The Changing face of Teambuilding

Posted by on January 27, 2010 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

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 I have been involved in the teambuilding industry since 1994 and as a result I often get asked by industry publications if I’d like to write editorial or them.  When I agree, they want to charge me a fee because they feel that my article will constitute “marketing”. 

The real message behind this practice though, is not that they want to charge me for marketing, but they are willing to place anyone’s contribution if they are willing to pay.  Irrespective of the author’s experience and / or standing in the industry. The teambuilding industry has changed dramatically in recent times, in part due to the recession, but for the most part because people have changed along with companies’ expectations of these excursions.

One such publication recently published a “feature” on teambuilding in which the contributors (along with glossy photos and company promotion) claimed that outdoor teambuilding was fast replacing indoor, boardroom-type training sessions.  The same publication ran an almost identical feature about four years ago.  It is naïve to think that in the fast –changing business culture we operate in, teambuilding trends would not also have changed over the last half-decade.


This is a glaring distortion of the current trends in teambuilding.  Companies want to know that the vast amounts of money they spend on teambuilding will reflect on their bottom-line.  In addition, every employee at every company that has ever bought teambuilding has been exposed to the outdoor teambuilding experience.  So why do it again? 

I’m afraid to say that the Teambuilding horse has pretty much bolted from the stable.  In this article I will examine changes in teambuilding from both the buyer and the service provider’s point of view to enable both parties to make better choices.


Teambuilding facilitators must understand that they need to adjust their programmes to fit today’s business culture which is characterized by:

·         Greater employee expectations

·         Greater demands on employee resources

·         Faster than ever turnaround times

·         Tighter budgets

·         Higher employee and customer stress levels

·         A definite focus on individual skills development followed only then by team development

·         A greater degree of skepticism about “teambuilding” and its effectiveness due to the fact that there is no clear distinction among service providers of the difference between team development programmes and corporate recreation.


In the past two years, the teambuilding landscape has changed dramatically, particularly in the following respects:

1.     Buyers are realizing more and more that there is a significant difference between “corporate recreation” (doing fun stuff just for the sake of doing them) and structured team development strategies.  They’re no longer convinced that activities with a 5 minute chat about the activity and teamwork following the activity adds any more value to the event.  If they wanted to have fun, they know they can do it at a fraction of the cost by going bowling or driving their own 4×4’s.  The reality is the clients have wizened up!  Today clients want real, business-related solutions as part of teambuilding.  They want their employees to return to the office not nursing sore muscles but

2.     Participants in teambuilding events have changed.  It’s not that they’ve become more demanding, but they no longer see the point in playing silly games, getting the 4×4 from point A to B, or jumping on oversized jumping castles.  They’ve also become somewhat heavier – I see that in the teams we work with.  People are less active and therefore less willing to participate in high impact activity sessions.  The global fight against obesity and sedentary lifestyles has a definite impact on teambuilding programmes.  Is it realistic to expect office-bound desk-jockeys to endure hours of outdoor activities, to climb trees, 15m high gum poles, ride mountain-bikes etc?  Are there not other, equally powerful metaphors and activities that can be created?

3.     Outcomes have become more important than activities.  Clients want to know what they’re going to learn and how they can take these lessons back to the workplace for immediate implementation.  They want exercises that are inclusive of all team members and that are focused on their particular team focus areas.  They want a bigger focus on “unpacking” activities on order to create better outcomes, rather than do one activity after the other.

4.     Clients want facilitators with business experience.  The days of adventure athletes, Phys. Ed teachers and recreation activity leaders leading team development session are over.  Because of point 3 above, facilitators of team development no longer require a “bakkie and piece of rope”, but rather extensive business background and a large knowledge base of team development strategies that have worked in a number of business-sector situations.  Facilitators therefore need to have a comprehensive research base from which to work.


So, what can team development facilitators and companies selling “teambuilding” take from these trends?

1.     Design outcomes-based programmes.  Fun is not a business outcome.  Neither is “having a good time” and “getting to know each other”.  If these are your outcomes, by all means run your programme.  There is a place for it in the market, but then call it what it is – Corporate Recreation – and NOT teambuilding.

2.     Use / employ facilitators with a strong background in business.  This should be characterized by BOTH experience and ongoing, topical research.  River guides, adventurers, 4×4 instructors, tour guides are just that.  They may be great as task managers / instructors, but they very seldom have the business knowledge, psychological tools and theoretical background to facilitate learning.

3.     De-emphasize the importance of the activities.  Games etc. are merely vehicles and not ends in themselves.  If your activities take up more than 1/3 of your programme content you’re missing the plot.  Any programme that does not include scheduled indoor time will not transfer learning and will not establish recall beyond the activity itself.  The message behind the activity is what really counts.  Not moving 5 tires from point A to C.

4.     Know your “audience” and be flexible when it comes to the exercises and activities you use.  In every other industry we talk about the importance of the client – but in teambuilding, most suppliers try to push every square peg into a round hole under the guise of “you have to move out of your comfort zone to learn”.  Rubbish.  This is just a ploy to sell you physically demanding and time consuming activities because the facilitator doesn’t have enough content to fill the time you’ve booked him / her for!

5.     Re-look at your fees structure.  Why should per person charges come into effect when you’re actually only charging your client for the time you and your co-facilitators spend with the group.  Per person charges are only there to fleece money from your clients. Unless of course your programme relies on using “disposable” resources that you buy per person attending the programme.


I know that these are powerful points to ponder on when looking to buy your next teambuilding programme.  Evaluating your considered service provider is the toughest decision you’ll make – simply because there are so many providers and many of them prey on the lack of distinction between “teambuilding”, “team development” and “corporate recreation”’.

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