Team Building: Do you See the Difference?

When hotels get into the “team building” business, is there cause for concern?

When you have finished reading this blog entry, please take a moment to add your comments. I am particularly interested in reading reactions from resort social directors and  members of hotel and resort management teams.

Years ago, one of the top American bleach manufacturers had an interesting TV commercial featuring identical twins dressed in matching outfits.  An announcer asked:

“Do you see a difference?”

The only difference was that each twin had used a different bleach. The announcer’s question reminds me of some of the confusion in the team building industry.

Is everything team building?

We have already explored ad naseum the confusion that has been created due to some recreational and social event companies marketing their services as “team building”.  Hotels have also been getting in on the act. For example, an Australian hotel started marketing X-Box as “team building” for their corporate guests. A company in Canada does the same thing with Wii.  I think that both of these activities are great energizers for breaks but it is misleading for hotels to market playing them as “team building”. Next, thing they will be dusting off the old Ms. Pac Man machines and marketing Pac Man as team building. *




(c) Copyryright Namco – Screenshot of Original Pac Man
Source: Wikipedia (See Copyright Notice)


Are Hotels Going too Far in Their Attempt to Generate Revenue?


Now some hotels are taking things even further. I understand that many hotels experienced a sharp decline in revenue after September, 2008. Luxury hotels were particularly hard hit by the AIG Effect. I have posted entries in my Incentive Travel Blog in support of the hotel sector. Hotels are wise to attempt to generate as much revenue as possible from every guest. However, I believe that some hotels and resorts have taken things too far. They are locking out external service providers by providing services in direct competition with independent consulting and event planning firms.

Some properties in Canada are sending social directors, recreational leaders and sports staff to local community colleges for 1 semester, night school facilitation skills courses. After that, the hotels are putting out their shingle as “team building providers”. Is this also happening in other countries?

Some properties are even branding their services as if they are a bonafide team building consulting firms. Think of it this way. Would any reputable hotel ever send a waiter or hostess for a 1 semester, night school cooking course at a community college and then claim that they had added a professional chef to their staff? That would be highly misleading and it would never happen. Yet some properties are doing precisely that w.r.t. their “team building” offerings. Wouldn’t it be more prudent for hotels to establish non-exclusive, collaborative partnerships with team building consultants and offer clients “the real McCoy”?

Usually, hotels are providing these services well below what an independent consulting firm would have to charge in order to have maintain a viable business. What is of even greater concern is that, at times, some hotels have been known to provide these services at no cost just to win business in a highly competitive market. Hotels can do this. They earn most of their revenue from room reservations, food and beverage and meeting room rental. What they generate from “team building”, recreational programmes and event planning is a bonus. What’s wrong with this picture?


An Apples to Apples Comparison?


Recreational activity leaders and sports staff have many strengths. Their level of energy is typically very high. Most are able to engage groups and keep them active.

My goal is not to put down hotel staff. Quite the contrary. By and large, I have found recreational staff members at most hotels to be intelligent, upbeat and energetic. To excel in their jobs, strong people skills and a positive attitude are a must. In short, they add tremendous value and greatly enhance the experience of business and leisure guests.

Let’s dig a little deeper. In spite of the many strengths that social directors and recreational leaders possess, there are some limitations. What training do social directors or activity leaders require? Some resorts hire high school or college students to round out their event staff during the summer. Some of these students go on to obtain a 2 year community college diploma in recreational leadership. Some don’t. They just keep working at the resort.

 Here are some typical courses from recreational leadership programmes:

  • Introduction to Leisure/Recreation
  • Programme Planning
  • Becoming an Effective Leader
  • Advanced Computers in Recreation/Leisure
  • Parks Areas & Facilities


Some programmes include a 1 semester course in leading teams. It is a very basic course with a focus is on leading team through recreational activities. Certainly, some of the skills are transferable to working with teams in a business context but the course does not prepare graduates to lead business meetings and facilitate business exercises. Some programmes include a 1 semsester course in marketing. Others don’t. There are no finance, accounting, or economics courses. The goal of the programmes is to produce recreational leaders not business leaders. While the training prepares graduate to run really exceptional recreational, social, and sports programmes it provides:

  • no understanding of business
  • no bottom line orientation
  • no understanding of complex and, at times, dysfunctional group and organizational dynamics


Unless they have run independent recreational businesses, a typical recreational activity facilitator will lack business experience. They are able to debrief very simple exercises often using a canned set of questions from a leader’s guide and that’s about it. This may be a good fit for basic leadership programmes for high school students. It is far from adequate for business leaders.

By contrast, a business consultant who is a professional facilitator typically has:

  • a graduate degree (often a business degree)
  • business experience
  • an understanding of the bottom line through accounting, finance, and economics courses
  • in-depth facilitation skills training to diagnose and deal effectively with complex team, group and organizational dynamics


A seasoned business consultant will also bring to the table experience in a variety of industries. He or she will be able to respond “on the fly” not just on the basis of “suggested responses” in a leader’s guide. They will also be able to able to dig deep and draw on rich a storehouse of business examples to help participants bridge between team building and their day-to-day work realities.

Let’s get back to the original question. Yes,  companies should be able to perceive the difference between the skill set of a professional facilitator and  a recreational leader with some basic facilitation skills training. If you’re having difficulty spotting the difference, two of our blog entries may be helpful:

At times, companies can’t perceive a difference and they  base their selection of a team building provider strictly on price.

A Model with Some Promise


In the Middle East, one consulting firm has established team building centres at resorts or next to hotel properties. Is this the shape of things to come?  

This model addresses the quality control issue by bringing easily accessible professional facilitation into the mix.  The downside is that it might lock out professional consulting firms and facilitators who don’t have the budget to construct elaborate structures on hotel properties. Will professional team building consultants eventually become employees of hotels with a serious drop in earning potential? I believe that this is where our profession is heading.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is you get what you pay for. Do you really want to trust your team to someone who:

  • may or may not have completed high school and/or college?
  • may or may not know how to read a financial statement?
  • has spent the last 10 – 15 years running recreational programmes?


If your goal is for your team to have fun and gain 1 or 2 “AHAS” about improving their ability to work together, a programme facilitated by recreational leaders who have upgraded their skils  may fit the bill. If an organization is re-designing their corporate, sales or marketing strategy or dealing with tough business challenges and complex  team dynamics, short debriefs using canned answers simply won’t cut it.

One semster facilitation skills courses do not create professional chefs, business consultants or professional facilitators. Is it misleading for hotels and resorts to create the impression that they are providing full team building services? I believe that it is. What are your thoughts?

* Pac Man is Back! I Have to Eat my Words!

I wrote this on Thursday. Since it’s one of my more controversial pieces, I wasn’t planning to release it until next week as I wanted to get feedback from colleagues and some of my contacts at hotels.

On Friday, in celebration of Pac Man’s 30th anniversary, Google featured Pac Man on its site complete with music and sound effects.

They must have anticipated me. Hillarious. You can actually play the game on Google. I scored 5,200 points on my first try. It’s great fun and it brings back memories…but it’s not team building.

With some of what has been passing for “team buildng” lately. I had some brainwaves when writing this entry. This article was getting long so I continued it in a separate post. Be sure to check out:


Pac Man Screen Shot: Source – Wikipedia This is a screenshot of a non-free copyrighted video game or computer game, and the copyright for it is most likely held by the company or person that developed the game. It is believed that the use of:

  • a limited number of web-resolution screenshots
  • for identification and critical commentary on
  • the computer or video game in question or
  • the copyrighted character(s) or item(s) depicted on the screenshot in question

…..on the English-language Wikipedia, hosted on servers in the United States by the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation,
qualifies as fair use under United States copyright law, as such display does not significantly impede the right of the copyright holder to sell the copyrighted material, is not being used to generate profit in this context, and presents ideas that cannot be exhibited otherwise.

4 thoughts on “Team Building: Do you See the Difference?

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

    Your point is valid. This entry wasn’t scheduled for release until next week. I didn’t get to refine it as much as I had planned. The timing of Pac Man on Google was just too cool to pass up. I wish I had released this the day that I wrote it. It would have been amusing to have my comment about dusting off the Pac Man machines out there before Google’s release.

    I do plan to go back and refine this. Thank you for your input.

  2. Andrew Silberman says:

    You make some really good points. Would be more powerful if more concise or structured to keep those who may not agree with you fully engaged enough to comment, as you’re hoping for!

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