Winter Team Building in Toronto….or Near You, if it’s Snowing team building

By Anne Thornley-Brown, MBA, President of Executive Oasis International

Last winter, I had a playful on-line interchange with David Jacobson, Founder/Producer of TrivWorks, after he posted:

David’s advice was “stay indoors”. I pointed out that winter team building incorporating outdoor activities can be great fun if groups take the right steps to keep warm and stay safe.

This year, Canada has experienced record snowfalls. A few days ago, record shattering blizzards also hit the Mid-West and southern US states where it usually doesn’t snow (e.g. Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee).

Snow Opens the Door for Winter Team Building

The snow is great news for companies in the Toronto (GTA) area where I am based as recent winters have been increasingly mild. For years, my company let clients know that they would have to go North of Barrie to be guaranteed enough snow for dog sledding and snowshoeing. That boundary has crept further North to the point that, in recent years, we have been advising clients to head to Haliburton or risk not having enough snow for winter team building.

Now that the snow is back, people in a much wider area of North America can experience the fun of winter team building for the first time. For some, it may be a once in a lifetime opportunity.

First a word of caution. If you are not used to working in a winter environment, get expert help from a team building firm that specializes in winter team building retreats. They will provide instructions to make sure that everyone is safe and no one gets frostbite. The staff will include outdoor recreation specialists with experience in safely conducting winter activities …..this is a must. Physical challenges must be identified and accommodated for any team building with outdoor components.

What does winter team building look like?

Winter Team Building = Indoor, facilitated team building with winter themed exercises + outdoor, winter team recreation

Here is how to pull winter team building together:

  1. Select your business theme and core messages.Through winter team building, companies can explore a number of business themes including:
    • jumpstarting corporate performance…just like we have to jumpstart cars sometimes in the winter
    • dealing with change and uncertainty…like an unexpected snowfall
    • re-inventing yourself (e.g. identifying new uses for your products and services…think post-it notes)
    • heading into uncharted territory…like an freak snow storm
    • thriving in a harsh or uncertain economic climate
    • cross-functional communication and teamwork
    • breaking down silos – it’s like breaking the ice
    • adapting to a changing business climate
    • tapping into new target markets
    • unthawing frozen markets
    • tolerance of ambiguity
    • risk-taking

    The possibilities are endless.

  2. Pick your winter theme. Winter themes can include winter survival, winter Olympics, snow polo, a winter in Narnia, winter carnival, and even the Jamaican Winter Olympics team (since Jamaican athletes have competed in bob-sleigh and skicross events at the Winter Olympics and the Jamaica Dogsled Team has competed at Iditarod.
  1. team.building.Toronto.jpgSave on décor by selecting a venue with a view of the snow. Venues like chalets, mountain lodges, greenhouses, or glass house are perfect. Any venue with a large picture window will work well. Fireplaces add a soothing ambiance.
  1. Add winter themed graphics and photos to slides and handouts.
  1. For energizers, use video footage or music videos with winter scenes.
  1. Customize your menu with winter dishes. Even menus can reflect a winter theme. For example, Arctic charr, winter greens, Alaskan king crab, Chinook salmon, and baked Alaska come immediately to mind. Soups including French onion soup, stews, chowders, game meats, tourtière, crepes, and pancakes with Canadian maple syrup are also excellent choices.
  1. Add a multi-cultural flavour. For example, select a winter in Switzerland theme and serve raclette, cheese fondue, and chocolate fondue. Winter festivals are popular in Japan so, for a Yuki Matsuri theme, add sushi, crabs and scallops to your menu. Serve Sapporo Beer (named after the location of the largest Japanese winter festival) during down time.
  1. Customize the facilitated, business team building exercises. Teams can use mind maps or idea chains to select names related to winter. If you’re introducing a group to force field analysis, use a hockey or broomball theme and have the group complete the force fields on worksheets with miniature hockey or broomball rinks. Introduce storyboards by having the group create a winter TV commercial.
  1. the group outdoors for winter team bonding activities. Outdoor team challenges can be a lot of fun if you provide instructions so that participants dress warmly. Even if dogsledding and sleigh rides are not available in your area, activities can include:
    • ice hockey
    • broomball
    • firestarter challenge
    • ice scuplting challenges
    • gymkana games (equestrian)
    • snowshoe relays and obstacle courses
    • snowboarding challenges (substitute lessons for beginners)
    • ski and cross country races (substitute lessons for beginners)
    • toasting marshmallows or making bannock over an open fire
    • quinzhee or igloo construction challenge….some participants will want to spend a night in them
    • gourmet cooking challenges with game meats and winter dishes (indoors)
    • or even snowman challenges if your budget is low
  2. Debrief the experience. In the winter, I like to call it defrosting. To ensure that participants understand the links between their experience and their day to day work environment, have mini-debriefs a couple of times a day and a full debriefing when the faciliated exercises and outdoor activities are over.
  1. Link winter team building back to business with business application exercises. Re-configure teams and give each team a specific business issue to analyze with the new tools and strategies they’ve picked up through the simulation.

With the right planning and preparation, corporate groups can derive great benefit from expertly facilitated winter team building. For companies in areas where it usually doesn’t snow, the bonus is that it’s an opportunity to provide a truly unique spin on traditional team building and give team members a chance to cross more items off their bucket lists.

Anne.Thornley.Brown.jpgAnne Thornley-Brown, MBA, is the President of Executive Oasis International, a management consulting firm specializing in team building in Toronto. Executive Oasis International has worked with companies from 16 countries and offered team building in 13 countries including Canada, USA, United Arab Emirates, Jamaica, Singapore, and Malaysia. They have a solid track record in designing and facilitating winter team building

Anne is a highly respected blogger who rights for Cvent Blog and Huffington Post Canada. She personally manages @executiveoasis for her company which regularly hits the list of the top 100 Twitter users in Toronto.

Follow Executive Oasis International on Facebook.

Leave a Comment