1-Day Team Building Pitfalls

One Day Team Building – Is it Enough?

by Anne Thornley-Brown, President
Executive Oasis International

As the owner of a Toronto based team building and consulting firm, the number of requests we get for 1-day team building sessions astonishes me. Next to a lack of clarity about the difference between team building and team recreation, a timeframe that is too short to deliver desired outcomes is one of the biggest team building pitfalls. Perhaps these requests for short sessions should not be surprising. From coffee to fast food to Internet connections, this is an era of instant everything. We are frequently given a short timeframe to submit proposals and customize delivery. There are also frequent requests for sessions of one day or less. There seems to be a perception that a push a button and out pops an effective team building session approach can work.

Typically, we respond by clarifying the service we offer. We explain that we provide fully facilitated business team building sessions that are relevant to an organization`s business issues and challenges of our client. We stress the fact that, in order to deliver optimal results, it’s important to build the following ingredients into team building sessions.

  • Excutive Briefing (1 Hour)
    To identify the goals and objectives of the team building session and the specific business issues it is intended to address
  • Interactive Presentation (1 Hour)
    To explore in depth some of the factors that have contributed to the changing corporate landscape, business trends, and the links between the team building simulation and organizational/industry realities.
  • Team Orientation & Instructions (1/2 Hour)
    This is a minimum. Analytical learners need time to think, process, and ask clarifying questions.
  • Simulation
  • Debriefing Preparation (1/2 Hour)
  • Debriefing (1 Hour)

Add in an hour for lunch and 30 minutes for breaks and we are already at 6 Hours. Add in:

  • Business Application Exercises (2 Hours)
    (these should be considered a must have rather than a nice to have)

…and you are already at 8 hours. In a typical 8:30 – 5:00 day, That leaves a hardly adequate 30 minutes for a team building simulation and no time for any recreational team challenges.

So we encourage companies to allocate 2 – 3 days for team building….but the requests for 1-Day sessions keep coming. Why do we discourage this?

Pitfalls of One day Team Building Sessions

Scenario: A US based IT firm contacted a team building firm in New York and requested a facilitated business team building session that included an Amazing Race style session with a combination of “fun” stops and experiences that would help the participants (executives) gain more insight into industry trends. This was to be followed by a cooking team building chalenge.

The firm submitted a proposal for an optimal timeframe. This was trimmed back to half a day and a few hours in the evening. When more agenda items were added, the start time was pushed back to 2:00 after a 30 minute lunch. The executive briefing was incorporated into the business meeting, the Interactive Presentation, Orientation and Instructions were collapsed to 40 minutes. The race activity consisted of 2 stops in different parts of the city and interviews with business leaders. When they re-asssembled, teams had an opportunity to present the results of their interviews. The cooking got condensed to 1 1/2 hours.

The Result?

  • Participants felt the instructions were not clear.
  • The debriefing ended up consisting of a 10 minute disussion in small groups. This was due to the fact that the most senior executive was called away to a meeting and 30 minutes had to be carved out of the time allocated for team building for a group photo.
  • Participants were exhausted and frustrated.
  • The facilitator was perceived as ineffective
  • The consulting firm made a decision to decline all future opportunities for business in which the timeframe was less than optimal.

What do you think?

  • Was this the right decision?
  • Should the consulting firm have declined the business opportunity in the first place?
  • Is it possible ever to deliver team building in a one day timeframe or less?

There are no easy answers or quick fixes, Like it or not, companies will continue to request short team building sessions.

One Day Team Building – Delivery Options

Is it possible to deliver effective team building in one day? The short answer to that question is no. It is impossible to deliver a fully fleshed out team building simulation with all of the ingredients required for a fully effective team building initiative. Something has to give. What steps can be taken to deliver effective team building despite shorter and shorter lead times for planning and increasingly condensed timeframes for delivery? Here are few ideas.

Executive Briefing, Full Orientation, Short simulation, Full Debriefng

You can expect to jumpstart your team building process. No business application exercises or recreational team challenges will be possible. Leaving out the business application exercise is like going to a meal and enjoying the appetizer, soup and dessert but leaving out the main course. It’s incomplete but when the timeframe for delivery is unrealistic, it’s hard to fit them in. If business application exercises are omitted, it’s vital to either arrange follow-up sessions (virtual or face-to-face) with the facilitator or the onus will be on the organization to ensure that an effective follow-up strategy is designed and executed. As a stand alone, isolated event, the impact will be minimal.

You will be the need to extend the day by providing a substantial afternoon tea or a dinner. The simulation will have to be really engaging and interactive to ensure that the group maintains a high energy level. If you have a lot of smokers, be prepared to build in more frequent or longer breaks. What will the session look like?

  • 8:30 Excutive Briefing (1/2 Hour)
    To identify the goals and objectives of the team building session and the specific business issues it is intended to address
  • 9:00 Interactive Presentation (1 Hour)
    To explore in depth some of the factors that have contributed to the changing corporate landscape, business trends, and the links between the team building simulation and organizational/industry realities.
  • 10:00 Snack
  • 10:15 Team Orientation & Instructions (1/2 Hour)
    Don’t expect to shorten this component if you want to have any hope of providing participants with a clear briefing.
  • 10:45 Simulation (4 Hours)
  • 12:45 Lunch (1 Hour)
  • 1:45 Simulation Continues
  • 3:45 Snack (or longer afternoon tea if dinner is not to be provided
  • 4:00 Debriefing Preparation (1/2 Hour)
  • 4:30 Debriefing (1 Hour)
  • 5:30 Feedback
  • 6:00 Dinner
  • Optional: Light and upbeat evening recreational activity or entertainment to fit your theme
  • End no later than 9:00 PM

Although we would prefer to offer a longer session with all components, Executive Oasis International has some simulations that will fit into this timeframe.

Simulations that are possible in 1 day:

These clips were taken from a 2 1/2 day session that included outdoor team challenges. They demonstrate how the right setting can create an environment that reflects your theme even if there just isn’t the time to venture outdoors.

Brief Orientation, Short simulation, Short, Focused Debriefing

Eagle’s Flight, an Ontario based consulting firm has a number of upbeat, targeted and highly effective simulations for large groups that can be completed in a 2 – 3 hour timeframe. Examples include Redline Racing, Coral Banks Construction Company, Jungle Fire, and Windjammer™.
The orientation and debriefing need to be highly focused and business application exercises will not be possible in that timeframe. Also, the executive team will need to do a really good job of setting the stage prior to the simulation so that the analytical learners in the audience get the point.

Re-Engineering Corporate Meetings

Of course, there is a better way. Companies always have the option of re-engineering meetings to carve out more time for full team building sessions. For ideas about how to do this, you are invited to use any of the ideas and strategies suggested in my recent feature in The Tough Guide to Corporate Survival for Executives:

Executive Corporate Meeting Re-Engineering Guide

Other options would be to:

  • offer one longer sessions once a year rather than short, fragmented sessions a few times a year
  • Break the session down into modules. Deliver 1 day to get started and follow-up modules every week or every other week.

Please add your comments and let us know how any of the strategies in this article or the Tough Guide feature worked for you. Please also add your own ideas about how companies can carve out more time for team building that is truly effective.

16 thoughts on “1-Day Team Building Pitfalls

  1. Guy Farmer says:

    Great points Anne. It’s virtually impossible to conduct an effective team building program in one day. Like any type of training, team building takes time for people to learn new behaviors and practice them. Successful team building programs benefit from long-term buy-in from leadership and continuous reinforcement so it becomes the new way of doing things in the workplace.

  2. Tim Stark says:

    Great post! Perhaps those seeking one-day events are more interested in getting people to interact and solve relatively simple problems hoping this will carry over into the team’s daily interaction. Unfortunately, quick fixes seldom solve the real issues.

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

    Thanks Michael. You nailed it “what gives?” Companies will continue to ask for 1 day, 1/2 day and even 2 hour sessions and we will all continue to be challenged to think outside the box and come up with a strategy for for balancing the content delivery, experiential nature of the session and, yes, the fun factor. Content has to be pared down based on what’s realistic rather than what’s ideal. It’s a tall order.

    One of the main pitfalls of the 1 day or even half day format is that there is no margin for error. One mis-step such as the group arriving late, the business meeting before you running overtime, someone getting sick or, as in the scenario in the blog entry, time has to be carved out for something else at the last moment, and it can be just about impossible to get on-track. We’ve all been there.

    Thank you for stopping by. I hope that more facilitators and also corporate executives will add their comments so that, together, we can figure out how to make these scenarios win-win for all parties involved.

  4. michael cardus says:

    very nice and explorative post.
    Leading programs in one day or less are generally just recreation and time for the group to spend and get to know each other better.
    And as you mentioned – with specific content focus that is properly narrowed 1 day to a half day can be accomplished.
    The challenge is always what gives? The Experiential piece or the content.

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