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Team Building is Dead. Long Live Team Development!

Sabre MD Talan Miller has a feature article in the latest edition of MiceNet Business Magazine. See the online eMag here, or read the text of the article below.

Is it time to break out the defibrillators for old school team building events at conferences?

After a plethora of low cost, reality TV style concepts at conferences, it may be time for a “renaissance” for M.I.C.E (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, Events) based team building.

The PA and EA driven selection of event based team building (classic team building) certainly has an important role in the industry, but there is undoubtedly a fast growing demand for more substantive offerings.

Growing influence from Senior Managers as well as Human Resource and Learning and Development Managers is driving a trend towards higher levels of discrimination when choosing team-based content at meetings.

The pure fun of the “run around” / “Race” methodology (and other reality TV driven parodies) seems to be giving way to justifiable and demonstrable links to behavioural and business issues.

Lasting take-away value is the key.

Luckily, many approaches can be designed to include both a fun component and enough substance to achieve that elusive “have your cake and eat it” effect for the MICE market.

Great care must be taken to ensure that a good balance is struck between the fun and the learning elements so that one does not serve to undermine the other.

Too much emphasis on ‘fun’ will risk the session lacking justifiable links and subsequently risk the allocation of expenditure for future events. In addition, over-exposure to this style of event can lead to cynicism and desensitization to genuinely effective programmes (just how many “Amazing Race” formats can one person do?).

On the other hand, too much focus on just the learning and business outcomes risks turning every meeting into just another talkfest where delegates are trapped within the four walls and subjected slow death by powerpoint.

It’s a bit like Goldilocks and the Three Bears really. Picking the right activity and the right learning tool is critical.

Simple team building games can be a bit lightweight for the more discerning leadership, whilst harsher business simulations with complex tools (e.g. MBTI or LSI) can be seen as a bit too heavy and risk confused or no follow-through and uptake back at work.

We have found that blending a well tailored and themed business game with a tool like The Belbin Model achieves the “just right” approach for the MICE market. This combination offers the ability to achieve meaningful understanding and linkage to real world outcomes whilst still having some fun.

Themed activities can be a great “Trojan Horse” for learning outcomes, as they inject some fun, but not when the theme is in and of itself the major driver as “bells and whistles” alone.

Selected learning tools need to be simple enough to be understood and applied immediately, yet robust enough to have the depth required for scrutiny from HR, L&D and management. Belbin profiles serve this purpose well when well explained in tandem with the right activity content.

So if the right tool is used, and a few quantum leaps in thinking are made within the team building sector, it may not be the death knell for classic team building. Just a timely wake up call that things do need to be designed better for the M.I.C.E market to restore credibility to the approach.

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