Effective Team Building: 8 Essential Elements for Executives

8 Essential Executive Elements for Effective Team Building

Over the years, I’ve noticed that when certain elements are missing, team building is less than effective. Definitely, an effort is made to include each and every one of these elements for every team building initiative. Unfortunately, many clients are totally resistant to including some or all of these elements. Comments that provide insight into the reasons for this resistance would be greatly appreciated. It’s puzzling. Why invest money in team building and then doom it to less than optimal results?

Essential Elements for Designing Effective Team Building

  1. Short conference call or meeting with CEO.
    This is essential to pinpoint goals, objectives, expectations, and corporate challenges.
    If this step is skipped, you risk having the CEO turn up, find the session you designed is not what s/he was looking first. At best you’ll be scrambling to make last-minute changes. At worst, s/he’ll simply cut team building short. Participants will be left with all kinds of loose ends and you will be left looking totally incompetent.

  2. Participant Profiles.
    Without input from participants about what they know and don’t know, you risk being criticized for pitching to the wrong level or having your session dismissed as irrelevant “fluff”
    Participant profiles will help you identify participants needs, issues and concerns. A well designed profile will also help you pinpoint the tools, models and strategies with which the group is already familiar.

  3. Full or Mini-Learning Styles SurveyWithout an understanding of the learning styles of the group you risk missing the mark by designing a team building session that is too analytical or too out of the box for participants. Learning styles surveys will help you identify the most relevant exercises and facilitation methods.
  4. Content outline reviewed and signed off by the CEO.
    Again, you want no surprises.

  5. Kick things off with a CEO briefing.
    This short presentation communicates how the team building session (or sales meeting) is directly relevant to the meeting.

  6. Checkpoint survey completed by participants at the end of the first half day and day.
    End of session feedback forms provide no opportunity for improvement. You can’t “fix” a session when it’s over.
    The information from checkpoint surveys will make course correction possible.

  7. Checkpoint meeting with CEO and corporate contact at end of first day (or half day for a full day session).
    If you’re missing the mark, the sooner you know it and can undertake course correction, the better.

  8. Allow sufficient time for debriefing and application exercises.
    Cut it short and analytical learners simply will not have enough time to process what they have learned.Debriefing requires 1 hour at minimum. Application exercises require 1 – 3 hours.

Schedule this to take place immediately after the session or it may never happen.

Identify take-aways, next steps and follow-up strategies.

Including these elements will require a total of 40 – 60 minutes from the CEO (i.e. about 20 – 30 minutes with the CEO before the session, 10 – 15 minutes during the session and 10 – 15 minutes immediately after). Any CEO who is not prepared to invest this much time to ensure to drive team building and ensure that it is effective is simply not serious about it. When this level of commitment is missing, there is a high likelihood that team building will be ineffective.


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11 thoughts on “Effective Team Building: 8 Essential Elements for Executives

  1. Forum Retreat says:

    Amazing post! all are these very important and essential elements that depends on team building success and helps to raise the progress rate. Anyway thanks for the well informative share.

  2. Anne Thornley-Brown, M.B.A. @executiveoasis says:

    It’s never about the facilitator refers to what should drive decisions about event design. It’s never about the facilitator’s preferences and pet approaches (we all have them). It is about what will achieve results as articulated by the CEO and what will engage participants.

    As I said, different strokes for different folks. There is no one size fits all approach, however, including or excluding certain elements in the design and planning process does have an impact on whether or not the initiative will succeed.

    Just curious if you collect no information up front about the approaches that are likely to be well received by a group of participants, how do you recover if you start out, for example, with a very creative approach and it bombs? I just can’t afford to take that risk. As they say, you get once chance to make a first impression.

  3. michael cardus says:

    We agree on a great deal of this.
    The facilitator comment came from a response to Terry “It is never about the facilitator, it is about the participants!”
    It is more discussion like this amongst professionals who will listen have a positive and passionate discourse and work to continually raise the bar of our industry. The only way be improve is through discussion and learning. Plus understanding that ‘our way’ does not necessarily mean the ‘right way’. We can learn and improve each other.

  4. Anne Thornley-Brown, M.B.A. @executiveoasis says:

    I never meant for a second to imply that the facilitator is not important. I’m not sure where that impression is coming from.

    Absolutely, there is no way that learning styles can or should drive an entire programme. Insight into the learning styles of the group can be helpful in making certain decisions about approaches that will be a good fit (e.g. degree of creativity the group can tolerate, amount of structure, detail facts and figures they are going to expect, whether they have a tolerance for longer presentations or have short attention span, even whether or not they will appreciate music). Even a decision about whether or not to use Powerpoint must be made with a knowledge of group preferences. Suppose a facilitator designs their presentation around Powerpoint and then turns out only to find out that it’s a huge turn-off for the majority of the audience. This happened to me once when I worked with a team of young executives. I have added a question about Powerpoint to participant profiles. Trust me, I would have preferred to know about this ahead of time. It was very uncomfortable.

    I recently worked with a small executive team that had zero tolerance for fluff (not that I consider energizers and music to be fluff….the point is that they did.) So I modified my approach and it was simply meat and potatoes. Lots of content, facts and figures, targeted exercises and more breaks when fatigue or attention spans were getting shorter in the afternoon. Sure I missed using some of my favourite energizers but they would not have worked with this group. At the end of the day it’s not what I like that counts. It’s what will achieve the objectives as articulated by the CEO and what the group will respond. I needed to know this upfront, going in. Without insight into the group’s preferences, I could have turned them off very quickly with some of the approaches I typically use.

    Where we seem to be in disagreement is the importance of participant input and engagement. I have found it to be extremely important. It doesn’t mean that they have to 100% like everything or find the experience fun. (Yes I blogged about that today and I will add that link when it goes live tomorrow….What is the role of fun in Corporate Events). Participants definitely do need to perceive it as relevant and not just a re-hash of what they already know. I am not clairvoyant and must determine all of this upfront.

    Perhaps groups will cut White male facilitators a bit more slack if they miss the mark on the first few attempts. I don’t have that luxury so I do spend extra time in planning and preparing upfront to avoid a train wreck.

    I can only speak based on my experience as a facilitator and and observations as a participant. I have found that when the ingredients I listed in the blog entry are missing, there is a high liklihood that team buidling sessions will miss the mark, IMHO. If you have found strategies that work for you, then stick with them. Different strokes for different folks.

  5. michael cardus says:

    Anne I agree you saw a difference, I am not disputing that.
    But the difference may be because you put more thoughtful planning and program development to better motivate the participants to absorb the content. Which comes back to my comment on how the facilitator DOES MATTER.
    I am also familiar with learning styles and through experience, whether doing a learning assessment, due diligence on my planning and discussions with the Execs + participants, or are able to adjust in real-time to what is working – does not prove that learning styles should drive our entire program.
    Like you wrote in the article, and I am changing the wording some…the creation of a team-building program is a team-building program in itself. Working with the CEO to get buy-in, understanding the company and peoples culture makes the program work.
    You as the facilitator are being judged and evaluated by EVERYONE to see if and how you deliver the results. You must know what is expected, have the time to deliver, AND have the competence to deliver the goods. People may not ‘enjoy the program’ and if the results come from the program that is sufficient evidence to show the CEO and other companies that you are competent + exceptional.

  6. Anne Thornley-Brown, M.B.A. @executiveoasis says:

    I’ve seen that report too Michael and read the conclusion:

    “We conclude therefore, that at present, there is no adequate evidence base to justify incorporating learning-styles assessments into general educational practice.”

    I don’t buy it though. I notice a huge difference in results when I have a reading on the group in advance and design the session with a view to accommodating learning styles preferences. It’s night and day.

  7. michael cardus says:

    Wow, great response and wonderful use of citations to prove your point. You obviously know what you are talking about. I agree with many of your points and yes participant engagement is important. My comment was meant to explore the business case behind the purpose of team building. Anne put a great emphasis on the need of the CEO to be involved in the planning and desired outcomes of the program. Plus, I don’t fully agree that “it is never about the facilitator” we are paid for our skill in facilitation. If that was totally true then what would make a company choose you over any other facilitator? Your competence in your job and skill sets, makes the time about you and how you deliver the results to the team and company. I am familiar with much of the research you mentioned. With your learning styles and participant learning style research, you may want to read ( http://www.psychologicalscience.org/journals/pspi/PSPI_9_3.pdf ) Learning Styles Concepts & Evidence. I will let you read for yourself one snippet that I find great – “We conclude therefore, that at present, there is no adequate evidence base to justify incorporating learning-styles assessments into general educational practice.”
    My point about the ‘Decision Maker’ ultimately being a deciding factor and generating results. Here is a short example – I facilitated a 6 month managerial-leadership process for 25 VP level managers. Following a lengthy discussion with the CEO we developed clear objectives and business results that She wanted to see at the end of the 6 months. The CEO + CFO are paying and they wanted business results. After my first meeting with the VP’s many of them were ‘upset and didn’t have time for such a large commitment’ plus several other things that had very little to do with me and more to do with their reaction. At the end of the 6 months, when I sat with the CEO + CFO we looked at the reports and metrics they wanted the business results on and I delivered. Many of these were soft and hard skills, BUT they were all measurable based upon current metrics they had within their org. plus 360 feedback and interviews, etc… At the end 2 of the 25 were still angry about the training and let the CEO + CFO know. BUT these 2 delivered the greatest return. That is what I meant, the people don’t have to LOVE the team building, in reality a percentage will hate anything you do. What matters is did you leave, facilitate whatever you call it – the results that were expected and that you promised.

  8. Terry Murray says:


    With all due respect, I couldn’t disagree more with your perspective towards authentic team building. “The CEO or whoever is paying for it” misses the entire intention of cultivating a fully engaged, supportive, and cohesive team. You cannot generate lasting, productive cohesion without the input of the people experiencing the team building exercise. Without this alignment, feedback, and level of inclusion they’re just going through the motions.

    Without the complete buy-in and commitment of leadership, it will ring hollow and actually result in greater degrees of disengagement that are endemic in corporate settings (Gallup ~ only 29% of employees feel any passion or commitment to the organization they work for today). Leadership, culture, strategy, and intention must all be aligned for any initiative to resonate in the hearts and minds of associates. Take away a single element, and the exercise is futile.

    Without participant assessment and complete engagement, on an emotional as well as cognitive level, it’s just another repetition of the foolish, ungrounded and misaligned team building exercises of the last century. The research from Applied Behavioral Economics supports this perspective. A research study published in the Harvard Business Review clearly stated that companies that engage both their associates and their customers on an emotional and cognitive level enjoy a 240% improvement in financial performance.

    Facilitators facilitate…they do not dictate nor are they the “sage of the stage” Another recently published study, from physicists at three universities over a twenty year period demonstrated that traditional approaches to dominant teaching methodologies only improved comprehensive application of the presented materials by 14%.

    Facilitators create and hold the space for individual exploration and connection that is critical to the creative process and authentic relationships to emerge that are truly inclusive. Ignoring the learning styles of individual adults is moot. David Kolb proved this in the late 1980’s at MIT (now at Case-Western). Kolb’s research resulted in the Learning Style Inventory. Different people learn in different manners, yet all can be facilitated in a mindful manner if you understand their orientation going into the team building exercise.

    When we consider that the IBM Global CEO Survey of 2010 identified the single most important leadership competency CEOs are looking for in the next generation of leaders is creativity and the ability to cultivate creativity throughout the organization, the factor of inclusion and team cohesion cannot be tossed aside. Creativity is the driving force in value creation in the 21st century. Creativity emerges through the genuine engagement, respectful communication, and alignment of cohesive teams of knowledge workers….regardless of the industry.

    In fact, the most compelling, peer-reviewed research emerging in the field of corporate creativity is emerging from Turkey, India, and Pakistan. What’s most fascinating is that it is being conducted in old world industrial settings…those of steel manufacturing, etc. Not high tech industries like biotech, nanotech, information technology, etc.

    It is never about the facilitator, it is about the participants!

  9. Anne Thornley-Brown, M.B.A. @executiveoasis says:

    Yes language and examples can be adjusted on the fly. Handouts slides and exercises for which detailed insructions have been written into the handouts can’t. I would rahter know the level and style that I will encounter. If the group is conservative and highly analytical, I want the opportunity to do deep research and include a lot of facts, figures and detailed analysis this can’t be done on the fly. Even the choice of energizers is driven by the participant learning styles. I would rather have no surprises.

    The participant profiles are important so that if, for example, 90% of the participants are familair with Force Field Analysis, I would like to know this up front and substitute content that will be new and perceived as value added.

    This is of course my bias and how I have found I can deliver effective results.

  10. Michael Cardus says:

    While these are great idea, the input from the CEO or whoevers budget is paying for this is important. The participants may not like Teambuilding if you can generate results that is what matters.
    I don’t agree about the need for participant assessments. Any facilitator who is competent in this trade ought to be able to use their judgment and adjust the level, language and discussions to match what the team is reacting to.

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