Does Your Team Dread Team-Building Activities? Here’s How to Do it Right

Written by Paul Marchildon, on March 28, 2014.


I’ve put the fun back in staff meetings, strategy meetings, board meetings, client meetings, and parent teacher conferences. I’m working on putting the fun back into root canals and tax preparation, just because I like a challenge. Team-building, though, isn’t as much a challenge as it is a minefield. Between introverts, grumps, awkwardness, forced bonding, or complete emotional meltdowns, team-building activities have been criticized as boring, uncomfortable, or a waste of time. (Exhibit A: The “Human Knot.”) But they don’t have to be.

Darn It, They Work

Why not just throw out the baby, the bathwater, and, while you’re at it, the entire bathtub? If team-building is roundly criticized, why do companies insist on forcing “fun” on their employees? Because it actually does something. A meta-analysis of over 100 studies found that team-building has a positive, and measurable, effect on team performance, specifically processes, goal-setting, role-clarifying, interpersonal relations, and problem-solving . The reasoning behind team-building activities is solid: if they can meet expectations and accomplish objectives, you and your colleagues can reap the benefits of a healthier, happier, more productive workspace. Here are the top five elements that create the ultimate team-building experience.

Meetings Lacking Effectiveness?

Paul Marchildon, an experienced Leisureologist, can work with you and your team to design meetings that will capture your audience’s attention from start to finish.

  1. SURPRISE! Do not give colleagues the chance to back out of, predict, or make assumptions about the upcoming retreat. Instead, maintain the element of surprise to elicit genuine reactions. Only give coworkers the need-to-know information, such as what to wear, what to pack, and what time the bus leaves.

    Note: Do not overdo the whole “surprise” thing. Don’t say, just as an example, “Pack your bathing suit, flip-flops, and plenty of sunscreen!” and then take them to your kids’ sandbox and turn the hose on them. It’s funny at first, but … some people don’t like that kind of surprise.

  2. SAY CHEESE! As long as the photography takes a back seat to the activities themselves, accurately capturing the positive moments can help your activity do double duty. When the pictures resurface in the company newsletter or next quarterly meeting, it will generate the good feeling of the day, and it will give new employees a glimpse of what they can look forward to.


    It is easier for co-workers to relax, get comfortable, and be themselves in a non-work environment. If you really want to get to know your colleagues, host a retreat away from your workspace. The key is to bring those feelings of honesty and personality back to the office. People should be able to be themselves at work.
  4. BUCKLE UP! More and more firms are spending top dollar to send their employees on wild team-building experiences, from sumo wrestling to ziplining. These big-time experiences are big-time fun, but if your business cannot afford these extravagant outings, get creative with more economical options. Try an obstacle course or a game of Humans Versus Zombies . Maybe Xtreme Sandbox Garden Hose Warz! The point is that the experience should be fun and exhilarating: Laughter is required.

    (That was a test. If you went with Xtreme Sandbox Garden Hose Warz, you should never be in charge of team-building. Or, you should always be in charge of team-building. I’m not sure which yet.)

  5. SMILE! Whatever activities you plan to do, keep the nature of the day upbeat, non-critical, and non-competitive. Team-building can be tough for introverts, and activities need to be inclusive for everyone in attendance. Don’t be afraid to quietly pull aside anyone who is getting a little too exuberant and ask them to tone it down: This isn’t a day for big personalities to trample others, but for everyone to take a genuine interest in getting to know each-other.

With these steps, you can navigate the minefield of team-building. When activities are comfortable and actually fun (and not what corporate people think regular people think is fun), you can’t lose. Keep your objectives top of mind, and as you meet them, you’ll see a healthier, more functional and cohesive team begin to emerge. Now I’ve used up all the fun; I got nothing left for tax preparation.

Paul Marchildon

Paul Marchildon

A self-proclaimed Leisureologist and Motivational Speaker, Paul Marchildon applies his vast expertise in human engagement to help leaders create more productive, effective organizations. Building on an influential career as a pioneer in employee incentive and loyalty programs, strategic creative communications, social media and mobile marketing, Paul provides insight into the advantages of incorporating a leisure culture in the "work" place. He is past president of Society of Incentive and Travel Executives’ (Site) Canadian Chapter and founder of Atlantis Creative Group (now part of Maritz Canada). He is one of a select group of Canadians who have received the Certified Incentive Travel Executive (CITE) designation.