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

It’s no secret. The time companies allocate for team building has been shrinking. My company’s approach has been to deliver value and caution readers and prospective clients about the pitfalls of short team building. Yet, the timeframes are getting shorter and shorter. Lately, the most frequent requests have been for 2-hour team building. Even when the initial request is for  1/2 day to 1 day, the agenda gets more and more packed until only 2 hours is left.

I am not going to re-hash why this is a bad idea as have already weighed in on this issue a number of times:

Instead, I will focus on what’s possible and then invite you to weigh in.


Short Team Building: What’s Possible?

When the objective is to deliver team building that leaves participants with real take-aways about business and working together effectively, it’s not easy to find something that fits into a half day, yet alone 2 hours. If 2 hours is really all you have, here are a couple of suggestions.

  1. Dispense with the activities. 
    When the time-frames are short, the temptation is to just have “fun”. There is a time and place for fun but it is not a stand-alone substitute for real team building.  If a team is facing issues, no amount of paintball, painting wine glasses, or drinking wine while painting on canvasses will address and resolve business issues. In fact, this approach could backfire if some team members aren’t athletic of artistically inclined.
  2. agendaFocus instead on one specific issue the team needs to address.
    A skilled facilitator can guide you through the process for achieving this. If team members get a chance to be “heard” and one issue can be resolved, they will leave with much more value than they would get through some contrived activity.
  3. Opt for an Interactive Keynote (60 Minutes – 2 Hours)
    Interactive keynotes  set the context and identify key take-aways. In a 2 hour format, they can include a short team exercise. As long as participants aren’t exhausted from a packed agenda, interactive keynotes can work well over coffee and dessert  or during lunch if you’re tight on time. (No time lost waiting for latecomers.)
  4. Re-think Your Agenda.
    It’s often been said that “the activity is the excuse for the debriefing.” Opt for a short activity and be sure to build the key elements for effective team building into your design.
  • Set the Context (30 – 45 Minutes)
    To ensure that participants don’t dismiss the entire session as a hokey time waster, this is even more important than for longer sessions. Allocate 15 minutes for the most senior executive present to position the session.
  • Instructions, Questions and Practice (15 Minutes)
    Provide clear instructions and give the teams time to digest them. If the group is analytical, they will definitely need time to digest the information, reflect, confer, ask clarifying questions, and confirm understanding before diving in.
  • Interactive exercise, simulation, or game. (30 Minutes to 2 Hours)
    Two hours is tight but, if the timeframe is short and you want the group to walk away with insights or tools that are of real value, it’s pretty well all you have. If you have to opt for a shorter activity, it must be carefully selected so that it hits the mark and dovetails with the objectives. Assign a team leader plus an observer to record team dynamics to each team. Provide an observation sheet. It is a good idea to pre-brief the team leaders and observers the day before the session.

Suggested Activities:

  • For 2 hours: cake decorating, short appetizer challenge, tea sandwiches and scones, toy build for charity
  • For 1/2 day: factory simulations (e.g. slippers, construction, puzzle), Cash Flow board game, puzzle challenge, short urban safari, Lego serious play, equestrian challenges (including roles for team members who are afraid of horses).

Proposed Outline:

  • Debriefing Preparation (15 Minutes)
    Give the teams a few really targeted and specific questions. You’ll have time for 2 questions at the most, so, if you have 6 questions and 6 teams, give the same questions to 2 teams to maximize your time.
  • Break (15 Minutes)
    Always do the debriefing prep. questions before the break or you will lose time waiting for stragglers to return.
  • Debriefing – Focusing on 1 – 2 Specific Learning Points (30 Minutes)
  • Wrap-up. (15 Minutes)
    Keep it short, targeted and focused
  • Buffer (15 Minutes)
    It’s always a good idea to build in a “margin for error” in case you get behind at some point. If you are on schedule, add it to the debriefing.

Timespan: 2 Hours to 4 1/2 Hours

Your Turn

I kept my promise so now it’s your turn. Today, I’ll turn things around and ask:

  • What’s up with the 2-hour team building?
  • Why are team building timeframes shrinking?
  • What value do executives and organizations see in 2-hour team building?

I welcome comments, especially from executives.

Photo Credit: Peter BalcerzakSebastiaan ter Burg

2 thoughts on “Team Building: What’s up with the 2 Hour Team Building?

  1. Mike Aoki says:

    HI Anne, thanks for your great ideas. I especially liked your suggested structure for 2 hour team building. As for why that is happening, it is expensive to gather employees in one spot for one day. As a result, these meetings happen infrequently. As a result of that, the agenda gets filled with announcements and updates from other departments such as Marketing, HR, Training, Admin, etc. So, the time devoted to team building shrinks. Two other factors contribute to this: 1) Organizers do not understand the difference between team building and team recreation. They think painting wine glasses – which is a recreation activity – will automatically contribute to building a better team. 2) They do see a value in team building. After all, last year’s fun paintball “team building” half-day event did not solve communication problems between head office and the local branches. So, they reduce the time spent this year on “team building” to a 2 hour scavenger hunt.

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