The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Teambuilding Experiences

Experts and employees weigh in on lessons learned from past teambuilding activities and what to try in 2020. 

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Teambuilding Experiences

There are several ingredients to creating successful teambuilding experiences, but there is an equal number of ingredients to avoid. 

A partner in a large Chicago law firm remembers her disastrous escape room teambuilding experience put on by her corporate planner with a group of hyper-competitive lawyer co-workers locked in jail cells. 

“It was really complicated and it was with too few people,” she says. “We didn’t work as a team and the whole experience really didn’t have a point.” 

Billy Boughey Founder and CEO of Elevate Experiences agrees. “The teambuilding efforts that don’t work are ones that don’t have a point to the activity,” he says. “I love to see companies that create space for unstructured fun like bowling, cookouts and sporting events, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that these build your team and deepen their relationships.”

Radioactive Ingredients 

With alcohol, it’s hard to predict which direction things might go. The same goes for competitions. And when alcohol, competition and pointlessness come together in a single activity, things can really go off the rails.

Kelly Galloway, director of sales and marketing at Pursell Farms, an Alabama resort that hosts meetings and events, notes that competitive activities have the highest potential to turn sour. 

“Modern teambuilding doesn’t always include a competitive activity but is a creative guided activity that keeps people highly engaged,” says Galloway. 

Consider the recent experience of an employee at a small company based in Florida. “We split up into teams to build boats that we then raced. The booze was flowing freely and fun was had until the CEO’s team lost; he lost his cool, which included cursing everyone out and even destroying his team’s boat.” The employee asked to remain anonymous. 

What Works

“Putting together experiences that engage everyone is the first step towards getting it right,” says Boughey, who likes to incorporate technology into the programming. “One of my top teambuilding ideas for 2020 include virtual reality with a twist. I use VR to illustrate various communication issues and show the value in fun as you work together.” 

He also advises planners to be sure that the exercise includes everyone. “Poor teambuilding events are ones that intentionally involve only some of the people and not all of them. It takes intentionality to create an event for all to partake in, but for me, that is the most important part. Even if someone doesn’t actually do the activity, they must be invited to debrief the key learnings and crystalize why it is important to the future of the organization.”

Galloway says that outdoor activities are more in demand than ever and usually take place in the afternoon after a morning of meetings to give groups a big change of pace. 

“The most popular ones are the UTV Scavengers,” Galloway says.

She also notes that teambuilding around food is also a winning formula: “At Pursell Farms, teams cook dinner using extraordinary Sea Island Forge kettles; up to four people use one kettle and a chef guides the process. The added benefit is sharing the results together as a team meal.”