Team building has a bad reputation. That’s a big part of why I founded my company, TrivWorks, in the first place back in 2009. Like you, I was made to participate in many a forced employee bonding activity – most of which felt contrived, cheesy, and of dubious effectiveness fostering group cohesion.
Let’s be honest, most of these events suck.
Whenever people look on the meeting or retreat agenda and see the placeholder “Team Building Activity” or similar, the disdain on their faces is palpable. Will we be doing the dreaded “trust falls,” or building something lame together? Have they brought in an “expert” to guide us through some sort of dumb pseudo-science nonsense followed by a futile exercise we’re going to go through the motions with, until they hopefully release us someplace with an open bar?
I’ve spent the past 15+ years developing programs for professional audiences of all industries, sizes and geographic locations with this in mind. I really put my heart into this, to make sure that the experience is meaningful, impactful and fun. But if you’re the one planning this event, there’s plenty you can do, either intentionally or not, to ensure that it is anything BUT that.
Here’s 6 ways to guarantee your program is a surefire flop:
1. Bring Amateurs In to Lead It
In my previous blog post, I wrote about how low the bar for entry is to becoming a professional corporate trivia host for team building or company entertainment. The fact is, there’s plenty of dollars companies are willing to spend on “soft skills” and whatnot, if it means boosting productivity and revenue as a result. As such, there’s plenty of so-called “experts” out there as well, all of whom are happy to accept those dollars.
This really is true for any type of group bonding “pro,” because how on Earth do you become an “expert” at this? Who’s got a relevant degree, certification or license which qualifies him/her to take a group of employees and make them work better together in one sitting? In my case, I took a winding yet relevant route which I believe qualifies me do to this – plus since I specialize exclusively in team building trivia for company events, this further boldens my creds to claim myself an expert in this niche area.
But believe me this: if you’re bringing in an unqualified “pro” to lead your event, you’re courting disaster. If the person’s got little to no corporate experience, if they lack professionalism, can’t run an event, have poor stage presence or just plain don’t know what the heck they’re doing, it’s going to be a failure. And can you guess who everyone’s going to blame? You guessed it…you!
2. Choose the Wrong Activity for Your Group
Whichever activity you choose to promote team bonding has got to be the right fit for your audience. Yes, it’s a good idea to take people out of their element and put them in an unfamiliar setting – however, you know your people better than anyone. Will this squad of introverted programmers really enjoy spending an afternoon in a “rage room,” smashing mason jars with sledgehammers while Nine Inch Nails blares through the speakers?
Well…actually, maybe. I don’t know!
The point is, you really do need to use your best judgement here. One thing I can assure you is that if you choose the WRONG activity for this bunch, if it’s something that doesn’t resonate with most if not all attendees, then you’re again setting yourself up for failure. Ask around, or informally poll folks via Email in advance if you have to. But whatever you do, don’t just pick something that “sounds good,” or that you personally would enjoy doing, without seeing if the rest of the team would also be onboard. If they’re not into it, they are NOT going to have a good time – and what’s worse, they’ll resent you for “forcing” them to do something.
Here’s another article I wrote about choosing activities which you may find useful.
3. Wait Until the Last Minute to Announce It
You want your event to be well-attended, and that means giving your colleagues enough time to put it on their calendars. If you decide spur of the moment to add a team building event to the calendar tomorrow, several things will happen.
First, you’re not going to get the attendance you’re looking for. Even if you make it mandatory (which I’m on the fence with), you’re still going to have plenty of people who can’t attend due to prior commitments, other work duties etc., and you’re just going to upset a lot of people unnecessarily.
Second, you’re going to make people feel disrespected, that you don’t value their time. You want to give attendees ample notice so that they can plan their work and personal schedules accordingly, so that they can not only be there, but be there stress-free (or as stress-free as one can be, I suppose).
Unless it’s something absolutely AMAZING – think Hamilton tickets for example, or a TrivWorks trivia event – if you drop a last-minute program on your team, you’re going to wind up upsetting people more than motivating them to work better together. I mean, they’ll bond over how upset they are at the situation, but is that really what you want?
4. Don’t Put Any Thought Into Team Breakdown
This activity is an opportunity to give select groups of people a chance to interact and engage in ways which they ordinarily wouldn’t at the office. Why squander it by not putting a little effort into deciding who’s going to be with who? Do you have existing work groups and you’re looking to strengthen bonds? Are there folks who don’t know each other at all, and you want to use this as a chance to get them talking? Are there colleagues who haven’t been getting along so well lately, and this would be a good chance for them to let their hair down and show another side of themselves?
I’m not saying it would be a COMPLETE disaster to not break the teams down in advance – in fact, at both my in-person and virtual company trivia parties we often let folks self-select their groups, or simply team up with whomever they’re seated with. But if you truly want them to get the most out of what’s supposed to be a high-impact experience, then you as the organizer have a chance to do that by thinking about who’s on which team and why.
5. Don’t Have Any Goals in Mind
You must, must, must have clear goals in mind when executing a team building event. It doesn’t matter what that goal is: better communication, more collaboration, integrating new hires, easing the transition of a department merger, etc. Without understanding WHY you’re running the event, you can’t possibly know what will make it effective, or what to expect as a successful result.
If you don’t have your goals clearly identified and defined upfront, you’re basically just holding an event for your group, and hoping it somehow pays off in the long run. That’s not good business. True, a fun shared experience is a great way to boost morale. However, if you’re just holding the event for the sake of holding it, because the company does something “team build-y” every year, because another department or company is doing it and so should you, that’s a crap shoot. You could produce an experience everyone enjoys, but that doesn’t address any specific goals which will improve collaboration or efficiency, or make the company more money at the end of the day. (Click here to read one of my earlier blog posts exploring the topic of goals).
6. Don’t Put Your Heart Into It
Everybody’s busy. We’d all like to dial it in when planning events that aren’t part of our day-to-day work responsibilities. However, if you don’t give your event the time, thought and attention it deserves, you’re going to wind up with a garbage experience.
As a professional trivia team building expert, I pride myself on delivering a turnkey experience for my clients. But even so, it’s not like the person planning signs the contract, and just has to show up. To make for a truly successful event, you need to put your heart into it. Embrace fully that this is a unique opportunity to better your team, to improve workflow, to boost morale, to foster bonds and make the workplace better. Because if you don’t it will show – even if it’s an event I’M producing.
People know when their event organizer has put some passion behind their function, and when they’re simply putting it in neutral. If your colleagues are taking time out of THEIR busy workdays, or giving you an evening they would otherwise be spending at home with their families, they will know if you haven’t put any care into the program. Believe me, they’re not going to appreciate it.
The mere fact that you’re investing the time, energy and resources into creating a company group bonding activity at all is huge, and you should feel really good about that. But you still need to make sure that your event is well-received, that there’s a lasting impact which will resonate long after everybody leaves. Avoid the above six common pitfalls, and you will be well on your way to creating a team building event for your company which WILL make a difference!
For another relevant article, Forbes magazine has published “14 Unhelpful Elements That Can Destroy Team-Building Activities”