Team Building Guide for Executives

Team Building: What every CEO Should Know

Team Building Guide for Executives

by Anne Thornley-Brown, President, Executive Oasis International



To discuss this article and other strategies for boosting the bottom line value of team building, all executives who are interested in team effectiveness, shaping a vibrant corporate culture and fostering innovation are invited to join the Linkedin Group:

International Business Team Building Alliance


7. Team Building Tips: Senior management should never delegate decision making to a committee consisting of inexperienced employees.

Team building can be a very effective part of your strategy for enhancing team cohesion and boosting business performance, however, it takes time and carefully planning to produce desired results. However, strategic focus won’t happen if senior management delegates the responsibility for team building to organizational members who are inexperienced. The initiative will be watered down to a “fun and games” event with no bottom line value. Why? I discuss what can happen here at another site where I guest blog sometimes:

10+ Surefire Strategies to Avoid Death by Committee when Planning your Next Corporate Event


Here are a few guidelines that will keep a member of the senior management team engaged in the process of planning your next team building retreat or session to ensure a bottom line focus.

When you are finished reviewing them, to help you with your planning:

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  • Team Building R.O.I. Calculator [.PDF]


1. Clarify your team building objectives.

It is important that you be clear about the reasons you want a team building. Do you want to generate solutions to pressing business issues? Are you attempting to foster “out of the box thinking” in the members of your team? Is there a conflict that requires resolution? Be specific about what you are trying to achieve and articulate this clearly to the person who will be obtaining quotes from suppliers on your behalf.

When companies contact me for information, I always ask about objectives. That is when confusion becomes evident. Far too often, the person who has been tasked with making the calls doesn’t have a clue. One source of confusion has to do with the word “team building” The terms “team recreation” and “team building” are often misused and treated as if they are interchangeable. They are not.


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

Definitely include some recreational components in team building retreats or sessions. Build in time for dog sledding in Canada, a desert safari in Dubai, an oil rig simulation in Abu Dhabi, abseiling in Oman, or horse riding in Jamaica. Let your team relax and get to know each other as they try something new and different.

Once your team is relaxed, this will likely help team building, business simulations and meetings go much more smoothly. Use an experienced internal or external facilitator to link these experience with your day to day business challenges. Just don’t  confuse recreation or entertainment with team building.

The concern I have is that strictly recreational activities are being used more and more as a substitute for facilitated team building. It’s like taking your team out for dinner and serving them only a light appetizer and dessert.


Team building seeks to enhance team cohesiveness and performance to improve business results. Many team building sessions involve recreation, however, 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

 Phases of Team Building

The phases of effective team building are:

  • pre-session communication to communicate goals, objectives and expectations
  • executive briefing to identify key business issues, communicate your support, and clarify how team building is relevant the business (1 hour)
  • context setting and team briefing by facilitator ( 1 1/2 – 2 hours)
  • recreation (flexible & optional)
  • simulation (3 – 8 hours)
  • debriefing (1 hour)
  • business application exercises (2 hours for prep.,  5 to 15 minutes per group for presentations)
  • business agenda items (flexible)

 2. Clarify your decision-making criteria, process, and timing.

Be prepared to make a decision 1 or 2 weeks after receiving a quote. Delays can increase costs and reduce the likelihood that preferred venues, dates and airline space, and ground transportation will be available.

 3. Match your time frame and your objectives.

Failing to allocate enough time for your desired objectives is one of the main reasons that team building fails.  1/2 a day is fine for strictly recreational events but not team building.

A retreat should be at least 2 1/2 days. However,  3 -4 days would be appropriate if you also want to include more value added activities like:

  •  customer and supplier presentations
  • “real world” project as part of your simulation

Business Team Building:

Example of Team Building with a Real World Project

  • a simulated project that parallels and mirrors your organization’s realities

 Example of Team Building with Simulated Project

 4. Don’t pack the agenda and don’t fail to build in buffers.

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 resentment and generate.

Make allowances for some down time even if it means adding half a day. One of the worst things you can do is take your team to a beautiful location and give them no time to relax and enjoy it.

 5. Start planning WELL  in advance and before you lock in your final dates.

Ideally, you should be contacting suppliers at least 12 to 16 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.

Make sure that your dates aren’t carved in stone until there has been an opportunity to determine the availability of suitable venues.

 6. Brief your executive assistant fully.

Be certain that the person to whom you delegate the task of obtaining quotes from consulting firms and other suppliers is clear about:

  • preferred dates – it is always best to have 2 or 3 options
  • group size, composition and degree of physical fitness
  • other agenda items to be included and time required
  • your objectives (see number 1)
  • timeframe (3 days, 2 days, 1 day, 1/2 day)
  • budget and what it should include

7. Delegate fact finding but NEVER decision making.

As the decision maker, you should ALWAYS have a conversation with the senior facilitator or event planner from the firm with whom you are thinking of doing business. This will ensure that all pertinent information has been communicated and provided. Save delegation of decision-making to a committee for recreational events, company picnics and the annual holiday party. For team building and retreats, decision by  committee should always  be avoided. A committee is great for exploring options and giving input but an executive should always make the final decision based on what is best for the business. Far too often, committees make decision based on what is “fun” or “cool”.  They also tend to blow the budget on expensive hotels when more affordable options are available.

8. Be prepared to make a timely decision.

Far too often, decision making is dragged on and the time for planning and execution is tight. Once you receive all proposals, you should be in a position to make a decision withing 5 – 7 business days.

 9. Don’t fall into a rut. Try something new.

For example, use your team building session to give your team a new perspective. This will foster “out of the box” thinking and help them generate ideas to ensure that your company remains competitive in the global marketplace. To find the budget, maybe have 1 retreat this year instead of 2 or arrange an off-site every other year instead of annually.

10. Set the tone and expectations with pre-communication.

Use an e-mail or carefully crafted communication piece on your intranet to convey objectives, expectations and code of conduct. Stress the importance of attendance for the duration of the session and address areas such as responsible alcohol consumption.

11. Re-think expectations about alcohol consumption and set clear guidelines

For example, if your group is in the habit of having a drunken fest, re-think your approach in the light of:

  • recent court decisions about company liability for accidents caused by intoxicated employees
  • how that would appear to shareholders
  • the impact on your company’s reputation if the press got wind of it

An open bar was never a good idea and now more than ever it is a risky strategy that will leave your company open to potential liability if someone leaves your retreat, drives, gets into an accident, and kills or injures someone.

12. Ensure full attendance by the entire team for the duration of the session.

This may be challenging but it can be done. It is difficult to achieve optimal results when key players are popping in and out of the session. Have each attendee arrange back up and provide a full briefing about some of the situations that are likely to emerge. They should let key customers and suppliers know how long they will be away from the office, when they are returning and who to contact during their absence. Also, avoid putting pressure on the organizers and facilitators. Don’t cut the retreat short or allow people to cut out early until there is closure for all relevant business related items.

 13. Keep your briefing brief.

People have limited attention spans, particularly if there has been a long journey to get to an off-site. A half hour presentation followed by a half an hour for questions is more than sufficient to kick things off. Going overtime, puts pressure on the rest of the agenda and frustrates the members of your team. You can always build more airtime into the agenda during the business portion of your retreat or session when all of the team building is finished.

 14. Arrange for regular checkpoints with the facilitator or event planner and involve him or her in all course corrections.

Discuss how things are going and come up with solutions together if there are any concerns.

 15. Don’t cut the simulation or debriefing short.

Remember, analytical learners won’t “get it” just based on experience. Don’t expect them to “get it”. Expect them to struggle a bit.  They need time to think and process. If you want to be innovative, this will be definition involve taking some members of your team out of their “zone of comfort”. If you panic and cut things short, they will never have an opportunity to get value out of the session.

 16. Follow up, follow up, follow up!

Team building should never be a stand-alone event. Work with your business facilitator to formulate a follow-up strategy.  Encourage the use of the new tools introduced through team building on an ongoing basis. Give each breakout groups a project and have them provide periodic updates in the months following your team building session. In this way, you can boost ROI and ensure that the tools and strategies team members pick up at the retreat are integrated into your day to day business.

Anne Thornley-Brown is the founder and President of  Executive Oasis International, a Toronto based firm that helps executive teams design strategies to survive, thrive and grow even  in the midst of turbulence.

Clients have included Holt Renfrew, Dubai World, Mars Canada, Novo Nordisk Canada, EMD Serono, GlaxoSmithKline Inc GSK (Saudi Arabia), EPICPCS (USA),  Batelco (Bahrain), Reuters (Dubai),  Blue Nile Dairy (Oman), Xerox Canada, OCBC Bank (Malaysia), Royal Bank of Canada, CIBC.

Their services include team building, executive retreats, incentive travel, and team building. Destinations include Canada, Jamaica, Asia (Singapore, Malaysia, Japan), the Middle East (Dubai, Oman), and Egypt.

For information about team building and executive retreats:

Team Building


10 thoughts on “Team Building Guide for Executives

  1. Rachel Page says:

    A cohesive team of employees might be imperative to the success of a business. According to Inc. Magazine, many businesses find high-performing teams critical because “people must work closely together, wear many hats and work effectively across the organization to get tasks accomplished quickly enough to remain competitive.” Because teamwork is so critical to a business’ success, team-building activities are vital.

  2. Pingback: Share Your Team Building Stories! | Sara's Marketing Blog

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