Team Building: Beyond Ropes Courses & Trust Falls

by Jan 27, 2015

It’s been a great pleasure having the opportunity to collaborate with Amanda Luppino-Esposito, CMP. I love, love, love her blog and what she is doing over at Planning It All, and have been excited to be able to connect and learn from her. Amanda takes us into the land of team building, and gives us some beneficial tips to use when we are called to build trust within our events. Read on, and let us know what you think! ~Naomi

Team Building: Beyond Ropes Courses & Trust Falls

It’s not uncommon for meeting planners to be tasked with inserting some sort of “team building” into the meetings and events they plan. Unfortunately, when many attendees hear “team building” their minds immediately jump to trust falls and ropes courses. But team building can be any number of types of activities and which ones you choose should depend on the group and its goals.

The first thing to parse out is the goals of team building. A common misconception is that team building is the same as networking. While the two may take similar paths, the goals are often different. In simplest terms, networking aims to introduce people to one another; team building usually aims to take a group of people and go beyond introductions, and get them to work together as a cohesive team (hence why the mental model of ropes courses is so prevalent). Team building is often, but not always, employed within groups that already know each other. Popular tactics in team building usually involve problem solving and working together toward a common goal, sometimes it means assigning roles to one another and even breaking down barriers or preconceived notions attendees may have of one another.

It’s also important to understand the attendee demographics and how well they know each other. Is this a group of executives who have served on a board together for years? Or is it a group of newly promoted managers who barely know each other?

When considering the goals of the team building, I like to frame it in the context of stakes – what are the stakes that this team building is riding on? What happens if the team building fails? For example, that group of newly promoted managers may need to learn how to work together so they can tackle an important new initiative together and if they don’t successfully do this, the initiative may be at risk. Not all team building may have need for such high stakes, but the stakes can help inform the type of activity that is most appropriate.

Another common trait that many attendees associate with team building activities is being pushed out of one’s comfort zone. Since many attendees may feel out of their comfort zone on a ropes course, for example, some may have anxiety around a team building activity. A few months ago I was working with a group that had an annual team building day for new hires; the activity was a facilitated problem solving workshop but was framed as “Adventure Challenge” so many employees assumed it was at a ropes course. One woman was so nervous about it that she didn’t sleep the night before and wasn’t able to perform at her peak during the activity. It’s important to think through the value add of pushing people out of their comfort zone.

In trying to decide which team building activities would be most appropriate for your group, think beyond ropes courses and trust falls. Popular trends right now include group cooking classes, where the group can prepare different parts of a meal together; facilitated games or problem solving, one group I worked with did a team building activity where facilitators lead them in playing childhood board games with different strategies; building items – groups can work together to build things that would seem difficult to do on their own, such as a bicycle.

Many of these types of activities can be tied in with CSR initiatives – the cooking class can be used to prepare a meal for a soup kitchen and building a bicycle could go to a needy child or shelter. These are great opportunities to give back to the community while getting to know one another and work toward a common purpose.

Those are just a few suggestions on how to tackle incorporating team building into a meeting. For further reading I would encourage you to check out this article at Meeting Professionals International’s website.



Amanda Luppino-Esposito, CMP, is editor of Planning It All, a blog about event planning in real life and entertaining at home. Amanda has more than seven years of experience planning meetings and events and currently manages a team of event planners at a Washington, DC-based nonprofit. When she’s not planning events, consulting on events, or writing about event planning, Amanda enjoys visiting wineries (she lives in Virginia wine country), decorating her house, cooking and curling up with a good book. You can follow Amanda and Planning It All on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.


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