21 August 2014

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Getting it Together


Teambuilding has come a long way since the raftbuilding days of old. Natalie Curant uncovers the latest ways to make friends and influence people

Teambuilding - IMG_4670resize.jpgBudgets may have tightened over the past couple of years, but tougher times have taught us a lot about the importance of a cohesive team unit, not just in terms of maintaining productivity, but retention of staff and general morale. Leaner times have also shown us that ‘teambuilding’ is not shorthand for an off site jolly. If the budget is used wisely, it can move beyond relationship building, into the development of real practical abilities. Increasingly, companies are using teambuilding budgets to cultivate specific skills as well as putting employees in real-life situations in community projects and charity work. ‘Clients want a measurable return to justify spending, so stitching a skill or training into an event works, and means the team really engages with it,’ says Steve Prosser, owner of ATP Events.
However, this more focused approach doesn’t stifle creative thinking. Far from it. In 2010, new ideas are springing up to incorporate learning, training and fun, meaning instead that, as Prosser adds, ‘Death by PowerPoint is over.’ As event suppliers become more creative, a second generation of teambuilding is evolving. New trends are emerging, taking team activities far beyond the days of raftbuilding. These days, suppliers are examining the needs of each client and meeting them with an arsenal of mental and physical tasks designed to make the most of the budget.

Novelty Value

If it’s general rapport-building rather than a specific skill you’re looking to cultivate, a memorable shared experience will bring a group together, particularly if it’s an activity or event that’s new to everyone.
The first rule of successful teambuilding is to present manageable challenges without alienating participants. So if you’ve got a group of mixed ages and abilities, don’t book them in for a day’s mountaineering, only to find out too late that you’ve got novice rock-climbers in the team. You’re looking to build confidence in individuals as well as the group as a whole, so by choosing an activity that no one has done before, a mixed group starts on pretty even footing, and pulls together as a team.
You can also add new angles to popular activities. Go-karting might not hold the same thrill as it did ten years ago, but Mithril Racing offers blindfolded driving and navigation challenges to hone communication skills. The Corporate Ski Company  offers dog sledding, mini winter Olympics, igloo-building and curling as well good old skiing and snowboarding.
Learning an unusual skill such as sword fighting or military combat (tel: 01420 588275, squaremeal.co.uk/cavendish) might seem far removed from the office, but a good teambuilding supplier will find ways to cultivate relevant skills. Movie Creation (tel: 01773 766050), for example, offers a day of film-making where teams direct, stage and perform a different scene, improving communication and technical ability. ‘During the event we constantly refer back to the business and demonstrate how the skills being learned can be used in the office,’ says Karen Hanley, business development manager at teambuilding and events consultancy Pearlcatchers.


Teambuilding - qualifications - DSC_0221.jpgAlthough it is important for teams to simply bond, teambuilding now needs another dimension to justify the expenditure of time and money. If you’re smart about it, you can choose courses that culminate in qualifications that are relevant in the workplace, incorporating the learning into a teambuilding experience that encourage participants to have fun and bond together. As more companies are requesting this, more options are becoming available.
Perhaps your team entertains a lot? Block-booking a WSET-endorsed wine course, such as a day’s course with Early Harvest, (tel: 01933 225980) enriches inter-personal relationships as well as individual wine knowledge, and each team member comes home with a WSET certificate.
First aid is a must-have in the workplace, so how about getting your team HSE qualified while on a day out of the office? Tailor Made Training UK (tel: 01684 773279) can build the qualification into a day of other activities, such as paintballing from £310.
Sundial Group offers a day’s course, resulting in the Teambuilding with Teamscapes certificate. During the day, workplace scenarios are simulated and new approaches learned and tested. This is recognised at an NVQ Level 1 and is available from £50pp.
Employees will also appreciate learning a skill that they can use out of the office. Beginners’ certificates in sailing are achievable in a day – contact the Royal Yachting Association (tel: 023 8060 4100) which organises teambuilding days where everyone gets an RYA beginner’s certificate, or try EMG (tel: 0845 074 2626), which offers RYA packages from £225pp. During Sea Survival Experience with the RNLI (tel: 0845 122 6999) teams get a taster of the training that lifeboat crews undergo and end the day with certificates and a thoroughly well-deserved hearty meal.

Taking Responsibility

Teambuilding - BMF_3_Peaks_2009.jpgIn a climate where corporates are taking social responsibility seriously, it makes sense to combine teambuilding with outreach community initiatives. ‘We’ve definitely seen more and more businesses becoming interested in how they can integrate an element of CSR (corporate and social responsibility) into their programmes,’ says Andy Caldwell of development experts Impact International (tel: 020 7739 9433). ‘Businesses have started to realise that doing something on behalf of a community organisation actually motivates and energises employees in a way that go-karting or paint balling doesn’t. You can have a real and visible impact on a community group.’
You don’t have to look very hard to find local community projects. The latest offering from Altyerre (tel: 020 8876 6999) is the Pickle Project, in which teams spend time in London’s Brick Lane learning about Bengali cooking before choosing a pickle recipe, which they then produce, market and sell. The money raised goes to the company’s chosen charity and also a cause chosen by Altyerre, which aims to raise awareness of local history and bring trade to local businesses. ‘The project has real meaning and purpose so leaves a lasting impression with people, and it’s also great fun,’ says Altyerre director, Alex Shephard.
Keeping office-bound employees fit and healthy is another area of CSR that is being addressed in a teambuilding context. British Military Fitness (tel: 020 7751 9742), which runs popular park training sessions across the UK, ticks the health and charity boxes with its challenge packages. Groups can sign up for challenges such as a 5k run, or the Three Peaks Challenge as a team. BMF now offers packages for groups to climb Kilimanjaro for charity from £1,799.
Green teambuilding is another growth area. Swap gas-guzzling go-karts for fuel-free vehicles, which teams build and race, with Firebird Events (tel: 01252 545654). Groups can also design and build a model eco-house, learning the basics of sustainability as well as developing teamwork.

Out of the Kitchen

Inneventive Cooking - Cookery Teambuilding - Inneventive IV-TB2.gifPiggy-backing the popularity of behind-the-scenes shows like Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, and competitions such as Masterchef, team cooking cultivates transferable skills in an enjoyable way. But straight-up kitchen challenges are familiar territory, so the new generation of foodie teambuilding incorporates additional challenges that test skills like problem-solving and strategy. Fresh Tracks (tel: 01920 822220) gets teams to win ingredients through a series of challenges before preparing them in their Cooking up a Storm programme, £2,050 for 12 people. Anyone who followed The Apprentice last year might recognise the format of Sweet Success from Off Limits (tel: 01773 766050). Teams must create a box of original chocolates, then package and market it. Prices start from £1,675 for 25 people.
The restaurant trend for provenance is also inspiring ingredients-led experiences. ‘Food is an extremely popular choice because it is so social and convivial,’ says Inneventive MD Lucy Stoddart. ‘But people are now looking for more than just cooking, they want to know where food comes from. People take away the importance of building a dish around one good key ingredient.’ Activities range from sourcing ingredients at markets to foraging in the countryside. Working closely with Borough Market and Vinopolis, Inneventive takes groups to buy their food before cooking and eating it together, from £155pp.
If foraging sounds too much like hard work, give foodie colleagues a treat with a day trip from Fly For Lunch. Groups of eight can be whisked off for Michelin-star dining, wine tasting in Burgundy or a Lobster Lunch in Jersey on a private aircraft. At £11,590 for eight people, it’s not cheap, but it’ll be one to remember.

Tried and Tested: The Chamberlains Fishmarket Experience

Chamberlains fish - Pinot_202.jpgWe’re not usually early risers but this one’s worth getting out of bed for. Chamberlain’s, the Leadenhall fish restaurant owned by Billingsage stalwart Chamberlain & Thelwell, has just launched a very novel teambuilding package and Venues & Events was first to try it out. Despite the ungodly hour, we absolutely loved it.
The day begins at 6am with suitably large coffees and proper bacon butties in the caff at Billingsgate, where head chef Matthew Marshall then takes the group on a tour of the market stalls, explaining what to look for – and avoid – when shopping for fresh seafood. You also get a glimpse into Chamberlain & Thelwell’s impressive back-of-house operation, where its skilled team fillets fish for all the top London hotels.
Armed with bags of carefully selected seafood (we plumped for a lively lobster, some super-fresh red mullet and a beautiful side of turbot), it’s then back to the restaurant for a glass of bucks fizz, a cooking demonstration and a three-course brunch based on the market purchases. The whole thing is over by 10am, but the novelty value and intensity of the experience makes you feel like you’ve had a whole day’s worth of teambuilding – we particularly enjoyed having a gourmet meal with wine at 9am!

Packages for groups of 3-5 start from £175+VATpp and can be booked on tel: 020 7648 8690, squaremeal.co.uk/chamberlains

This article first appeared in Square Meal Venues & Events magazine, summer 2010

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