Team Building: Planning Team Building Retreats

Team Building Quickstart Guide

by Anne Thornley-Brown, President
Executive Oasis International

Specializing in Team Building and Executive Retreats

We have been exploring strategies to ensure the effectiveness of team building and some pitfalls to avoid. Now, let’s pull them all together and look at some other surefire strategies to boost the ROI of your next team building retreat or session.

One of our other blog entries identifies in detail the building blocks for team building retreats.

Team Building: Back to Basics

Here are some other key elements to keep in mind to kickstart your planning process.

1. Don’t confuse team building with team recreation.

It is really important to be clear about what you are trying to achieve. Often the terms “team recreation” and “team building” are used interchangeably. They are not the same thing.


Team recreation is intended to get your team involved in an activity or experience just for the fun of it. There are no business objectives or outcomes.


Team building seeks to enhance team cohesiveness and performance to improve business results. Often team building does involve some recreation but recreation is a means to an end, not the end. Team building can be delivered on-site, off-site as a day session or at a hotel or resort involving overnight stays, locally or at a foreign destination.

2. Determine your Requirements.

Once you are clear about your objectives, it is important to determine:

  • number of participants
  • organizational roles of participants
  • budget
  • time frame
  • special dietary requirements including allergies
  • physical disabilities and constraints
  • if you will require assistance with location scouting

3. Plan WELL in Advance

Clarify your decision-making criteria and process.  Start planning well in advance and contact prospective suppliers before you lock in your final dates. Plan around the availability of venues and resources rather than picking dates out of  thin air and then struggling to find venues and resources to match your dates.

Ideally, you should be contacting suppliers at least 8 to 12 weeks prior to your session for something local. (For foreign travel, 3 – 6 months is best especially if the destination is popular.)  Allow about a week for quotes. Be prepared to make a decision 1 or 2 weeks after receiving a quote. Don’t keep prospective suppliers hanging by leaving your  decision making till the last minute.  Delays can increase costs and the likelihood that preferred venues and dates will be booked. Last minute bookings also lead to a lot of scrambling and more complex logistics, increasing the likelihood of errors.

If you know you have a complex accounting system and that it takes a long time to cut a cheque, then increase your planning time. You should be in a position to pay your suppliers at least 1 month prior to your event (6 weeks for international engagements). In this way, all venues, suppliers, and resources can be pre-paid and your organization you can avoid the embarrassment that travellers recently encountered in Mexico when Conquest Vacations went out of business, hotels had not been paid and guests were forced to pay extra. In some cases, it got downright ugly:

The Conquest fiasco

We give our clients peace of mind by ensuring that everything related to their event is paid well in advance and that you have proof of payment.

4. Match your timeframe to your objectives.

Failing to allocate enough time for the desired objectives is one of the main reasons that team building fails.  This leads to a packed agenda, pressure on the participants and facilitators and no wiggle room in case of delays in traffic, due to weather or other unforeseen eventualities.

Allow ample time for transportation delays and for people to settle into the venue, especially during the winter or if you are leaving the country. Remember, a late night arrival and early start is efficient but it’s bound to create  and  generate resentment.  This can undermine the effectiveness of the entire team building retreat.

Here is a guideline to timing based on your objectives:

Half day:

  •  strictly for recreation
  • keynote speaker plus 1 or 2 short exercies

1 Day:

Appropriate for:

  • recreation with business meeting
  • very simple simulation with debriefing, short business
    application exercise and brief report back from breakout groups

2 days:

  • suitable for short business simulation  plus
  • 1 or 2 short recreational activities plus
  • debriefing,  in-depth business analysis, and short presentations from breakout groups

2 1/2 to 3 days:

  • suitable for FULL simulation that includes recreation, debriefing, in-depth business analysis, business meeting

3 1/2 to 4 days:

  • required if you want to include a real world project
  • suitable if you also want to include customer and supplier presentations

Another provides suggested outlines based on your objectives.

Team Building Tips: Set a Realistic Timeframe

If your retreat is foreign, consider one activity that gives back to the community and another that gives your team a chance to become familiar with the history and culture of your destination.

Corporate Incentive Travel: Giving your Team the Essence of the Local Culture

Evening Entertainment Options
Pre-dinner: Treasure hunt or mini-Amazing Race inspired activity to find secret location for dinner. Recreational cooking event or iron chef inspired challenge.

Interactive: This is ideally but it is only possible if your dinner service will be finished at a reasonable hour. Consider improv. shows, game shows, hypnotist, scavenger hunt, casino with play money, a version of American Idol or So You Think you can Dance with your own Contestants, a night hike and campfire.

Spectator: Select this option if you can’t start your dinner early and you have a lot of smokers. You’ll need to have the dining tables set up in a room with a stage, risers or dance floor so that dinner service can continue throughout the entertainment. Some options include stand-up comedy, dinner theatre, musical theatre, magician, musical performance, tropical review for beach BBQ, polo.

Option 1: Early Reception
2:30 or 3:00 Finish business meeting
Free Time
4:30 or 5:00 Cocktail Reception
5:30 Dinner
8:30 After Dinner Entertainment

Option 2: No Reception
3:30 Finish business meeting
Free Time
5:30 Dinner
8:30 After Dinner Entertainment with Cocktails

5. Select Your Teams. 

There are a number of factors that you should take into account when you select your teams:

  • mix departments
  • mix geographical regions
  • mix organizational levels
  • form team based on learning styles
  • give team members who don’t get along with each other an opportunity to work together
  • give the newer or more junior members of your team an opportunity to serve as team leaders

6. Build in a Smoking Plan

If there are a lot of smokers on your team, then a smoking plan is imperative. This is particularly important if you are doing your team building retreat or session at a location or in a municipality that prohibits indoor smoking. If you don’t develop realistic plans based on this reality, you will constantly be falling behind schedule. What will this look like?

  • Breaks will likely have to be increased to 20 minutes, particularly in the winter when people must put on boots and coats before heading out to smoke.
  • Understand that dinner service will be longer. People will be popping out of the dining room all evening and there is no way in which a dinner service will be completed in an 1 1/2. I have seen it take as long as 3 hours when there are a lot of smokers.

Unless your group is very small, if you are planning after dinner entertainment and you want it to start at a reasonable hour, you have a choice of cutting the business meeting early or shortening or nixing the cocktail reception. If neither of these options is palatable or practical, then forget about any kind of interactive after dinner activity.

7. Design a follow-up Strategy

Effective team building doesn’t end with a retreat… fact, the real work begins when the retreat ends and people return to work. When you leave the retreat, make sure that next steps are clear and that the strategies and tools you used during the retreat are re-visited often and built into your way of doing business.

Free Tools:
Sign up for quarterly Team Building Tips to receive:
  • Team Building Planner & Selection Tool [.PDF]
  • Team Building R.O.I. Calculator [.PDF]

Team Building Retreats by Executive Oasis International

Request a Team Building Quote Today

Executive Oasis International is a Toronto-based management consulting firm that designs and facilitates team building retreats and simulations in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Oman, Canada, Asia, and the Caribbean.

Executive Oasis International provides one-stop shopping.

Once you have selected your programme and retained us to plan and facilitate your team building retreat, we can quickly determine appropriate venues that fit your budget and give you 2 or 3 available dates.

5 thoughts on “Team Building: Planning Team Building Retreats

  1. Tim says:

    Great guide on creating creative team building events. Love the way that you have broken down each of the steps! Effective team building is only as good as the planning!

  2. mikecardus says:

    Anne, great job placing the struggles of team building planning into a understandable system.
    The highlite is that we need time to plann. Effective programs like all things have a higher success rate when the focus is on the programs and not the scramble to find locations and fit dates.

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