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Back in the macho days of the 1980s, the mere mention of the word ‘teambuilding’ would send a shiver down most people’s spines. A group yomp through the Brecon Beacons in February, perhaps with a spot of raft-building in sub-zero temperatures, might well be the activity chosen by an embittered personnel director. Things have moved on, thankfully. ‘Inclusive’ is today’s buzzword, not ‘outward-bound’. If your teambuilding exercise doesn’t have elements that can be enjoyed by all your team members, it doesn’t deserve the name.
Enjoyable isn’t shorthand for ‘jolly’, though. The economic difficulties of the past few years have focused minds and budgets, and companies are looking for a practical return on their investment. The best teambuilding outfits examine the needs of each client, and create tailored experiences to fulfil them.
Before getting on the phone to a specialist, do some groundwork. First, pin down your budget and decide how much time you can afford to allocate (factoring in travel). Secondly, think about what you hope to achieve. For instance, do you want to organise a rapport-building exercise and enhance co-operation in the office, or develop specific skills that can be taken back into the workplace? Always give plenty of notice: a quality teambuilding session requires a good amount of thought and planning. It’s not like ordering a new printer – a month’s notice is the absolute minimum.
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 you’ve got a combination of expert and 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 no-one has done before, a mixed group starts on even footing, and pulls together as a team.
Also bear in mind that the chances of finding an activity that everyone in your team loves are slim. That’s why it makes sense to opt for an experience that combines several activities to bring out different skills and abilities. Think about the age of your team and the sex ratio – an activity that’s right for a dozen active thirtysomething men won’t be right for a mixed group with a wide spread of ages.
If the aim is to focus on improving office relationships, pinpoint underlying issues so the teambuilding exercises don’t highlight any tensions. More often than not, problems will be arising through poor communication.
With CSR creeping its way ever further up the corporate agenda, teambuilding with a wider sense of purpose is gaining in popularity. This may involve applying a team’s business skills in local community and charity projects; raising money with sponsored physical challenges, from running the London marathon to climbing Kilimanjaro; or just keeping your colleagues healthy and fit with a regular group training session near the office. Championing green initiatives and raising environmental awareness through teambuilding also falls into this category – ask your supplier about activities that address issues like sustainability, global warming and climate change.
Staff will always be keen to participate in an activity that gets them a qualification they can use outside the office. For example, if your team entertains a lot, a WSET-endorsed wine course makes sense on both a professional and personal level. If your company does a lot of international business, offering language courses, which are surprisingly inexpensive, demonstrate your commitment to personal development, bring staff members together to face a shared challenge and should improve performance in the office too.
Not only will such an initiative build your team’s confidence in each other, the fact that decision-makers within the company are prepared to invest in them will improve staff retention too. So everyone wins, which is definitely a sign of good teamwork.
There are plenty of teambuilding options out there. Here are a few of our favourites:
Petrol heads will love a day at the famous Silverstone circuit in Northamptonshire – the home of British motorsport. Also on site is The Porsche Driving Experience, with tracks designed specifically for the German supercars. Silverstone (tel: 0844 372 8322, squaremeal.co.uk/silverstone); The Porsche Driving Experience (tel: 0844 357 5911, squaremeal.co.uk/porsche)
The popular Kitchen Science is an interactive workshop where groups don white coats and conduct experiments using everyday items; from launching mini rockets to braving a gravity-defying egg trick. Science Museum (tel: 020 7942 4340, squaremeal.co.uk/science)
This is a great option if your team does a lot of entertaining. The best courses are great fun, and fascinating too. Go for one endorsed by the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) – you’ll get a certificate for the wall. Vinopolis (tel: 020 7940 8322), squaremeal.co.uk/vinopolis)
Put your team into a professional kitchen environment and any operational flaws will quickly become apparent. It’s all about communication, delegation and responsibility. The time pressure adds some spice to proceedings… L'atelier des Chefs (tel: 020 7499 6580, squaremeal.co.uk/chef-tbuild); Cookery School at Lucknam Park (tel: 01225 742777, www.squaremeal.co.uk/lucknam)
A great day out, from the early morning bacon sarnie through to the post-shoot feast (essential for banter and bonding). You'll be amazed at how competitive folk get. GNAT shooting – radio-controlled planes fitted with explosive charges – is another popular choice. Events by Cavendish (tel: 01420 588275, squaremeal.co.uk/cavendish); West London Shooting School (tel: 020 8845 1377, squaremeal.co.uk/wlss)
This article was first published in Square Meal Venues & Events Guide 2013.