Stop and think for a moment – what are the best teams you’ve seen throughout your life? Whether your mind goes to sports, business, or community involvement, there’s always one common trait in successful teams – Trust.


As with many things in life, trust is hard to gain and easy to lose. As planners, we are often asked to help speed up the process of fostering trust in the workplace by, coordinating a team-building event.


Did your stomach just drop? Did you just get goose bumps?  If so, you’re not alone – team-building events is a perennial bane of many an employee.


But, why are team-building events so often disliked? Setting aside the horror stories, many well-intentioned team-building events run aground for one of two reasons: 1) they offer no connection to the organization’s daily function and purpose, or 2) are foisted upon people with little sensitivity to participants as individuals (and in worst-case scenarios, both of these characteristics are present).


This is too bad, because team-building events, when planned and executed well, can improve workplace morale and overall productivity. Employees feel more connected, an organization’s goals are clarified and communication is improved.


So how do you ensure you’re getting the most out of your team-building event? Here are some tips to make sure you are minimizing the eye rolls at your next meeting or retreat.


  • Build the event around your core mission or purpose. The more integrated the event with the final product, the more successful you’ll be. A team-building retreat should build upon your company’s culture, not be an attempt to turn it around.  Thoughtful planning that always ties back to the organization’s mission is far easier said than done.  Keeping this in mind …


  • Plan the retreat collaboratively.  Dictating the agenda to attendees kind of defeats the purpose. While it’s important to keep in-sight the overarching goals while planning, soliciting input from your expected attendees goes a long way.  Consider forming an employee committee, with members selected democratically by your company’s various departments, to plan the event to ensure thorough representation.


  • Approach competitive events with care. Outdoor activities like rock climbing and zip lining can be the perfect fit for the right group. But pitting people against each other in games like paint ball can go awry, opening the gate for the expression of latent hostilities. All competitions, including non-physical ones, such as cooking competitions, should be carefully and competently facilitated to keep the focus on fun and collaboration and avoid fostering ill will.


That doesn’t mean you can’t have any activities incorporated – in the cooking example, have each group be responsible for once aspect of the meal (appetizer, dessert, salad, etc.) so there isn’t room for direct comparison. For athletic activities, take out the scoring or timing aspect of it and focus on obstacles that require an entire team to work together to proceed.


  • Respect the introverts.  Some people thrive on group interaction. For many others, however, it’s draining. Build some downtime into your retreat to let attendees recharge, and find ways to integrate introspective reflection into the day.
  • Keep team numbers tight. We host regular team-building retreats at Kalahari, and one thing we’ve learned is that smaller groups are optimal. We encourage planners to divide large groups into teams of no more than two dozen people (ideally even fewer). Otherwise, people get lost in the crowd or get bored while they stand around for long periods of time waiting to participate in the activity.


  • Set clear goals and objectives. Employees want to know how they’ll benefit, and management should be able to track against outlined goals that can be assessed and followed up on after the event. As each team building effort is introduced or completed, take the extra time to tie it back to the day-to-day relationships attendees have in the work place.


What are the most successful team-building activities you’ve seen?