In 2007 a sales manager at a Utah company thought it would be the ultimate in motivation to take his employees outside to a hill, hold one of the staffers down on the ground, put a towel over his face and pour water over the towel. What makes this story weird on several levels are three things. One, what the manager did is known as “waterboarding”, which has been declared an “illegal” torture activity by the U.S. Government (safe to assume that includes Utah). Second, the company was Prosper Inc., which provided leadership coaching classes (I kid you not). Lastly, the demonstration was intended to increase sales production. While you may not make the mistake of waterboarding an employee, here are some tips for fun and effective teambuilding events.
- PICK SOMETHING EVERYONE CAN DO. I was recently reading a local community business magazine which listed some of the teambuilding companies in my area. The small print for one of the companies mentioned that the activity was not for larger people, pregnant women, people with back problems, etc. Imagine gathering your team for this event only to find that two or three can’t participate. If you know that someone will be excluded from participating, that event is eliminated from consideration. If in doubt, check with your team in a way that allows for confidentiality. No one needs to know that Alvin is afraid of heights or tight places.
- WATCH THE EMBARASSMENT FACTOR. This is a challenging tightrope to walk (no pun intended), but you should make the effort. Some competitive events, games, activities, etc. have the possibility of embarrassing participants who don’t perform well. As a facilitator, I tend to avoid any activity that will deliberately embarrass someone for the sake of a making some profound point. Competition is fine, but it must be fun and enlightening for everyone – even for the “losing” team. If you know your team, you should have a feel for their respective comfort zones. The goal is to build comradery, so eliminate anything that contradicts this goal.
- DON’T SKIMP. Plan the best event you can afford. If the event is onsite, make it engaging enough that employees forget they are onsite. If it is offsite, spend the extra money and/or time to make the event unforgettable. It’s like taking your kids to Orlando and going to Joe’s Miniature Golf and Petting Zoo. Whether they say it or not, they are wondering why mom and dad didn’t spring for Disney World. It’s called an “event” for a reason. Your team will be impressed and motivated by your high standards and well planned outing. If you don’t have the budget (been there, done that), don’t call it a teambuilding event. There is nothing wrong with a low-cost thank you lunch, end of quarter celebration, etc. It’s all about managing expectations.
HAVE A PURPOSE. What are the takeaways from the event? It’s perfectly fine to have a fun event with no learning objectives. Otherwise, if your objective is to convey leadership, communication, cooperation, conflict management, etc. then do the necessary preparation or hire a professional. A fun event with a clear lesson will have a lasting impact. You can continue to build on the event, the laughs, and the lessons learned throughout the year.