Team Building: Back to Business

Key Ingredients for Effective Team Building

Whenever the economy takes a nosedive or goes into a tailspin, the knee-jerk reaction for many organization is to put all team building initiatives on indefinite hold or scrap them altogether. This is a short-sighted approach that misses the mark. Cutting team building removes the opportunity for organizations to leverage a powerful tool. Expertly facilitated team building can help organizations harness the creative power of their people to generate solutions to business challenges. This is more important than ever during a time of recession or economic turbulence.

8. Team Building Back to Basics: Basic Building Blocks

Integrating team building into meetings
The core elements of business team building are:

  • Clear, specific and measurable objectives that clearly articulate the business results you would like to achieve (For examples, see one of our previous blog entries “Team Building Tips: Clarifying Objectives
  • A briefing by a member of your senior management team so that participants are clear about organizational strengths and the challenges you are attempting to resolve
  • a shared, facilitated experience that introduces your team to new tools, models, and insights (or reviews them to ensure that all team members share a common understanding)
  • a thorough debriefing guided by a professional facilitator to glean key learnings
  • business application exercises to help participants apply what they have learned to the day to day realities of the work environment
  • your business agenda items
  • an implementation strategy and with regular follow-up to ensure that to reinforce the use of the tools and strategies acquired through team building

That’s all you need to produce effective team building.


Anything you add to this is….

  1. a “nice to have” for companies with a healthy bottom line
  2. not a “must have”
  3. and certainly not essential to produce effective team building

The extra add-ons include:

  • outdoor activities
  • recreational team challenges
  • recreational outings
  • entertainment
  • alcoholic beverages
  • an open bar
  • off-site sessions
  • overnight stays at a fancy hotel or resort
  • single occupancy rooms for every member of your team
    (participants won’t be spending much time in their rooms so, when the budget is tight, it won’t kill them to share a room for a night or two)
  • time for shopping

Companies really need to get their priorities straight and, when budgets are tight, get back to basics. It’s similar to the time management principle “put the rocks in first”. Clarify the business objectives and what is required to achieve them. Put that in the budget first. Then, base your choice of hotel, entertainment, dining and recreation on what you can realistically afford.

These elements and opportunities to socialize greatly enhance team bonding and make team building easier but they are not essential for team building. Cash strapped firms can forego them temporarily until some health returns to the bottom line. I will never understand why companies with a tight budget put everything but the facilitator into the budget first and then expect the facilitator to work for 50% or less of their usual consulting fee.

Of course, my bias is that, whenever possible, recreational activities should be incorporated into team building. They give people a chance to relax, get to know each other better and let of steam. It’s not always possible. A professional facilitator can build enough energizers into the agenda to ensure that participants remain active and engaged throughout the session.

By getting back to basics, you can produce effective team building at a fraction of the usual costs, trim your budget and STILL produce desired results in terms of improved organizational performance. This won’t happen if you front end load the budget with expensive frills and leave no room for the most important aspects of team building.

Here are some specific examples of what team buiding that is integrated into meetings looks like:

During a recession, organizations also have the opportunity to:

  • examine their team building practices
  • take stock of their spending
  • eliminate the fluff to save money on a going forward basis
  • re-focus team building on its core essential elements

When it’s essential to pare down your budget, this is the perfect time to gain clarity about the true nature of team building and eliminate some of the fluff and wasteful spending on activities that have been masquerading as team building.

An insightful exercise is to go to Twitter and do a hashtag search for “team building”. Take note of the number of times that the people who are tweeting about “team building” are actually referring to recreational activities, social outings or going out drinking after work. This will give you an idea of the extent to which the term “team building” has become contaminated. There is a serious imbalance in many companies. They operate as if they are country clubs or recreational centres with a mission to provide entertainment for employees. This is really off-track thinking.

We’ve written about this before so we won’t re-hash this theme. However, you may find it helpful to refer to one of our previous blog entries:

When your organization has reached an important milestone or achieve it’s objectives, THAT’S the time to celebrate with a sales incentive trip, corporate event, or social or recreational activity. However, be sure to call your celebration exactly what it is, a team social or team recreation, not team building.

Photo Credit: Nick Bair (Flickr)

Updated: April 13, 2010

It’s great to know that Australian expert Emma Tom agrees with me:

Writing for the Australian, Emma Tom said that recent cases of bizarre team building have hit the headlines, highlighting how activities have become more diverse over the years.

In particular, the writer highlights the case of ABC staff in New South Wales who have been given Lego bricks and told to build their vision of the company’s future, getting prizes of vouchers for doing so.

Staff at the firm were not impressed, with one suggesting that finger-painting and plasticine would be next on the agenda.

Team Building Should go “Back to Basics”

I love it.

11 thoughts on “Team Building: Back to Business

  1. Mark A. Griffin says:

    Great article! Thank you for taking the time to share this information with us. I have worked with many executive teams that really believed that forcing a bunch of people to drink beer and eat chicken wings constituted Team Building! Having clearly defined objectives and linkage to the results you are driving for makes for money well spent. A professional facilitator is also an absolute, I have witnessed many train wrecks when a leader decided to either facilitate on their own, or have an unqualified-biased facilitator manage the meeting. Thank you for a reminder to me of what makes for a successful outcome in regards to Team Building.

  2. michael cardus says:


    I like how you explained that during an economic slower period is a good time to reflect and focus on the team.
    When you have good people and you have time to organize,, reflect, and focus energies that is what can and ought to happen.

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