To ensure that you get value from the time and money invested in team building, sales rallies, executive retreats, and corporate events, there are several pitfalls that your company should avoid.

Team Building Pitfalls

1. Allocate sufficient time for planning

There is no way that you can expect to pull off an effective team building session or corporate retreat if 1 - 2 weeks prior to the session you are just contacting vendors

2. Don't schedule your session to end on the day before the weekend (e.g. Friday in North America and Asia, Thursday in some Muslim Countries).

Like it or not, focus will become a challenge as the day wears on and people are gearing up for the weekend. In Muslim countries, avoid scheduling sessions for Friday.

3. Do allocate more time for your session if your group is highly analytical.

Analytical learners need more time to debrief and apply the session to your specific business challenges or they will leave feeling frustrated and that the session was a waste of time. "What was that?" will be a frequent comment on your feedback forms.

4. Don't splurge on food and accommodation and scrimp on facilitation fees.

You need an experienced facilitator to execute a session successfully. I remember a company that contacted us in a panic. They had blown most of their budget for a top of the line conference facility with all the bells and whistles. They had little left to pay a facilitator. We suggested a couple of cost affective facilities for accommodation and meetings but eventually had to pass on that booking too as they insisted on the high end facility and could not afford a facilitator.

5. Don't just go through the motions of team building.

Don't use team building just as a way of freeing up the budget to give the team some time off work. Team members likely won't engage in the team building or business aspects of the session.

Team recreation is important and valid in and of itself. If your goal is to let off steam or to have a day of fun away from the officek, by all means schedule a picnic or recreational activity.

6. Get your priorities straight.

We thought we had heard it all when we were asked "Can you cut your simulation down to half a day so that we can have more time to go shopping?" Another time, a prospective client selected a venue that was less than optimal for their activity as they did not feel their staff could forego alcohol for one day and the ideal location was not licensed for alcohol.

Alcohol: Don't Let it Flow Freely

There is no way to address this topic without just coming out and saying it. "Watch the booze." Again it comes down to priorities and liability. I remember doing some location scouting with a prospective client. I should have known we were in trouble when one of the first questions they asked was "Will there be a fridge where we can store our beer?" It was downhill from there. Late night drinking binges, a director passing around a bottle of hard liquor before a physically challenging outdoor event and the CEO having to be confined to his bed on the last day of the session for overdoing it.

Certainly there is nothing wrong with a glass of wine with dinner. Many companies are not aware of the fact that if they allow the liquor to flow freely before an activity that involves physical exertion, your company could be held liable if someone gets injured.

There is another area of potential liability. If participants will be driving after your corporate event, hire a smart serve bartender who is trained to detect potential problems and turn off the tap when appropriate. You might also want to have a backup plan and provide a taxi or hotel accommodation for any participants who do become inebriated. The bottom line is that courts throughout the USA are rendering judgements that hold companies liable when employees consume too much alcohol at company-sponsored functions and then cause accident after leaving the event.

Put a Leash on the Libido

During some corporate retreats, excessive consumption of alcohol can lead to poor judgement and sexual indiscretions. Many companies don't realize that they are skating on thin ice when they turn a blind eye to dirty jokes, sexual innuendo and employees skinny dipping in the pool on a corporate retreat or at a sales rally. We heard of one sales rally to which the Director brought along a pornographic video. In the evening, the director, the CEO and several members of the sales team returned to the meeting room at the conference centre and watched it. The next day, a lot of snickering was going on. We are also aware of two unrelated incidents at two different companies during corporate retreats in which employees became so intoxicated that they jumped on the table and started doing a strip tease

If even one employee had decided to file a sexual harassment suit (US) or human rights complaint (Canada) due to any of these incidents, the negative publicity alone could have done a lot of damage to a company's reputation. As Astra USA, the American subsidiary of Astra AB, a Swedish pharmaceutical company discovered, it could also hit you in your pocketbook.

Astra USA agreed to pay nearly US$9.85 million to approximately 80 former employees complaining of sexual harassment and retaliation on the job, at corporate retreats and during sales rallies. They admitted to fostering a hostile work environment, including requests for sexual favors in exchange for favorable treatment on the job. Business Week Magazine covered this story in detail and you can still access it on their web site.

To avoid similar difficulties, have a clear code of conduct for ALL company related meetings, activities, and events. Cover it in your orientation, diversity training and management development programmes. Have every employee sign-off and agree to adhere to this code. When incidents occur that are clearly inappropriate, deal with them and send a clear message that certain behaviour will not be tolerated in the workplace or at company events.

Team Building: The Bottom Line

Team building sessions and corporate retreats can be enjoyable and produce a myriad of benefits for your company. To get the most bang from your team building buck, ensure that there is bottom line results in what you offer. Remember, people don't have to get wasted or tell off-colour jokes in order to have a good time. There is something to be said for brainstorming with co-workers to come up with solutions to some vexing business problems or flow charting to improve a process that isn't working. There is something to be said for relaxing around a bonfire, getting to know your co-workers while you pitch a tent or start a fire, and cook your meals outdoors. Your team can really bond while you go dune bashing in Dubai, rappeling in Oman, learn a new sport like polo, and participate in the many other activities that can add the "fun factor" to your events. From where we see it, there is far more value in activities like these than in boozing it up or frolicking nude in a hot tub with co-workers.

© 2010 Executive Oasis International

Author's Bio: 

Anne Thornley-Brown is the founder and President of Executive Oasis International, a Toronto based firm that helps rapidly changing organizations design and execute strategies to survive, thrive and grow in our turbulent economy. Services include executive retreats, executive team building, upscale corporate event planning, and incentive travel for small executive and sales teams. Destinations include Canada, Jamaica, Dubai, Oman, Singapore, and Malaysia.

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