Team Building in Dubai

Team Building in United Arab Emirates
(Dubai, Abu Dhabi)

by Anne Thornley-Brown, President

Executive Oasis International

Recently, there have been a number of articles in Middle Eastern publications highlighting the importance of team building for companies in the United Arab Emirates and other GCC countries. Here are some excerpts:

Arabian Business:

Team-building essential for companies in “challenging” UAE business environment

For businesses to survive substantial challenges in the UAE workplace, team-building events are essential, industry experts have warned.

Two of the biggest problems demanding the attention of team-building activities were the constant creation of new teams and getting team members up to a suitable standard and speed….

Team-building gains post-crisis relevance for GCC firms

More and more companies in the Middle East are seeking assistance with regard to corporate team building solutions, driven by the new post-economic crisis business landscape, a local consulting firm has said.

….two recent surveys, one …revealed that almost half of businesses in the Middle East failed to operate efficiently as a team, thus missing out on chances to improve productivity and profits.

In addition, a survey…. highlighted the ability to be a cooperative, flexible and helpful team player as being the second most attractive quality when hiring new staff.

“Well executed corporate team building programs can benefit firms in the region through improving leadership skills, tackling barriers to efficiency, clearly defining objectives and goals, and enhancing members’ engagement,”

Off-Track Team Building

Facilitated team building can make a significant contribution to corporate performance. Unfortunately, a pattern is emerging in Dubai that is similar to what has taken place in other parts of the world. More and more, the term “team building” is becoming a synonym for “team recreation” and activities that are strictly social.

A typical pattern that is emerging all over the world is that team members are kept cooped up in a meeting room and subjected to a full day of tedious meetings. This involves a succession of talking heads who talk at the group and bore them to death with Powerpoint.

When everyone is too exhausted to care, they are taken for “team building” in the late afternoon or evening. (Translation, some meaningless recreational activity that is totally divorced from the business issues with which the company is grappling.) It doesn’t have to happen. Team building is relatively new in GCC countries. This is the perfect opportunity to emulate best practices and learn from the mistakes of companies in other countries.

I am the President of a Toronto based management consulting firm that offers team building in Dubai and other parts of the world. Our website makes it REALLY clear that we specialize in facilitated business team building that can be delivered on-site or as part of a retreat. We stress the fact that we don’t specialize in short, strictly recreational events for teams. You’d never know this from the requests we receive.

The following scenario is not unique to Dubai but GCC based companies seem to be falling into the same trap as organizations in other parts of the world.

The individuals who contact us on behalf of Dubai based companies indicate that they are interested in team building. When we attempt to clarify goals, objectives, etc., often our primary contact does not have a clue about this information. Eventually, after some probing and exchanging a number of e-mails, it turns out that the majority of requests we receive from the UAE are for 1/2 day or evening recreational outings. I am surprised that, even in this economy after the economic turbulence of the last 2 years, some companies are still spending more money on recreational activities that have no bottom line value than on real team building.

Here is what Arabian Business had to say about this:

Team-building activities: More than just an excuse to escape the office

The word ‘team-building’ can conjour up a wide-range of reactions. For some it is flinching memories of rock climbing or tug-of-war contests, and one renegade international company in the 1980s placed ‘coal walking’ on the internal motivation agenda, only to end up with a few law suits and burnt feet and a singed reputation for the rest of the well-run industry.

Companies are increasingly evolving the use of team-building to reinforce brand values, rather than purely viewing team events as an opportunity to simply have some fun and some respite from the office.

Actually, in many parts of the world, the reverse is true. Team building was, at one time, more business oriented. There has been a steady deterioration into the realm of fluff.

Key Team Building Ingredients

Facilitated team building can be offered on-site or off-site. It involves facilitated sessions for which clear business objectives have been set and incorporates:

  • a briefing by a member of the senior management team that draws clear parallels between the team building simulation and:
    – organizational issues

    – challenges

    -emerging opportunities for growth

  • a shared experience or simulation that is facilitated by a professional facilitator (internal or external)
  • facilitated business exercises in teams or small groups

  • recreational team challenges, outings and excursions interspersed throughout the retreat to energize the group, reflect and flesh out the theme (these are strongly reccommended but optional)

  • a full debriefing to give participants an opportunity to reflect on the significance of the simulation for their day to day business realities

  • business application exercises in which participants apply what they have learned to resolve specific organization issues
  • a business meeting to tie it all together, plan next steps and formulate a follow-up strategy

Value of Team Recreation

I want to stress the fact that there is value in team recreation. Recreational activities can:

  • break the ice
  • provide relief from a stressful or hectic environment
  • help team members to relax
  • pave the way for meaningful team building

I have also observed that facilitated business team building goes more smoothly if some team challenges of a recreational nature are included to help participants interact and collaborate under a non-threatening scenario.

Recreational and social activities are also a great way to thank employees and reward teams for their efforts. Especially in a tough economy, it is important to reward top performers and for teams to celebrate success when key milestones have been reached. Incentive travel, recreation, and social activities are perfect for that, however, they are not team building.

Taking a group on a recreational desert safari is play time. It is not team building. When strictly recreational activities are used as a SUBSTITUTE for facilitated business team building, it’s a placebo…. “snake oil”. It’s like taking your team out for dinner and serving them only a light appetizer and dessert rather than a 3 course meal. It’s like inviting a group to a party and serving them bowls full of icing instead of slices of cake with icing. It’s taking the only part of the process that is an optional “nice to do” and skipping all of the essential ingredients for effective team building. It will have no impact on the bottom line.

Keys to Effective Team Building

Important keys to ensuring that team building produces bottom line value include remembering that:

  • just because a group of group of co-workers participate in an activity together does not make it “team building”
  • activities that are strictly recreational are not team building

Provide the individuals from your team who are tasked with contacting team building consultants with a clear guidelines concerning:

  • goals
  • objectives
  • how much time you need for your own agenda items
  • budget

I’ll close with waht I’ve said before.

Delegate the responsibility for fact-finding but never decision-making.

Give a team of inexperienced employees the authority to make decisions about team building and this will guarantee that you end up with watered down fluff. They will base their decision on what seems like the most “fun” without considering what has an impact on the bottom line. Businesses aren’t country clubs designed in the business of providing entertainment for employees. They are in existense to improve performance, satisfy customer needs and generate a profit. If you keep this in mind and ensure that this is the focus for most of your initiatives that involve teams, your team building in Dubai or anywhere else will be effective.

Examples of UAE Team Building

In Dubai and Abu Dhabi, there are many opportunities for local and foreign companies to engage in real team building that integrates professionally facilitated business exercises with outdoor team challenges and activities. Here are some examples of some of the possibilities for team building in Dubai and Abu Dhabi including video clips of some of the activities that you can enjoy as energizers in between the facilitated business exercises.

After dune bashing, the first activity is a tent pitching challenge which is debriefed to uncover lessons about communication.

The tents are then used to provide cover from the sun during the facilitated business exercises and breakout sessions. Typically, the recreational team challenges are done during the coolest parts of the day.

Quad Biking

Sand Skiing and Sandboarding
(Action starts at 01:00)

This is best as a race or relay once everyone gets the hang of it.

Here is how the activities come together during a full desert safari.

  • The Quest for Black Gold
    An oil rig simulation can be debriefed to draw parallels to the processes of prospecting or hunting for new opportunities when traditional markets are drying up
  • Beach Team Building
    In between the business exercises, this simulation uses team challenges on the beach and boating excursions to keep participants alert, energized and engaged.

It is also possible to offer Beach team building with a “Construction in Dubai” exercise paralleling developments in the Gulf region. The facilitated business exercises and construction component can be offered on the beach or overlooking the Palm Islands where the “real world” scenario is being played out in full view.

  • Mountain Team Building
    Team buildling in the mountain areas reflects the ups and downs of a turbulent economyActivities: Off-Roading in the Mountains, Canyoning, Abseiling, Orienteering Treasure Hunt in a Souk, Souk Shopping Challenge, Fire Starter Challenge, Cooking Challenge

This English video about rock climbing in Dubai has Arabic sub-titles:

Ausflug zu den Hatta Pools Teil 3 von 3 sm

Since our client base is international, from time to time, we will have videos in other languages. This one, is in German covers the journey from Abu Dhabi to Hatta Pools where mountaineering and canyoning can be enjoyed as part of a team building session.

  • Visexecutaries: Seizing Opportunities in Our Shifting Corporate Landscape
    Coaching skills can be honed through a simulation in which the members of your team coach small business owners in a souk. (We offered this Apprentice team building with a coaching project in Egypt for sales executives from Saudi Arabia. We can just as easily offer it in Dubai.)
  • Luxury Car Events
    Add a professional facilitator to any luxury car package in the UAE. Team members can explore the dynamics of operating in a fast-paced environment during team building retreats that combine facilitated business exercises with F1 or, opening in November, 2010, Ferrari World events & activities.

More Information About Dubai & Abu Dhabi

If you’ve never been to Dubai or Abu Dhabi, be sure to check out our other blogs and our website for more information:



In this brief video in Arabic with English sub-titles, a Dubai resident talks about the changes he has seen in Dubai:

More information about effective team building:

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.

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