Team Building: Top 10 Team Building Pitfalls

Team Building Pitfalls: How to Avoid De-railing
Your Next Team Building Session

by Anne Thornley-Brown, President, Executive Oasis International

We started publishing this blog in 2008. We haven’t seen these pitfalls disappear. The only difference is that, as we predicted, many companies have cut team building. Groups are much smaller, time frames shorter and budgets lower.

Biggest Pitfall: BY FAR, this is the biggest team building pitfall we have seen so we’re giving it headline status and covering it before we even start our countdown:

Using team recreation as a substitute for team building.


To ensure that you get value from the time and money invested in team building retreats and initiatives, here are some important pitfalls for companies to avoid.

  • 1. Failing to allocate enough time for your session, especially if your group is highly analytical or their are introverts in the group.

Analytical learners and introverts need thinking and processing and thinking time as well as more time to debrief and apply what they have learned during the session to your specific business challenges. Cut debriefing short and analytical learners and introverts will leave feeling frustrated and that the session was a waste of time. “What was that?” will be a frequent comment on your feedback forms.

Impact: Team Building: What’s up with the 2 Hour Team Building?

Solution: Team Building Tips: Setting a Realistic Timeframe

  • 2. Not Leaving enough wiggle room in your agenda.

Buses and planes can be delayed, exercises can take longer than anticipated, participants can become fatigued and require an extra break, an extra debriefing session may be needed. If the agenda is packed, there is no margin for error and the inevitable unforeseen circumstances.

Impact: One Day Team Building Pitfalls

30 Minute Debriefs” What’s up with That

Solution: Team Building Tips: Setting a Realistic Timeframe

  • 3. Setting an unrealistic budget and failing to allocate it appropriately

Solution: Team Building Tips: Set A Realistic Budget

Team Building Tips: Set a Realistic Budget (Part 2)

  • 4. Failing to allocate sufficient time for planning

There is no way that you can expect to pull off an effective team building session or corporate retreat if 1 – 2 weeks prior to the session you are just contacting vendors

Solution: Team Building Tips: Plan Well in Advance

  • 5. Not giving people enough downtime.

The best way to frustrate any group is to take them to a gorgeous resort and give them absolutely no free time to enjoy the facilities.

Solution: Build in an extra half day by scheduling your departure for the evening (after an early dinner). That way you build in extra time in case you are behind and you also give people can have some time to re-charge their batteries instead of returning to work exhausted.

End your session with a dinner or have a substantial afternoon tea around 4:00 so that you can end later than scheduled. Alert the group in advance that this is your back-up plan in case of delays.

  • 6. Scheduling your session to end on a the day before your weekend (Friday in North America, Thursday in some Muslim countries.)

Like it or not, focus will become a challenge as the day wears on and there will be pressure from participants to end early so that they can start their weekend.

  • 7. Choosing your venue before you have determined the content of your team building session and selected your facilitator.

Many times, the venue is selected and all kinds of adjustments need to be made because it is not an optimal location for the planned activities and content.

  • 8. Failing to stay near where you intend to play.

Do you plan to include recreational activities in your team building retreat? It makes no sense to select a hotel that is 2 hours away from the location for your activities. There is absolutely nothing wrong with spending the first night at a location close to where your recreational activities will take place and moving to your main hotel after. It will add variety to the itinerary and cut down on participant frustration.

  • 9. Not factoring in the impact of weather or allowing extra time to get to your venue.

If you’re going to Toronto in January, Jamaica in October, or Malaysia in June you might run into some travel delays due to weather. It makes sense to have your group arrive the evening before or to extend your stay by an extra half day just in case of delays in traffic.

  • 10. Failing to have an emergency plan.

This could consist of having a first aid kit on hand, providing taxi chits for teams engaged in activities in an urban setting, paying for a doctor to be on hand for the day if your itinerary includes extreme activities like abseiling, ensuring that every team has a cell phone and that all team leaders and facilitators have a number to call in case of emergencies.

Important Bonus:

  • Not scheduling checkpoints with your facilitator or involving your facilitator in problem solving.

If some people aren’t “getting it”, bring this to the facilitator’s attention. An extra debriefing session and Q&A session can be inserted into the agenda at anytime. The worst thing you could do is make a decision to “pull the plug” or shrink the time for the rest of the agenda. That virtually guarantees that there will be no opportunity to tie up loose ends and that some participants will leave confused and dissatisfied.

Avoiding these pitfalls can greatly increase the likelihood of success for your next team building session or retreat.

For More Information:

The following entries will help you avoid these and other team building pitfalls:

Executive Oasis International, a Toronto based consulting firm, helps organizations succeed even in the midst of turbulence. Core specialties include facilitated team building retreats and business simulations. Their simulations integrate facilitated business exercises with outdoor and indoor team challenges. Featured destinations include Canada, USA, Jamaica, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Oman, Egypt, Japan, Singapore, & Malaysia.

Visit Executive Oasis International Website

Now that you have sampled our innovative team building approaches through this blog, we hope that you will keep Executive Oasis International in mind the next time your company requires team building, an executive retreat or on-site consulting to boost the effectiveness of your teams.

Request a Team Building Quote Today

Photo Credit: Dean Shereski

15 thoughts on “Team Building: Top 10 Team Building Pitfalls

  1. Mark says:

    I would also add “not focusing on inclusion”. So many team building events fail to involve everyone, for example, by choosing activities that are only enjoyed by a proportion of participants.

  2. Guy Farmer says:

    Great ideas. I’ve also found it helpful to facilitate team building activities on an ongoing basis. A one-time event helps people feel great but it’s the continuous work on underlying thoughts and behaviors that make a big difference in the long run.

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

    I’ve clarified the differences in detail here:

    Here I have identified the basic elements that are needed to create effective team building:

    Just to go over some highlights:

    Team building takes a team through a shared experience and uses that experience to introduce new tools and strategies that can be used to improve team and business performance. Drawing parallels between the simulation and the work environment are key and debriefing to mine the experience for valuable “takeaways” to bring back to the work environment are key.

    Recreational activities are strictly for fun. It’s a way for team members to relax, get to know each other better and let off steam. Some team members find these types of activities motivational. Others consider recreational outings with co-workers to be “command performances” and find them annoying.

    Motivational sessions get a group inspired and pumped up. Sometimes, participants leave the session on a high but without any specific business tools or strategies to transfer to the real world.

    Motivational sessions and recreational activities are often incorporated into team building retreats but they are not a substitute for facilitated business team building.

    A motivational speaker is an excellent way of ending a team building retreat. After participants have acquired some tools and strategies to take back to work with them, a really good motivational speaker can go the extra step and get the group excited to implement what they learned and put their newly acquired skills into practice.

    I once used Pinball Clemons to end a retreat for a client. He was absolutely phenomenol. He connected with each participant on a very personal level. When the group left they had shared a range of experiences, facilitated business exercises, recreation, a business meeting, and an outstanding motivational speaker who really got them fired up and ready to put their new plans into action.

    An analogy I like to use is a meal. One would never take someone out to dinner and try to pass off appetizers, dessert and after dinner minutes as a full meal. That is equivalent to what companies do when they try to pass off strictly recreational activities or motivational talks as “team building”.

    At Executive Oasis International, our bias is that team building should integrate “the fun factor” so we do build this into all of our facilitated team building simulations. Some simulatons include outdoor activities:

    Survival Team Building (Toronto, Jamaica, Dubai, Oman, Malaysia, Singapore)

    others include cooking challenges:

    Restaurant Inc.: A Facilitated Cooking Team Building Simulation

    and others include projects that the team can complete together

    Visexecutaries: Seizing Opportunities in Our Shifting Corporate Landscape

    All of them integrate the fun factor and combine facilitated business exercises with activities and team challenges.

  4. laragan says:

    I’m curious to know how you’d differentiate between ‘real team building’ and ‘motivational activities’

  5. Tony Dovale says:

    Thanks for your valuable team building activities info. I agree with most of your point and would offer the following ideas re team building events.

    1 Don’t confuse REAL team building Process with Motivational activites for groups.
    2. Look at Appreciative Inquiry as a methodology for real team building events that have sustainable results.

    Thanks for your efforts.


    Tony Dovale

  6. Lee-Anne Ragan says:

    Great list. I’d also add being laser clear about your objectives. Teambuilding with folks who already know each other and get along quite well is vastly different from teams who are new and/or are in conflict.
    Lee-Anne Ragan, RPS Inc.

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