How to run a kickass away day

The 5 things you need to know to get the most out of your team building event

Remote working has made team bonding difficult. Whilst technology is a great communications support, operating completely remotely for so long has made it hard for team members to get to know each other, forge deep and meaningful connections and learn each others’ preferred ways of working. Managers have to work hard to generate trust and collaboration within their teams, and somehow replace those all-important watercooler moments. This probably explains why team building events are currently at the top of most team leaders’ agendas as a way to get things on track before bringing everyone back into the office. 

At Let’s Talk Talent, we’ve run more than our fair share of team away days. We truly believe they are a great tool to generate trust and collaboration. But they also need careful thought and consideration. Team building events are not just about getting everyone in a room to quickly present the yearly objectives before moving on to ‘the fun part’ and making cocktails or going bowling. They need a clear purpose with defined outcomes which will inspire and energise people, as well as cement why they are working for you (or indeed your business). They take time and effort to organise in order to reach preset corporate objectives without completely overwhelming participants.  

There is no universal formula for the perfect team building event. But there are ways to create truly unique experiences that will talk to your people’s heads, hearts and hands all at once. We’ve identified the five elements you need to focus on in order to organise an effective and truly kickass away day. And we’re happy to share them with you. 

1. Purpose: determining your away day’s big exam question 

The first thing to get right is your purpose. What are you trying to achieve with your away day? Or as we like to say, what’s the big exam question you want to answer? Are you trying to get your new team off to a good start ahead of a project kick off? Or are they in a storming phase and an intervention is needed? Do you and your colleagues need to work on creating an environment that fosters trust and psychological safety? And why now? 

Each event should be designed specifically around your audience and unique organisational context in order to be truly successful in creating team cohesion and employee engagement. So make sure you set out the objectives of the day before you do anything else. And a little tip: if your objective has lots of ‘and’ in it, you’re probably trying to pack a bit too much into the day. Ask yourself if a one-off event is the right format. Several shorter sessions over the course of six or seven weeks could potentially do the trick and have a more lasting impact. 

2. Balance: walking the line between corporate and fun

What’s the balance between corporate activities and pure team bonding fun? Do you want to focus on defining your team’s purpose in a more serious and organised way, or is your objective for everyone to get to know each other on a personal level? It goes without saying that both types of activities will probably happen, but finding the right balance between presentations, group sessions and organised fun activities will entirely depend on your people. Get to know your team members, ask for their preferred format and try to set an agenda that takes their personalities into account. Forcing a group of people to work together to get out of a locked escape room may sound like fun for a bunch of extraverts, but could be a horrible nightmare for a team of quiet introverts. Taking this into account will go a long way towards making the day an effective team performance tool. 

3. Environment: choosing the right setting for your team building event  

Figuring out where to have your team building event can be tricky with COVID-19 restrictions in place. However, whilst the office may seem like an easy solution, we have found it is rarely conducive to creativity and innovation. Attendees will always be tempted to go back to their desks and get on with sorting the pile of emails currently accumulating. So what’s the next best thing? Meeting facilities? Teams virtual rooms? An isolated yurt in the woods? Whatever you choose, make sure it is physically inviting. Have comfortable chairs set up, boards to encourage idea generation, Post-it stations and whatever else may help generate sparks and galvanise your team around a common purpose. We do believe in person is best, but if that’s not possible, virtual sessions should be spread out over a few days. Sitting still in front of a computer for several hours probably won’t achieve the desired goals, as participants are likely to drift off. 

4. Schedule: finding the ideal pace for your away day 

The most common mistake we see when called upon to organise an away day is a well-intentioned one: trying to pack too much into the day. During lockdown, social events and get-togethers took a backseat and now that restrictions are lifted, many team leaders are trying to catch up and get a year’s worth of team building into a day. Make sure you leave space in your schedule for reflection time and set up an agenda that caters for different learning styles. Some of us like to talk to think, others need to think to talk. Considering all audience types and creating your schedule based on who will attend is key to getting the best out of your event. 

Also, bear in mind that a whole day may be difficult to fit into everyone’s diary. Rather than forcing attendance from reluctant, stressed-out participants constantly worried about work accumulating, ask yourself if a series of shorter, 90-minute appointments would suit your staff better. Don’t be afraid to redefine the format and step away from traditional team building schedules to adapt to your employees. Bootcamps can be particularly effective as momentum is maintained over a longer period of time. 

5. Follow up: following through on your team building event’s actions 

So now you’ve all spent a day together and had fun cocktail making or axe throwing (hopefully not at each other), you can all go back to your desks and your team’s performance will be magically improved, right? We all know that’s not the case. There are no silver bullets such as an away day that can be applied for long-lasting results. The work needs to carry on afterwards, so make a plan to keep adding to the fire you’ve likely managed to flame. Your team will be galvanised around a common purpose and ready to strive for more, so it’s important to come out of the day with a list of actions and outputs to help them do just that. And don’t forget to set ways to measure engagement after the event so you can adapt, improve and course-correct along the way if necessary. 

Conclusion: how to run kickass team building away days 

Away days and team building events are great for forging connections between team members and generating trust and collaboration. We believe they can be beneficial to all teams, but they do need to be custom-designed for each team. No one organisation is the same, and no one team is the same. There are no perfect recipes for an effective away day. No preset agendas that include just the right amount of learning and team bonding. But there are common ingredients that can be used. All that is required is to figure out the right quantity for each in order to make the perfect mix. 

Make sure you don’t lose sight of why you are organising an away day, or get sidetracked by gimmicks such as expensive guest speakers and napkin folding activities. Just keep your purpose in mind, and use our five ingredients. That way, you’ll most certainly end up creating an amazing, effective kickass away day experience. 

If you think a team building event would be just the thing for you and your team, don’t hesitate to give us a call, or visit the Team building away day page on our site.

We also offer an equally kickass team development bootcamp.

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