It is not every day you break into a gym with your colleagues to take photos of yourselves in a sauna in suits, see your managing director swing from a trapeze, or learn how to play with an orchestra in just 90 minutes.
By choosing the right teambuilding events and throwing people together in unfamiliar territory, HR can help managers stretch employees’ creativity and break down communication barriers.
There are a variety of teambuilding days to choose from, as the three tested below show, so spend some time assessing what type of activity your employees will get the most out of. Getting it right will help everyone to discover what their colleagues are really made of, and help open up communications across the business.
Organiser: Red Letter Days
When I was invited to take part in a media open day for a teambuilding event that listed flying trapeze, juggling, acrobatic balancing and stilt-walking in the programme, I thought twice about it. Would I be able to hold my own in front of a roomful of other journalists, or would vertigo let me down?
Walking into London’s Circus Space, I found a group of nervous-looking hacks who seemed to be having the same misgivings. The hall contained typical gym equipment familiar from our school days: a cold wooden floor a pile of gym mats even a leather horse. But there the similarity ended: daunting tightropes spanned the high ceilings, and a trapeze swung from the heavens, accessed by a ladder at the back of the hall, ending at a tiny ledge.
Before we had time to change our minds, my team faced the task of mastering the trapeze. Split into pairs, we had to overcome our fears and negotiate who was going up the ladder first.
I volunteered, and as my partner and I stepped onto the high platform, the instructor was there holding an edge of the trapeze, while my partner behind had to reach for the other edge.
I waited for the signal to catch the trapeze, jump off and swing it was exhilarating. It was also a powerful exercise in trust, since my partner held my life in his hands (well, aside from the safety rope). This required acute listening skills, as no-one wanted to put a foot (or hand) wrong.
Once we had overcome this first challenge, we tackled the rest of our activities with more confidence. Acrobatic balancing was next, which required us to grip hands and interlock our feet and arms. It also called for lots of trust, as one wrong move could lead to a fall.
Next was stilt-walking, and a great deal of encouragement and teamwork. We learned to juggle in a group exercise, where key skills included concentration and hand-to-eye co-ordination, and the big finale was the formation of a human pyramid.
By the end of the day, everyone was hugging and congratulating one another, and there was a real buzz. We all went away with a huge sense of achievement, having been forced to trust one another from the moment we met, challenge each other, and encourage and listen intently. We started the day as a group of strangers, and ended it as loyal comrades.
By taking part in this activity, colleagues can learn to work closely with one another and understand what drives and motivates individuals in a team.
Organiser: Action Treasure Hunt
Morgan Lovell managing director Andrew Bradley believes in organising out-of office events for his employees to encourage as much team interaction as possible. The London headquarters of the office fit-out and refurbishment specialist hosts quarterly meeting updates for all staff, finishing off with a teambuilding task.
I attended the most recent one, a treasure hunt, which started off from the London Stock Exchange.
Nine teams were issued with instructions and a camera, and off we set. The scavenger task required each team to find and collect a list of items – ours included something hot and a hat. Each team had to use their imagination to stage and photograph nine scenarios, with all team members in the shot. We successfully posed in an unusual location, looking innocent (with the help of a friendly passing policeman).
We had an hour to gather as many items as possible, identify landmarks and locations for the challenge, and enlist the help of members of the public. Time management was crucial, and teams had to work together to think up solutions, negotiate, navigate, and take it in turns to be leader.
After persuading a taxi driver to let us get behind the wheel while he took our group photo, and pinching flowers from a public garden, we made our way to the finishing line in a designated pub to deliver our goods and catch up with the other teams.
The judges totted up scores and awarded prizes. My team was just pipped to the post in second place, and one member said: “I didn’t expect to be squashed in a telephone box with five of my colleagues or share a sweaty sauna in our suits.”
Morgan Lovell project manager Greg Carr says the tasks required everyone to work together strategically and follow the same thought patterns. The event also provided the opportunity to meet and interact with people from across the business.
Business development manager James Prendergast agrees. “It built up a team spirit, and people see you in a different light from your work persona. It also throws up the stories that people talk about for a long time – I danced the cha-cha-cha in the evening with the managing director’s PA.”
Pharmaceutical contract sales company Innovex UK has more than 1,100 field staff as well as 150 based at its head office.
“This means we have to constantly engage our people to deliver great customer service,” says HR director Heylee Treasure.
“It’s vital everyone connects with each other and works together to understand and reaffirm our corporate values and objectives,” she adds.
I joined 160 Innovex senior managers at their teambuilding event, which involved creating a symphony orchestra by learning to play a piece of music in just 90 minutes.
The idea behind the day is to demonstrate how individual musicians work together as a team to produce a harmonious piece of music. This requires every individual to be in tune with the others in their particular section as well as working with the rest of the orchestra, and having a complete understanding of the individual role they play in producing the music.
The conductor is responsible for guiding all members of the orchestra.
A selection of clarinets, trombones, trumpets, saxophones, violas, violins, cellos and percussion were set out in the conference room in separate orchestral sections: strings, brass, woodwind and percussion.
I chose to play the trumpet. Each group was assigned a tutor and given just 60 minutes to learn how to use their instrument and play a five-minute piece of music.
We then joined our orchestral section and had a further 20 minutes to practise, plus an additional 10 minutes to rehearse the piece with the orchestra before we did our grand performance.
We had to get used to looking at the conductor and allow him to guide us through the piece of music. A clash of cymbals ended the piece, followed by an almighty round of applause, screaming and cheering from all the staff involved.
Treasure believes the day was a huge success. “The orchestra event shows how a company can achieve a common goal by drawing on the strengths of all the individuals,” she says. “The exercise underlines the importance of everyone understanding the complete picture and trusting their leader.”
Other wacky teambuilding experiences
VisitBritain is an official guide to organising conferences, meetings and events in England, and has listed some other popular teambuilding days on its website. These include:
Participants are shipwrecked on a deserted beach and must work together to achieve set goals and targets. Highlights include shelter building, abseiling and zip wire (or flying fox) in the confines of the beach.
Teams take on the roles of mission control and spacecraft crew and must work together to gain vital data for future research by building and sending out a robotic probe.
Delegates are able to draw parallels with the canine world and look at the way they work with others in their own work environment.
Design, create and market your own handbag.
Using what natural material is around you, construct a shelter that will protect your team from the elements.