How to Make Your Team-bonding Away Days More Results-driven
From rock-climbing in the Scottish Highlands to paintballing in a Hertfordshire forest, ‘corporate away days’ are an integral method of building team spirit, confidence and camaraderie for many British companiesJermaine Haughton
For many years, companies have used a number of low-key activities such as board games or bingo to bring fun to the office, relieve some stress and get employees using their brains to solve different types of puzzles.
Corporate away day activities have taken this approach further, taking employees away from the office into new surroundings, and allowing individuals to gather and enjoy a range of adventurous and playful pursuits in a low-pressure environment.
Some of these adventures cost hundreds of pounds, while others can cost thousands, but can be tailored to the desires of the employer.
Laura Yates from Wish.co.uk, which offers zombie experiences for staff, said: "When it comes to team building days, we find that companies are looking for something completely unique and fun but which also incorporates the core elements of what team building is about.
“So our zombie experiences are a great fit because not only are they a huge adrenaline rush but they throw people out of their comfort zone. The zombie aspect of the experiences really add that sense of escapism.”
At its best, away day team trips will push employees’ skills and abilities in a situation whereby they are away from their comfort zone, allow managers to uncover potential stars among their junior and lower-ranking staff and test out new procedures and ways of working outside of the office.
Bill Low of Love2reward has been organising team-building and motivational away days for years and now offers the service as part of Love2reward’s portfolio.
Low says: “If you’re asking people to think and plan creatively for the next 12 months of business, you can’t do it effectively at your normal place of work, surrounded by the usual distractions, so we take them to a nice, comfortable environment where they can really think. The results we’ve had as a business speak for themselves.”
FROM PLAYTIME TO REAL-TIME
Given the substantial financial costs, effort and time to take your whole team away from the office, many managers are understandably cautious about making sure the team building offsites are not ineffective - as many are.
One of the biggest challenges facing bosses is ensuring the positives built among the team during the away day are still present on the following Monday morning at their work desks, as the sense of unity and cohesion often gets lost once the returning to their office routines.
In other cases, team building activities can have the unintended consequence of bringing out competition and hostility between individuals, creating divides in the workplace.
As Financial Times’ management editor Andrew Hill explained, academic research to date suggests that there is the paradox that many participants judge away days a success, but then fail to turn the ideas aired there into practical changes in the office.
He said: “The academics trained an anthropological lens on the problem. Away days, they suggested, are like “rites of passage”. Off-site workshops separate staff from humdrum office routine and encourage them to dress (“business casual”) and behave (all that game-playing) differently.
“If team members are properly directed and the off-site workshop is well designed, new ideas and emotions surface. Bonds between colleagues are built or reinforced. The rites that create the most lasting impact on participants usually involve a dramatic culminating act, such as with the most emotional moments of a religious ceremony.”
In the Harvard Business Review, New York executive coach Ben Dattner advised that managers create successful away days by adapting the new environment to mimic the pressures and challenges of your workplace.
He said: “It’s helpful to think of offsite meetings as kind of a microcosm, or a “play within a play”, wherein the leader and the team use the stage to rehearse the new dynamics and norms that they want to perform back at the office or take on the road. It’s important to be mindful in scripting your team’s offsite that the same challenges and opportunities that you and your team are facing in general will come to the surface.
“For example, if the goal of the offsite is to encourage all team members to be more participative, it’s helpful for everyone to provide input into the structure and agenda for the meeting, and then to participate at the actual meeting. If the goal is to clarify roles and responsibilities, it’s useful to be very clear about everyone’s roles and responsibilities in preparing for the meeting, as well as during the meeting itself.”
Here are three practical tips all managers can use to help plan an effective away day team building trip:
1. Clearly figure out your goals and objectives from the planned trip
Write down what you aim to achieve from an offsite trip, and map out an agenda that reflects and reinforces those goals. Also, it is important that managers are willing to acknowledge feedback from the team about what goals they want to set for the team building trip.
2. Choose an appropriate environment
Great managers tend to choose a venue that specialises in what they need. Do you want your team based outdoors, or inside in the warm - or a mixture of both? Your answer will once again depend on the goals that you wish your team to meet.
For example, some managers prefer their employees to participate in physical, outdoor activities such as hiking, to make sure staff are removed from the typical working environment and help to bring out individuals’ different sides.
Alternatively, some employers choose more indoor spaces such as large seminar or class rooms, whereby they can focus on testing their staff more acutely on specific skills in a more controlled space. However, both types of spaces require the right props and tools.
If you’re in a conference room, do you have the suitable walls for flip charts, or the right equipment for Powerpoint presentations? If you’re in the park or woods, have you made sure that there are appropriate break-out spaces for staff to congregate?
3. Do some housekeeping
Leaving the office and working with colleagues in a different environment could also bring out less than admirable behaviour in some staff, therefore, managers must ensure that they set the ground rules and communicate their expectation of professionalism while on the trip.
Show your leadership by making sure that everyone knows that the offsite should be a safe space where people can speak up and constructively challenge one another, and you, without any fear of reprisal.
It’s also helpful to pledge confidentiality, meaning that the content of what is said at the offsite is for you and your team alone, and will not get shared with others back at the office - unless the team reaches a consensus about authorising any specific messages or information that will be communicated.