Team Building Tips

Team Building: Back to a Bottom Line Focus

This team building blog advocates a return to a bottom line and business oriented approach to team building. Why? The team building industry has been “dumbed down” by providers of recreational activities who have been passing off “fun and games” and entertainment as team building. For this reason, this blog zeroes in on strategies that we have used with client organizations in our bottom line oriented team building and executive retreats.

Once you have sampled our innovative team building approaches and tips that we have generously shared through this blog, we hope that you will keep Executive Oasis International in mind the next time your company requires team building or an executive retreat.

Team Building: Getting on the Right Track

The purpose of this blog is to explore strategies to boost the value of team building in terms of ROI. We’ll discuss in detail how to steer clear of each of the misteps that can derail your next team building initiative. Anne Thornley-Brown, our Founder and President, will share some of her own experiences, insights and ideas to help you ensure that your team building sessions are effective and engaging. Finally, we’ll provide assistance to companies with the nuts and bolts of planning team building retreats and sessions.

Our team recently had a number of conversations with similar themes. We’ve combined them into a few of scenarios to highlight some of the situations that inspired the launch of this blog. They illustrate why team building gets derailed. These calls were not from Mom and Pop shoppes but large and successful companies.

Scenario 1:

Caller: I understand that you offer team building and I would like some information.

Executive Oasis: Fabulous, it would be a pleasure. How can I help you?

Caller:  Well, we would like to do some team building for a group of 60 people.  We want to do it in about 2 weeks.

Executive Oasis: Okay, can I ask you a couple of questions?

Caller: Sure.

Executive Oasis:  What are your objectives?

Caller: I am not sure.

Executive Oasis: I see. Well do you have an idea of whether this is to provide your team with an experience that will focus on some business issues or if it is strictly for recreation.

Caller: I am not sure. I think it’s just for fun.

Executive Oasis: About how much time have you set aside for team building?

Caller: I am not sure. A couple of hours I think.

Executive Oasis: Do you have a rough idea of budget?

Caller: We want to spend about $25 per person.

Executive Oasis: Trying really hard not to let our shock show.

       I see.

We let the caller know that her budget was well below anything that we could offer. We then spent some time helping her brainstorm and pointed her in the direction of some recreational facilities that might be suitable for the team and then suggested that she serve the group pizza.

Scenario 2:

A company contacted us to find out about our polo team building sessions. Hint: Polo is NEVER a low budget offering. They were calling less than 2 weeks before their sessions. We went over their needs and let them know how the session could work and pricing. When we didn’t hear from them after a few days, a member of our team called to follow up. They responded that they had decided to have a picnic at Centre Island and play baseball. We  nearly fell off our chairs. Talk about wanting champagne on a beer budget.

Scenario 3

We’ll call this paying for an expensive dessert before the main course. This scenario has happened a number of times but we will share the most extreme example. A member of a team that was planning a corporate retreat contacted us in a panic. They had used up most of their budget booking the group into a high end conference retreat. Little was left over to hire a facilitator or keynote speaker. They wanted to know if we would be willing to work with the group for a fraction of our usual fee to help them meet their budget. The answer was “That will not be possible.”

We suggested other more affordable options for accommodation, nice venues that would fit within their budget and leave enough room for proper facilitator fee. The response was “We really want a treat”. They weren’t even open to the possibility of staying double occupancy to stretch their budget further. We were stunned. We suggested that they find someone who was new to the business and looking to get some experience.

Scenario 4:

This is similar to scenario 3. Again it was a committee of inexperienced employees. They were based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and planning a trip to Penang for a large group of employees and their families. They had requested information about a team building simulation that fit the objectives of the retreat. Eventually, they asked if the 2 day simulation could be cut down to half a day so that the group would have more time to go shopping. Again we were stunned.

So, where did these companies go wrong? Here are a few key areas:

Quick Team Building Tips

These tips are listed in term of the frequency with which we have seen team building derailed because they have been ignored.

The first 3 by far have had the major impact with number 1 leading the pack by miles.

  1. Don’t Confuse Team Building with Team Recreation and Entertainment.
  2. Set a realistic time-frame to achieve your objectives and always leave some wiggle room in your agenda.
  3. Set a Realistic Budget and be prepared to discuss it.
  4. Plan WELL in Advance: Don’t leave your planning until the last minute.
    4b Select your team building supplier before you lock in your dates and Venue.
  5. Provide the Context: Ensure that you give the member of your team who is contacting prospective team building partners all required information.
  6. Clarify your team building objectives.
  7. Ensure that senior management spearheads all team building initiatives.
  8. Set priorities appropriately
    (i.e. An expensive venue is never more important than hiring a skilled facilitator. Allocate your budget accordingly.

Team Building by Executive Oasis International

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48 thoughts on “Team Building Tips

  1. sensally123 says:

    Team building varies in many companies as well as the purpose for it.
    Creative or Traditional, all the focus is on communication Improvement , boosting morale & motivation, strengths and weaknesses, team productivity, most important ice breakers & many more.All have a set method to follow and execute.

    But most preferred & followed is to Create your Own Team Building Activities. This is where you involve Key persons to interact with the team members giving you the quality skill sets that each member possess by carrying out the activities. Ice Breaker is something where you need the creativity of interaction & participation.

    Though team building & team creation are two different things, but both are necessary too.

    Thanks! every one for the share & indeed a nice blog 🙂

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

    Hi Rob:

    Great that you stopped by. Yes Rob and I team up. I also team up with like minded individuals in Dubai, the Caribbean, Jordan, and throughout Asia. When clients want ‘real’ team building in Oman, I pop over there. I do the facilitation and Rob does a fabulous job with really cool activities like GPS challenges in ancient souks, abseiling, off-roading, and orienteering. These activities really round out and flesh out the mountain survival or desert survival team building . When the teams are relaxed through the recreational activities in incredible settings, it helps the facilitated components go much more smoothly.These photos are from a programme Rob and I did together that included facilitated business exercises, recreation in the mountains of Oman and a component that gave back to the community, a village in the mountains of Oman.

    Mountain Team Building - OmanMountain Team Building - OmanMountain Team Building - OmanMountain team building oman

    The challenge as articulated by Rob is clients call and say they want “team building” and when we take the time to probe (which we have to do these days given the confusion in the marketplace) it turns out I would say 90% of the time, they are looking for fun in the sun for a few hours. Those I refer directly to Rob but he is limited in what he can do. Rob and I design a rich 3 day agenda that integrates facilitated business exercises, a chance to really get exposed to the culture and, yes, lots of fun in a unique setting and time and time it gets watered down and chopped to 3 hours of recreation on the beach at the hotel. Rob delivers an incredible experience. Everybody has fun but we both wish we could do more. We are capable of delivering a much more powerful experience but often don’t get the opportunity to do so.

    Oman is such an incredible country with breathtaking mountain vistas, beautiful deserts and the rich green of Salalah during Al Khareef season. Event for team recreation or incentive travel (which often consists of a business meeting and short window for activities), in 3 – 4 hours, it’s impossible to take in the richness that the destination has to offer.

    I wrote a piece over 3 years ago called What’s wrong with this picture? in which I asked:

    Why fly your team halfway across the world just to lie on the beach and get drunk at the bar? You can do that at home. Transform your sales incentive trips into a rich and memorable experience by providing a glimpse into the local history and culture of your incentive travel destinations.

    As a far as I can see, little has changed.

    So, Rob and I make sure that the clients are clear about the difference between team building and team recreation. We also let them know all that the destination has to offer and how much time is realistic to really get full value out of the money they have invested in foreign travel. At the end of the day, if they insist on fun and games for 3 hours, as Rob said, it comes down to deliver what they want. It’s a shame it has to come to that as there is so much more that could be offered.

    Meanwhile, blogs like this one and other similar blogs will hopefully have an influence and eventually more companies will allow people like Rob and I deliver what we are capable of delivering, expertly facilitated business simulations that included compelling recreational components for me or, for Rob, truly memorable recreational activities that give corporate teams an opportunity to truly explore Oman and get insight into the culture. As companies become increasingly multi-cultural, this is vital.

  3. Rob gardner says:

    Hi all, I am one of these companies who supply a range of fun activities for corporate groups in the Sultanate of Oman.

    I work with Anne on projects, we both get very stressed over wasters and a perception that $20 will get you an event….go buy an ice cream and coffee.

    My experience is the same as yours. The person who is enquiring is not a specialist and usually has other roles in the company. Unless they understand the difference; it’s a battle. Even for fun activities they say “ we want to have the whole 250 people enjoy the culture and have a fun time in 3 hours” I do explain getting them moving from a venue will not take a half hour and since Oman is the same size as UK it’s impossible to take in the culture as they want.

    I smile and sell them what they they ask for, go home put the money in the bank.

    What should you do, turn them away; lose the money ? No, have a relationship with me who keeps your commission in the costs and sells them activities and fun times.

    “Want to buy a watch”

    Rob Gardner

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

    I can. A scavenger hunt on its own is a recreational activity. It’s fun, it gets people out of the office and gives team members a chance to get to know each other better. There is nothing wrong with this…but it is team recreation not team building. To transform a corporate scavenger hunt into real team building, one would have to add some challenges aimed at achieving business objectives and facilitated exercises. For example , my company, Executive Oasis International, has embedded into corporate scavenger hunts mystery shopping, interviews with representatives from organization that offer top notch customer service and other business related challenges that are debriefed upon arrival at the final checkpoint. These activities along with the recreational activities upgrades a corporate scavenger hunt and transforms it into a business related exercise that is meaningful but still fun.

  5. A. Fader says:

    This is definitely an interesting blog post, and I think the scenarios outlined have a lot to do with who is charge of organizing team building. Does these individuals understand the purpose of a team building event and how to successfully achieve a positive outcome for both the organization and its employees? That seems to be the question to ask the companies who are seeking team building resources.

    However, I would have to agree with San Diego team building in that it really comes down to teamwork and how effectively colleagues are able to work together to achieve a common goal. Unlike the first paragraph of this post suggests, there is no reason “recreational activities” cannot be used to achieve this, provided they are carried out within the correct context and by certified personnel.

    Something like a corporate scavenger hunt from an organization like is an excellent way to actively foster team building and encourage folks to step outside of their everyday comfort zone. As an added bonus, it also gets your employees out of the office which they’ll love. Who can argue with that?

  6. Jim Greiner says:

    Building and reinforcing teamwork should include specific, real-world communication skills and collaboration models, and should instill a spirit of celebration among the members of the group. This combination of fun and functionality helps to turn a “one off” feel-good experience, into one that has enduring results for each team member, and for the entire group.

    I believe strongly in the cooperative, not competitive, type of team building that I’ve found in cultures worldwide. Thriving communities in traditional societies have developed these teamwork skills and models over thousands of years of trial and error; especially when the choice is to work together or to not survive!

    Thank you for your Blog.

  7. louise danze says:

    Team building is always very important and powerful point that helps to
    any organization’s success. This is excellent and informative post.
    Thanks for sharing.

  8. Team Building Retreats says:

    Team building is always very important and powerful point that helps to any organization’s success. This is excellent and informative post. Thanks for sharing.

  9. hsballcoach says:

    Corporate team building is a very useful and powerful part of keeping any organization working effectively together, as it establishes stronger relationships and reminds others of the importance of cross-departmental communication and focusing on the big picture.

  10. gokartracingca says:

    Team building is a very important factor for growth of the company ..Corporate Team Building Events motivates employees to give their best and perform better.

  11. Phil Nugent says:

    Wow. People really undervalue the importance of team building as well as the price required to have any kind of effective building events. Enjoy your blog and I look forward to checking in for updates, tips etc. Thanks!

  12. rk says:

    Hi Anne

    I Like your corporate Team Building Activities blog. And I am waiting for the more updates from your blog.

  13. Gerard Campbell says:

    Hi Alex,

    That statement is so true. Are you a New Zealander?
    The concept I am trying to sell is struggling, because it is difficult to compell company employees to work well during a course and then take that back to a work environment.

    How do you propose we can realign/ compell the corporate world with ‘smart team building, that affects bottom line results’?

  14. Alex Dail says:

    I find that a lot of companies don’t understand that team building is specific to the industry and corporate culture. It’s not about how well they can trust each other or work together in a recreational setting, but how well these things happen on the job site. As you know great team work at a company picnic softball game does not necessarily transfer to great performance in the work place.

  15. Gerard Campbell says:

    Hi There,

    I recently opened a team recreation and events business in New Zealand.

    We take corporate clients out in rowing eights and then use the rowing club facilities to facilitate expert led discussions. The program runs for 5 weeks (3 hours one day per week).

    The rowing component is led by experienced rowers and the expert shapes the discussions around ‘high performance teams’ and the organisations objectives for the event.

    How much would you expect to pay/ charge for an event of this nature per person?

    (Things to consider: NZ market is quite small, rowing is incredibly team oriented and enjoyable, the discussions are led by university professors and doctors).

  16. James Coakes says:

    Team building or team bonding? In the UK the term team bonding is rarely used because it feels too ‘touchy feely’. The term team building is used as a catch all term with social team bonding at one end (very important) and facilitated team building at the other.

    I think we can get too wrapped up in semantics. The key thing is to have a discussion and make sure that you find out what the client really needs.

    My own experience of the process is that the better team building companies are fairly good at this and clients are increasingly sophisticated and experienced.

  17. Recipe for Success says:

    Very interesting post. I agree that companies that don’t put in the time or the budget to build a stronger team risk suffering consequences in the future.

  18. haidycho says:

    Team building exercises have be used according to the dynamics of the workplace. There has to be a justified reasoning to have a team building exercise. If you are trying to build a stronger bond with your workers, then cater a team building exercise to that. If you do not plan accordingly, then it will be a waste of company time.

  19. Kate Houdin says:

    Great post, and some intersting discussion here too. I agree that a social activity is not terribly productive – and depending on your staff, may not even be that enjoyable (I have worked in many small companies where the staff have been extremely diverse and where any form of social situation seems forced). A team building event with a clear purpose gives everyone something to work towards, and a reason for being there – which, especially when taking place on company time – makes sense.

  20. team building says:

    If you want to deliver team building effectively and you professionally, how can you determine which consulting firm to select? I mean…what should be the basis of identifying a good company?

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

    I definitely agree with you Michele about decision making. Just this week I was discussing with a colleague that decision making seems to be a weak skill set in business today. He suggested that companies really need a consultative decision making process and I felt he had a good point.

    Definitely, some may perceive the tone as negative but that’s okay. Many businesses are badly off track when it comes to using team building effectively and allocating resources. The time for side stepping the issue is long overdue. As far back as 2002 I predicted that this over-emphasis on recreation would eventually have terrible negative consequences for team building firms and companies. Unfortunately, 2 recessions have shown that my concerns were well founded. As predicted, cuts to team building budgets have been very deep. This is one time that I wish I was wrong. 😦

  22. Michele Price says:

    It does sound like there is a lack of basic understanding in accurate descriptions. Which leads me to wonder, if they are unable to “get” something as basic as team building, since google is available on every office computer…where else are the employees missing the proper meaning and descriptions in business?

    Basic research and the skills of negotiation would lead the average person to ask better questions-for example the resort accommodations. That was pure ego and not clear objectives being met for the task , which was to create a learning experience and they were distracting by the bright shiny object of nice accommodations.

    Which again makes me question the decision making capacity of the employees.

    I can see how some would find this piece having a possible negative tone. When people are faced with a problem they seldom want to admit their role. So they label it instead.

    By stating at the onset that there was a problem and you wanted to investigate what problem was should have been enough of an explanation. So I realized that there would be good and bad in the post and expected it.

    Not to sound repetitive, does that go to the ability of making a sound decision as an employee…ok I will get off that horse.

  23. Brent the Ocoee Rafting Guy says:

    As a growing business we (as many of the small businesses I talk to) are experiencing a disconnect between upper management and the employees. I felt that it was a good idea to go to a game and then out for beers to talk and get to know every one a little better. After the game the beers were fun, but don’t think we really accomplished anything. I learned that venue and a solid agenda of ideas is important.

  24. Clark says:

    These scenarios are great in helping to understand these events. Our firm had help from a well-known business coach, in showing us how to organize and re-invent our company culture. We are now much more profitable and happy as an overall team.

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

    My vote is “dumbing down”. Team building can be fun AND help achieve business objectives. There is nothing wrong with corporate socials. They play an important role in promoting corporate health. My concern is that many companies are spending more on fun and games than strategies to improve performance. It’s a clear indicator that they are off track and confusing their mission with that of a country club or recreational centre. A social is never a substitute for real team building.

  26. corporate team building uk says:

    I agree – it is important for employers to have a clear understanding of their team and the challenges that they face. It is very sad that companies will arrange ‘team building days’ without much thought to the team aspect at all – turning it more into a company social than anything work related. Not that there is anything wrong with having a company social day – just that it really shouldnt be classified as ‘team building’…

  27. Greatracesydney says:

    Are team-building companies “dumbing down” the acitivities or are they responding to what the client wants? I personally have seen a large shift in what prospective clients are requesting. All too often we get a request from a corporate group asking for a team building activity but that’s fun. I ask if it’s for a social acitivity or do they have some clear goals they wish to achieve. The answer: ahhh probably just fun. I guess the winning formular is both!

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

    I believe in keeping it real and calling things as I see them. If I feel that some companies are off track, I am definitely going to discuss it. Exploring various issues related to team building including team building planning pitfalls is the focus of this blog. That isn’t going to change. I am sorry that you perceive this as being negative.

    If this post is not your cup of tea, perhaps there are some other posts that may hit the mark. Feel free to also check my Twitter list where the creators of some of the best team building blogs regularly tweet their articles and blog entries:

    Perhaps you can find a blog that is a better fit for you and more in line with your tastes.

  29. disappointed says:

    The negative tone of your post is a huge turnoff. I am attempting to learn about teambuilding and your company’s approach and you are giving me a lecture about how people are clueless about planning and budgeting for a teambuilding for their group event.

  30. Guy Farmer says:

    Great points. It often seems like team building is an afterthought or perhaps organizations don’t yet fully understand what a powerful tool it can be to increase productivity and morale. I’ve also found that it helps improve interpersonal communication and promotes positive behaviors.

  31. John says:

    This is from Wikepedia (Anne’s Note):

    Team building refers to a wide range of activities, usually in a business context, for improving team performance. Team building is pursued via a variety of practices, and can range from simple bonding exercises to complex simulations and multi-day team building retreats designed to develop a team (including group assessment and group-dynamic games), usually falling somewhere in between. It generally sits within the theory and practice of organizational development, but can also be applied to sports teams, school groups, and other contexts. Team building is not to be confused with “team recreation” that consists of activities for teams that are strictly recreational. Teambuilding is an important factor in any environment, its focus is to specialize in bringing out the best in a team to ensure self development, positive communication, leadership skills and the ability to work closely together as a team to problem solve.

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

    In this blog, I have stressed many times that:

    – team socials are important to give team members a chance to get to know each other better
    – recreational outings for teams are important to, let off steam, relieve stress and also to reward top performers

    However, activities that are stictly recreational and social outings are not team building or a replacement for real team building. If a team is having real conflict, simply taking team members for a day of go-karting isn’t going to cut it or produce lasting results.

    Wen I started this blog 2 years ago, I had concerns about where the team building industry was heading. Since then, we have seen a global economic crises yet the demise has continued unabated. Some companies have totally cut team building. Others have replaced it with low cost recreational activities. However, we are getting past the point that companies are just engaging in silly or fluffy activities in the name of team building. Some companies are pushing the envelope. Adrenaline junkies in some corporate boardrooms are starting to put the safety of their people in jeoprady by engaging in extreme sports and risky activities in the name of team building. This was the focus of a recent blog:

    The Height of Stupidity in Team Building
    (Parkour, Tree Jumping, Base Jumping) [VIDEOS]

    People are starting to get hurt. Some companies have been sued. The time to mince words is long past. If this trend continues, team building will soon be permanently removed from the corporate agenda.

    You are entitled to your opinion. I’m sorry that you object to the term “dumbed down” but I believe in calling things as I see them.

  33. Name Withheld says:

    Dumbed down is a pretty unfair description of what team building entails. The activities when having one are done for one reason, that is, to build the team in such a way that it can function to its optimum level and, at the same time, to be able to air out the different concerns to avoid conflicts. All offices should have team buildings from time to time to wile off the stress.

  34. Berry says:

    This sounds so familiar! When clients really want to get their teams working effectively it is possible to achieve so much with activities, but they frequently pass the booking to the PA who oftgen can’;t ask the questions they need to be considering.

  35. Dave Taylor says:

    Employers count on a team of staff to grow the business into a team that is going to make your enterprise successful. Our development days will strengthen those team links; they will also increase employee morale and assist to manage change and are valuable methods to boost confidence and heighten communication – because without good feedback you don’t have a team .

    As an employee you get to be part of something wonderful that helps you grow as an individual and make a more valuable contribution to your team .
    With all professional team development it is essential to be clear about your objectives , which can be worked through with ourselves. Ideally, these aims will tie in to corporate goals, which will influence the type of event you choose.
    Managers, team leaders and team members all have a shared interest in being able to work in an effective team with defined objectives:

    A great team leader will identify the demand to improve their management and communication skills and continue to motivate their workforce;
    A good member will have an appreciation of group structure , problem solving and planning, and where their expert skills can best benefit the success of the group. They also deserve the chance to evaluate and improve their own and team building skills;

    Both managers and personnel will recognise the value in achieving team success by doing rather than reading about it, and are more likely to build on those tasks back in the work place.

  36. Andrew Silberman says:

    Yes, many companies mistake “team building” and team “bonding” exercises which could be going out to a baseball game together or having a drink after work. I often ask clients, “What balance between “fun and functional” are you seeking? Have you noticed any changes in that balance recently?

  37. Melboune Hotels says:

    Team building refers to a wide range of activities, usually in a business context, for improving team performance. Team building is pursued via a variety of practices, and can range from simple bonding exercises to complex simulations and multi-day team building retreats designed to develop a team (including group assessment and group-dynamic games), usually falling somewhere in between. It generally sits within the theory and practice of organizational development, but can also be applied to sports teams, school groups, and other contexts. Team building is not to be confused with “team recreation” that consists of activities for teams that are strictly recreational. Teambuilding is an important factor in any environment, its focus is to specialize in bringing out the best in a team to ensure self development, positive communication, leadership skills and the ability to work closely together as a team to problem solve.

  38. Conference Coordinator says:

    Very nice post..

    You are so right too. I always try to pass that thought process onto not just our own staff but also to the 3rd part teambuilding companies that we call upon. Sometimes these companies themselves have to go back to basics and realise what thier unique services are and how they can actually be more productive for thier clients.

  39. Team Building using citygames says:

    So what you’re saying is companies need to plan a budget, allot time and set up goals in advance.

    Got to keep in mind that for most of them its a first and they can use all the info they can get. If the budget scares them, then that’s that, but at least they’ll know why their sales have to make their targets 😉

  40. San Diego team building says:

    Man is a social being thus he needs to interact with people. Almost every individual has experienced, in one way or another, how it is to work in a group – from his childhood games to wherever he is now earning his living. Unfortunately, not every group succeeds in its objectives or goals. Failure is a possible consequence whenever we get into a challenge. However, we can always avoid this much dreaded “failure” if every member of a group would not fail to use or exercise TEAMWORK. Yes, every group of people must not only work as a GROUP where every individual works for his own advantage, but instead, every one should work as part of a TEAM – where he is working towards a common goal. When these “small contributions” build up, success is hardly unforeseeable.

    How can a person work as part of a TEAM? It’s actually so easy: just remember the word TEAMWORK as a guideline. Also remember that all these should work together – should be there hand in hand from the conception of the team to the achievement of the final goal. No one of these can be enough and can work in isolation to be able to come up with a successful team.

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