Avoiding the pitfalls of the typical away day activities
Now that we can all be in the same place, we can’t wait to be social again. We are pack animals: it’s in our DNA. But getting back into a group environment after a long isolation isn’t as simple as just going back to the way things were. Not everyone had the same experience during the pandemic, and therefore not everyone will be pleased to go back to a group environment.
The new hybrid world will require adjustments, and sometimes a little intervention may be needed to bring things back on track and refocus the team on a common goal, or just deepen connections between team members. At Let’s Talk Talent, we’ve seen a surge in team building away days being set up and we’ve helped organise more than our fair share.
However, the world of work has changed, and it’s time for team leaders to think outside the box. Team building events are not as simple as following the usual ‘PowerPoint presentations followed by organised fun’ template.They require careful planning based on your objectives, and there is no magic one-size-fits-all recipe that is guaranteed to get your team working well together. However, there are definitely some activities to avoid! We’ve heard our fill of well-intentioned away day horror stories over the years, as well as been on a few!
So we’ve come to know what works.
That’s why we are sharing with you our list of the top 10 team building activities to avoid at all cost in order to ensure a successful day, and an impactful outcome.
Top 10 team building activities to avoid on your away days
- Trust falls
When it comes to team events, it’s hard to find an activity with a higher potential for disaster. We’ve heard of so many misses, and landing flat on your back isn’t exactly conducive to trusting your colleagues. In addition, it’s important to note that trust is built gradually. It comes from knowing that your colleagues have your back in a work setting, over and over again. It cannot be generated from a one-off event.
It’s also worth mentioning that physical contact in an office environment can be tricky. There are sanitary measures to consider, and not everyone is comfortable being touched.
- Boardroom presentations
Team building, by definition, involves an element of interaction. Yet so many forget this. It’s important to have content that will resonate with people’s heads throughout the day, sure. But what about their hearts and hands? One person presenting in front of an audience is a very ‘push only’ style of communication and not a great way to engage or motivate your employees if that’s all you use throughout the day. You could also lose those who struggle to focus on a screen for long periods of time as not everyone learns in the same way.
Whilst we’re here, keeping your away day event in the office isn’t quite the best way to get people’s attention, as most of them will be distracted by the pile of work accumulating on their desks a few meters away. Boardrooms with big tables acting as physical barriers are also a no-no if your main objective is to deepen connections between participants.
- Anything with alcohol or food
We’ll admit this one is a little tricky. We’re not saying you should avoid food or alcohol altogether, but any activity involving those requires careful consideration. There are many factors to consider, from religious beliefs to food allergies or even personal preferences. There is no better way to feel alienated from a group than to find there is nothing you can eat at a lunch buffet except for a few carrot sticks, or having to explain over and over again why you don’t drink. So tread lightly with this one, and ensure whatever you organise is inclusive and doesn’t lead to people feeling like they don’t belong or weren’t considered. If team bonding is one of your objectives, a little recon work beforehand could pay dividends. We can still remember a cooking challenge we ran where, unbeknownst to us, a participant was allergic to nuts. That person had to abstain from the main activity and ended up cutting up fruit on their own, which we’re sure didn’t exactly bring them closer to the rest of the team.
Such a typical social activity. Yet not actually social at all! We find that it’s very difficult to interact with others whilst bowling as your team is invariably split into several small groups, with one player always getting up in the middle of the conversation to keep the game going. Which, ultimately, leads to a bunch of very stunted conversations, and not much learnt about your colleagues by the end of it.
- Overnight stays
Of course, overnight stays can be quite inconvenient for those with families, carers or those with other obligations. But do you really have to have obligations to want to go home at the end of the day? A lot of us actually prefer to sleep in our own beds, not be seen by our colleagues before our first coffee or share a bathroom with people we are not that close with. GIve people a choice; by all means have a lovely dinner together, but allow your team members the freedom to choose where they stay if near home.
- Organised fun
Most businesses follow the traditional ‘presentations by organised fun’ exercise. You may have guessed it, we’re not fans. Of course, we like fun. But the typical bowling, cocktail making or escape rooms can be a complete miss, depending on your audience. Is your team a bunch of quiet introverts struggling to enjoy team activities in a small locked room they can’t escape from? Is there someone who doesn’t drink and who would have to sit out cocktail making? Is everyone having to drive home afterwards and having to skip drinks? The best advice we can offer here is to organise something that takes your team members into account. Or even better, ask for their suggestions to ensure you end up with a list of activities that suit the group.
- Paintball and assault courses
Here, there is a real potential for your team bonding activity to turn into something verging on bullying. In fact, anything with a highly competitive element could potentially lead to a few alphas taking this a bit too seriously. And to be perfectly candid, we fail to see how shooting each other at close range with pellets could later on lead to a harmonious work environment.
It’s also worth considering that some people may not be able to do things such as rope courses or any intense physical activity, which could become embarrassing should they have to pull out. Always consider inclusivity when setting up activities, and physical abilities are definitely something to add to the list.
- Role play or reenactments
Why is this a bad idea? It doesn’t present a high risk factor and seems like a fairly inclusive thing to do right? Well, the main reason to avoid this one is simple: nobody really likes it. In all our years of supporting clients with their team events, we are yet to come up with a group that truly enjoyed role play. So best to leave off the list.
- Two truths and a lie
Many team away days start with an icebreaker such as this one. But putting people on the spot with no time to prepare could lead to a bit of trouble, and not everyone’s view of what is appropriate to share in a work setting is the same. A simple game of two truths and a lie could forever change your perception of someone you have to interact with on a daily basis.
Again, we’re not saying don’t do them. But it’s important to read the room. Asking everyone to get up, shake about and be full of beams could badly backfire with a bunch of people who don’t get along with each other well, are unmotivated, or haven’t had their first coffee yet. Best to start the day genty and ease into it gradually.
So what should you do?
Now that we’ve removed everything that was probably on your list of fun stuff, what’s left right? Well, plenty. What we’re saying here is not that activities are bad. But the world of work has changed and it’s no longer about the old-fashioned parent-child relationship where employees should just be grateful to be treated to an offsite and a few drinks. It’s about adopting an approach that will achieve your goals, be inclusive and generate true connections.
Our main tip? Don’t try and pack every second of the day full of stuff so you’re all together, all the time. Give people the time and place to chill, process and do their own stuff. Allow them to make choices, go for walks or have conversations with colleagues that aren’t framed by a specific schedule. Things like coaching walks are also a great way to give feedback or discuss an issue in a relaxed setting
Conclusion: Team building away days are a fantastic tool
Team building away days are a fantastic tool to generate motivation, re-energise a team and build trust and innovation. But whilst we’re huge fans, it’s true that a fun activity will not be a magic solution that can turn a struggling team into a performing one. So make sure you start on the right foot by creating an agenda for your away day that will be unique to your organisation and customised around both your objective for the day, and your team members’ personalities and preferences.
An activity should be a facilitator, so if you think some colleagues may feel excluded or not enjoy themselves, it’s time to think outside the box and break the mould. Don’t be shy to step away from the traditional model and add some colour into your day. And don’t forget that as a team leader, showing vulnerability and getting involved is a key factor in making the activity a success.
So if you’re thinking of organising a team away day but are already considering juice cleanses, group meditation or team camping trips (yes, those are true stories!), please make sure you give us a call first!
For more on how to build a successful team away day:
- Have a look at the top 5 ingredients you need to consider when creating an away day.
- Read a case study about a recent away day with Kings College.
- or book Let’s Talk Talent directly to run your away day.
You may also find these related team building blogs useful: