Design Team Building Events that are Authentic, Purposeful and Fun

January 28, 2019

We’ve all been to corporate team building events that brought us closer with colleagues and reinvigorated our teams to work toward our common goals. Then we’ve been to others that fall flat, appearing “lame” or a waste of valuable professional or personal time. When corporations develop team building events, it often falls primarily on the event planner to ensure the experience is positive.

Start with the Basics

Karla Singson, CEO of PREP - PR, Events and Promotions, says effective team building events have three basic ingredients.

“They should be good for fostering teamwork and friendship, efficient, and fun,” she said.

Hana April Chughtai, CEO of MOD 22, added that effective team building events have multiple components to engage, entice and encourage guests throughout the experience.

“The event should not feel forced, but have a genuinely exciting aspect that will build involvement and generate effective team building practices together,” she explained.  

Brent Turner, SVP, strategy and technology at Cramer, said “High-performing teams share common characteristics: they have authentic brands, tell stories, imprint themselves on environments, rally around ambassadors, and do work together.

He added, “These characteristics are translatable into a five-factor framework that can be used for designing holistic team building events.”

Don’t Forget to Have Fun

Planners all say that incorporating fun is critical for team building events to reach management’s goals.

Leigh Long, head of marketing at XD Agency, said that fun and productivity are in no way mutually exclusive.

“Corporate team building events that are fun — that attendees are excited about, before, during and after they attend — are the ones that are most likely to achieve management’s goals,” she explained.

She continued, “The key is delivering fun that’s purposeful. A game of laser tag certainly could be considered fun, but to what purpose? When an event is designed with a clear purpose in mind — and every element of that event is designed in service of that purpose — it’s designed for success.”

Chughtai said that ideally the experience should feel natural, making staff forget that they are participating in a mandatory team building event.  

“This will help with problem-solving on the workforce, create a comfortable environment for people to voice their concerns, and boost company morale,” she said.

Jaclyn Glatzer, senior account director at Summit Group: FNB, pointed out that nothing is worse than forced fun.

“Management needs to understand that everyone’s personalities are different—some people like to observe and some people like to jump right in,” she said.

Glatzer continued, “I recommend never requiring someone do a specific task. Presence is always mandatory, but participation can be optional in order to strike the balance between breaking someone out of their comfort zone and making them uncomfortable.”

Know Your Audience

Incorporating the right “fun” requires a combination of creativity and psychology.

Chughtai encouraged planners to focus on nontraditional and nostalgic ideas. 

“Nontraditional team building events, such as a cooking "Chopped" style competition or an "Escape Room" can be fun and not feel ordinary,” she said. “Nostalgic games like capture the flag and dodgeball complete with throwback food and music work well too.”

Long said that it’s critical to know your audience to make the event feel worth their time. What would be unforgettably impactful to some groups would generate an eyeroll from others.

“Know their demographics, but also consider how well your employees know each other before the experience begins, what level of camaraderie they share, and what the general feeling about the workplace is,” she advised.

Karen Shackman of Shackman Associates New York recommended getting attendees’ feedback on ideas that they would enjoy the most.

“Something like virtual reality can provide attendees with a taste of what is possible,” she added.

Turner noted that when most businesses think of team building events, they take the word “building” to heart.

“Their focus quickly turns to activities – from discussions to workshops to adventures to games – for the attendees,” he said. “Yet, activities are only one element of what makes great teams and should only be one element of what goes into a great team building event.”

Creativity is Possible with Any Budget

Finally, budget is a key element that can affect the success of a team building event.

On budget, Glazter is a proponent of transparency.

“I don’t think hiding the budget suits anyone,” she said. “Work with vendors to understand what you’re working with because they often have more creative ideas since they do it every day.”

She also added a fun budgeting tip.

“I always take 10-20 percent off the top of the budget and plan to that,” she said. “The remaining 10-20 percent I save for at-event decisions like keeping the band longer or allowing people a second chance at jumping off a platform. These things can make the event, and you want to be in a position to say yes.”

Long noted that it’s important to define the budget, include allowances for surprises along the way, and rigorously track spending in real-time.

“It can be useful to prioritize event elements as well, so that if the time comes for cutbacks, you know right away what can be reined in and what is absolutely critical to the event’s success,” she added.

Shackman believes the best way to control costs is to keep the event mobile and tech-driven.

“There are multiple apps that can help with these kinds of events,” she said. “Planners should utilize a local DMC that understands how to make these events run on budget.”

Build Connections

Regardless of the experience created or money spent, event planners must mitigate the idea that team building is a burden — whether occurring beyond office hours or during business hours where people can feel it takes away from “getting my job done.”

Chughtai advises team building event planners to not be afraid to jump outside the box to execute ideas.

“That is the best way to develop motivating, exciting events and keep employees excited to work with your company,” she said.

Team building events that are driven by purpose, have a clear sense of the audience and involve creative ideas that feel authentic and natural will ultimately achieve the desired outcome — a more connected team that is engaged and excited to deliver results.

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Partner Voices

Business success — you may think it’s all about the bottom line, but savvy CEOs like those at Apple, Starbucks and IKEA know otherwise. Although profits play a big role, it’s also important for companies to be socially responsible by considering their impact on the environment, their local economy and their customers. One way that companies can practice corporate social responsibility (CSR) is by incorporating it into company events.