam building should be more than an event. The project teams you set up during your session should continue to meet regularly and build on the process that was started during your team building session.
  • Measurement of Results
  • CelebrationAn incentive, corporate event or recreational activity AFTER the organization reaches its goals, just don’t call it team building because it ISN’T team building

I want to comment a bit more on my last point. Celebrate AFTER the company reaches it’s goals. I am a big supporter of luxury events to reward teams for producing outstanding results and to thank clients for their business when a company has had a banner year. However, when companies are losing money and when their performance has deteriorated to the point that they are requesting bailout money, it shouldn’t be business as usual.

Some organizations just don’t get it. Apparently they learned nothing from the AIG fiasco. Instead of spending thousands of dollars to bring in a team of business facilitators who could actually guide the organizations through a structured process to generate solutions to their business challenges they are wasting MILLIONS on luxury trips and lavish events that are strictly recreational.

Here are some recent headlines.

Bailed Out Bank of America Sponsors Super Bowl Fun Fest….
Morgan Stanley Hosts Conference at 5-Star Resort in Palm Beach

AIG spent thousands on execs’ hunting trip
First there was the $440,000 American Insurance Group Inc. spent entertaining executives days after receiving an $85 billion lifeline from the Federal Reserve, now it’s $86,000 for a hunting trip in England as the faltering company reaped another $37.8 billion in taxpayer funded loans.

Bank of America and Morgan Stanley’s also don’t get it. It is surprising that no one at the helm thought through the optics of scheduling luxury trips and events and the potential PR backlash that could result.

What is the ROI? Perhaps I am missing something but I am not seeing it? What are these executives thinking? Companies that are experiencing difficulty should be investing their resources on pulling their team together to generate solutions, NOT partying the night away. It makes absolutely no sense but it does give one a sense of the lopsided priorities in some corners of the business world.


These ideas will help you eliminate the fluff and produce team building that adds MEASURABLE value to the bottom line. We must remember to continue to offer bottom line oriented team building even after the recovery. If value can be delivered and demonstrated, organizations will be less inclined to cut team building the next time tough times roll around.

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

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6 thoughts on “Team Building During a Recession: Should Companies Cut it?

  1. Anne Thornley-Brown, M.B.A. says:

    I think you answered your own question. 🙂 Executive Oasis International also offers powerful BUSINESS simulations that incorporate team cooking challenges.

    Cooking Team Building

    Where do we draw the line? If people just get together to compete in a cooking challenge and share a meal, that’s a strictly recreational, social and entertaining activity. There is a place for that and all teams can benefit from social activities once in a while. It gives people a chance to relax in an informal setting and get to know one another better. Activities like these can only be considered bonafide business team building if one thased it the next step. Add a presentation to link the experience to the challenges, issues and opportunities of the work place, a professionally facilitated debriefing session and a business application exercise to help people apply what they learned in the kitchen when they return to the job and you have team building.

    It is of concern that even throughout the recession, the majority of calls that come in to team building companies requesting “team building” are in fact just a request for a social activitiy. As long as team building is perceived as a discretionary social activity, it will continue to be cut whenever there is an economic downturn. It’s a shame as properly facilitated team building can really help organizations resolve some of their pressing business issues and boost the bottom line.

  2. Jim Bahr says:

    Anne, good points all. I have to wonder where you suggest to draw the between ‘strictly recreational’ and structured events to support and develop team functioning. For example, companies like mine use the “recreational” and social aspects of cooking and eating to bring down barriers and develop powerful metaphors for engaging teams to work at peak effectiveness. Working with a professional facilitator, these sessions have helped create major breakthroughs. Where would this fall in your model?

  3. Janice Pence says:

    In a rough economy Team building is critical. Many businesses do not have the luxury to find and pay for training of new employees. It is far cheaper and faster to address current issues on a Team rather than experiment on a new employee.

    I’ve found most Team problems come to to communication issues on the Team itself. Putting people together of varying backgrounds and specialties will often lead to problems. Why? Accountants speak like accountants and salesmen talk like salesman. You run the risk of hearing only the loudest person – and not hearing everyone else on the Team. .

    On my Teams we’ve commonly used the Myers Briggs Personality Test to discuss communication patterns on the Team.

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