Top 10 worst activities for team building events

Avoiding the pitfalls of the typical away day activities

It happens. Teams sometimes get stuck, and a little intervention is needed to bring focus back, generate high performance or create connections between people. At Let’s Talk Talent, we’ve certainly helped organise more than our fair share of team building away days over the past few years.  

What is our main takeaway from our years of experience? Putting together a team building event is not as simple as following the usual ‘PowerPoint presentations followed by organised fun’ template. It requires a careful plan built around your objectives. There is no one-size-fits-all magic recipe that is guaranteed to work and turn your team into a tight high performance unit. 

However, there are definitely some activities you should avoid. Over the years, we’ve certainly heard many away day horror stories, and we’ve also attended a few disastrous ones. So if you are looking to generate motivation, high energy and team collaboration, here are the top 10 team building activities to avoid at all cost.

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Top 10 team building exercises to avoid on your away days

1. Trust falls as a bad team bonding exercise

When it comes to team events, it’s hard to find an activity with a higher potential for disaster than trust falls. We’ve heard of so many misses, and landing flat on your back doesn’t exactly generate trust. 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 come from a one-off event. 

And let’s face it, physical contact in an office environment can be tricky, and not everyone is comfortable being touched.

2. Overly corporate boardroom presentations

By definition, team building 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 follows a very ‘push only’ style of communication and not a great way to engage or motivate your employees. You could also lose those who struggle to focus on a screen for long periods of time. Remember that not everyone learns in the same way. 

Whilst we’re here, keeping your away day event in the office isn’t the best way to get people’s attention, as most of them will be distracted by the pile of work accumulating on their desk a few metres away. If your main objective is to deepen connections between participants, boardrooms with big tables acting as physical barriers are also a big no-no. 

3. Team building activities involving alcohol or food 

We’ll admit this one is a little tricky. We’re not saying you should avoid food or alcohol altogether, but they do require 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.

“I can still remember a cooking challenge we ran. Unbeknownst to us, a participant was allergic to nuts. The person ended up cutting up fruit on their own, which we’re sure didn’t exactly bring them closer to the rest of the team,” says Jo Taylor, MD at Let’s Talk Talent.

4. The obligatory game of team bowling

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 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.

5. Away days requiring 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.

6. The typical organised fun after a corporate team event

Most businesses follow the traditional ‘presentations followed by organised fun’ format. You may have guessed it, we’re not fans. Of course, we like fun. But the typical bowling, cocktail making or escape room activities can be a complete miss, depending on your audience.

Is your team a bunch of quiet introverts who would struggle to enjoy themselves stuck 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? The best advice we can give you is to organise something that takes your people into account. Ask for suggestions to ensure you end up with a list of activities that suit the group.

7. Paintball and assault courses as team bonding activities

Here, there is a real potential for your team bonding activity to turn into something that verges on bullying. In fact, anything with a highly competitive element could potentially lead to a few alphas taking it 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 everyone’s physical abilities should be added to the list.

8. Role play or reenacting corporate scenarios 

Why is this a bad idea? It’s not a high-risk activity, and seems like a fairly inclusive thing to do, right? The main reason to avoid this one is simple: nobody really likes it. In all our years supporting clients with their team events, we are yet to find a group that truly enjoyed role play. So best to leave off the list.

9. The ‘Two truths and a lie’ team game 

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.

10. Tired corporate icebreakers 

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 beans could badly backfire in a room filled with people who don’t get along with each other, are unmotivated, or haven’t had their first coffee yet. Start the day gently and ease into it gradually.

So what team building ideas should you do on corporate away days instead of these bad team building excercises?

Now that we’ve removed everything that was probably on your list of fun stuff, what’s left? 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 deep connections. 

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 space to chill, process and do their own thing. 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.

Reviewing your away day formula to create the perfect team building event

Team away days are a fantastic tool to generate innovation, re-energise a team and build trust. 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. Make sure you start on the right foot by creating an agenda for your away day that will be unique to your event, and customised around your objectives for the day, and your team members’ personalities and preferences. And download our ultimate list of key metrics to ensure you can measure the day’s success.

An activity should act as 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, 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 book a call with us first

If you’d like to know more about building a successful team away day:

At Let’s Talk Talent we run away days for a a wide range of clients. Be it team development, leadership development or just bringing a team together who might not have been together for a while. We can arrange a bespoke facilitated away day tailored to your requirements. Book a meeting with our team to discuss your needs.

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