Team building activities have come of age

Timothy Barber
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MENTION the idea of team building and corporate away days to many people and you&rsquo;re likely to be met with a groan. For all that we spend such large amounts of our lives in the company of our colleagues, the idea of being forced into unnatural situations with them in order to bond can seem a cringeworthy prospect &ndash; but such misgivings are usually misplaced.<br /><br />&ldquo;We would always assume when we stand in front of a group for the first time that they don&rsquo;t really want to be there,&rdquo; says Dan Collins, who runs a variety of team building days and corporate exercises with his company Fresh Tracks ( He says that the popular image of corporate team building is still of gung-ho outward-bound exercises like assault courses, abseiling and jumping in icy rivers. Such things became popular in the 80s, but generally achieve little in the way of positive relationship building, rewarding the most physically able and humiliating everyone else.<br /><br />&ldquo;We have to tell people that we&rsquo;re not going to ask anyone to go outside their comfort zone and into their panic zone,&rdquo; says Collins. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s actually about getting to know each other better and getting everyone in a group to the same place, feeling that they&rsquo;re equally valued.&rdquo;<br /><br /><strong>ABSENTEEISM DOWN</strong><br />Next month will be one of the busiest times for companies like Fresh Tracks, as people return from the holiday season and get back to business, and companies look to re-motivate and re-organise. And good corporate activity days do have results, says Ben Williams, a chartered psychologist specialising in corporate training. &ldquo;We have noted that after team building exercises absenteeism in companies tends to go down, and people feel more motivated and identify better with their organisation. But you need to decide the elements you want to work on, have an agenda and then choose the exercises &ndash; it&rsquo;s not just about the keenest people living out their fantasies.&rdquo;<br /><br />The world of corporate team building has moved on, and a sophisticated industry has grown up that offers everything from puzzle-solving activities and treasure hunts to culinary sessions and group drumming. Drum Cafe, a company that grew out of community drumming clubs in South African cafes, now has branches in 52 countries, and organises group drumming sessions for anything from a few people in a small team to company-wide events &ndash; including 6,000 Microsoft employees banging out a rhythm in a Munich football stadium.<br /><br /><strong>HIDDEN TALENTS</strong><br />&ldquo;We teach everyone a very basic rhythm which we say could signify the philosophy of your company, and we build on that,&rdquo; says Drum Cafe&rsquo;s Julie Proctor. &ldquo;You&rsquo;re learning a new skill, so it stimulates creativity. You have to listen to each other and work towards a common goal, and you see how the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.&rdquo;<br /><br />Collins says it&rsquo;s often people&rsquo;s differences and hidden talents that can be most revealing, and lead to better working relationships. One activity he has devised involves people revealing experiences no one else in the group knows about, often with surprising results. Williams says that a major element of effective teamwork is real trust, and such self-disclosure can be key to establishing it within a group.<br /><br />&ldquo;Trust is like lubricant in an engine &ndash; without it the whole thing freezes,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;It has to be mutual to work, and by reciprocating similar information, trust builds between people, and that will lead to a much more successful team.&rdquo;<br /><br />And it&rsquo;s fun &ndash; Dan Collins says any misgivings are misplaced. &ldquo;People go away proud to be part of the group, and that will help them adapt how they work to get improved results.&rdquo;