Toms, HR manager at Tibbett & Britten, reveals that communications issues
were the drivers for a recent team-building programme
Action-centred development – team-building programme
Designed by: Develop, Whitwell Learning Ltd, Whitwell, Oakham, Rutland,
Phone: 01780 686555
When I was appointed as HR manager for the Bicester contract at Tibbett
& Britten 20 months ago, there were a number of people objectives that
needed some attention – not least of which was turnover of staff. Although
this, in part, could be attributed to external factors such as the availability
of alternative employment opportunities in the area, it gave us reason to
review the style of management, behaviour and leadership qualities of the team.
Similar to many, Tibbett & Britten has a percentage of line managers who
are promoted from the ‘shop-floor’. Sometimes as a result, these internal
appointees find it difficult to establish the necessary distance and respect
they need from colleagues they worked alongside before, and often the
lighthearted office banter can get out of hand, with new managers finding it
hard to lose the tag of still being ‘one of the guys’.
We decided to embark on some team-building programmes and discussed this
with Develop Whitwell, based near Oakham on Rutland Water.
A planning session was convened between the general manager of Tibbett &
Britten, myself and the trainers from Develop. Through this we identified the
main areas for improvement in the management team that this programme would
First, was the quality of communication between managers and other members
of staff. Second, defining leadership and what it looks like. Third,
problem-solving in our industry. We need managers who can think on their feet
and tackle a problem themselves rather than rely on pushing it higher up the
chain of command. We wanted to provide each manager with a tool kit to give
them the confidence they needed to do this.
To achieve this we decided to use a mixture of residential and in-house
training sessions. The team-building consisted of three weekends (Saturday with
an overnight stay and Sunday) spaced at three- or five-month intervals. The
time between the weekends was used to supplement the action-centred development
with in-house core management skills programmes also delivered by Develop trainers
at our Bicester site. These focused on five key areas: creative problem
solving; effective communications; performance management; coaching and
mentoring. We also took the opportunity of involving a number of managers from
our sister sites to ensure the courses were cost-effective and run to capacity.
The team-building weekends began as very fun-oriented, but evolved into
something much more serious as the team began to knit together. I have to say
that they were absolutely brilliant and it gave us the opportunity to look at
one another in a new light and appreciate strengths that would never have
surfaced if we had not been away from the working environment.
In the first weekend at Whitwell there was one particular activity that
proved a definite catalyst for starting the team-building process. It really
tested our individual confidence and trust in one another.
It involved team members standing on a raised platform – four feet off the
ground – eyes closed, arms folded, with their back to the rest of the team,
leaning back off the platform relying on the ‘guys’ behind them to catch them
before they hit the ground.
There were at least a couple members of the team who were very nervous about
the exercise and it was looking as if Develop’s ‘Challenge by Choice’ policy
would come into play, where no member of a team is forced to do an activity
they feel uncomfortable with because of group pressure. But they all decided to
go for it and the rewards for the whole team were obvious.
The second weekend was based on a programme where we trained as ‘Argonauts’
(as in Jason and the Argonauts), in search of the golden fleece, and without
giving too much away, the more serious side of team building began to take
shape. Activities centred on the fabulous facility of Rutland Water. I came to
understood what the trainers had meant when they said the outcomes of
team-building activities are never certain, when we had to put together a
totally unscheduled rescue attempt for a yacht crewed by some of our team
members that had got into trouble. Suffice to say that a number of the team got
a little wet in the process.
The third weekend gave us a chance for reflection – to look back at the two
previous weekends and the core management skills training programmes and see
what we had achieved together.
In the new environment, we have seen an increase in openness and trust – we
are now more proactive and our problem-solving skills have improved.
We had previously been a collection of individuals – a group but not a
cohesive team – exacerbated by a system of shift working at the distribution
Whitwell in action
Whitwell Learning has been in existence for 16 years and two years in its
present form. Its training consultancy arm. Develop specialises in
action-centred team-building programmes such as those devised for Tibbett &
As Jon Gower, senior consultant at Develop, explains: "Each
team-building programme is tailor-made and its format depends on the individual
customer’s requirements. Before we devise a programme, we meet the HR manager
or the team manager to discuss what they want to get out of the programme; what
the desired end result is for their team. We use this as our starting point to
develop a programme that will move the group forward to achieve agreed
"We do not use a set format for the team-building programmes but
utilise a mixture of activities from the extensive range on offer. These vary
from low-impact exercises, simply using a blindfold and a piece of rope, to
higher impact activities that might require the team to carry equipment over a
10ft wall. Some activities test mental agility while others may test
problem-solving skills or allow the group to explore internal dynamics.
"The activities are a catalyst for discussion. Even if we used the same
activity for 10 different groups, it would provide a variety of outcomes."
Whitwell benefits from its location on Rutland Water and much of the
apparatus for the activities sits on the shore of the reservoir. Yachts and
canoes are often deployed in the team-building exercises and use is made of a
local climbing wall facility just five minutes from the centre. All the
equipment used is risk-assessed and the correct safety gear is provided.
The ideal delegate-to-tutor ratio is 10:1, but Develop has worked with
groups of up to 150 people split into team sizes of about 20. As Jon says:
"The smaller the group, the more personal attention you can give and the
better able you are to discuss particular problems and weaknesses."
As for timescale, Whitwell is open seven days a week and so can meet company
requirements for team-building programmes during the working week or at
weekends. Tibbett & Britten opted for three weekends spaced between three
and five months apart because the nature of their business makes it difficult
to carve time out of the working week. However, other companies may see it as
part of the package to take their teams on an ‘away day’ from the office.
Jon says: "If you particularly want to work on building team identity,
I would always advise groups to stay overnight – the evening provides an
excellent opportunity to discuss the day’s events together and further cement
Time to reflect
He also advises teams to get together at the office or at Whitwell one or
two months after the programme to revisit their experience.
"Get out the flip charts and notes from the course, stick them up
around the office and ask a few questions – ‘where are we now?’, ‘what did we
say we were going to do?’ and ‘did we do it and if not, why not?’.
"There isn’t much to be gained from coming to Whitwell for one or two
days simply to return to the office and continue with what you have been doing
before," he added.
Tibbett & Britten team-building weekends were complemented by management
development sessions back at the office – a combination that worked
particularly well and gave the members of the team plenty of time for
reflection between the chunks of action-centred development at the weekends.
Jon says: "For those who take part in one of Develop’s team-building
programmes there is a great sense of personal achievement. People often say: ‘I
never thought that I’d ever do anything like that’. It gives them great
self-belief, the feeling that we can all do it and more importantly that we can
all do it as part of a team.
It has turned us into an effective team
We have seen the benefits of using a
team-building and in-house core skills programme like the ones used by Develop
After the course, we had become a consistent and effective team
that benefited from having a standard approach to dealing with issues and
The combination of the weekend programmes of action-centred
development and the more intensive core management skills training programme
back at site has really worked. I found the creative problem solving a unique
course and full of things I’d not seen before – and I have had my share of
management training. Of course there were the old favourites like force field
analysis and the fishbone technique but there were some ‘off-the-wall
alternatives’ like ‘whack packs’ and word association exercises that really
assisted with brainstorming and that everyone seemed to enjoy. Much of
Develop’s training provides a focus on having fun.
And best of all there has been a tangible benefit from the
training programme to Tibbett & Britten in that turnover at our Bicester
site has dramatically improved. I am absolutely certain this has been assisted
by the training we have undertaken. The feedback received from staff points to
the fact employees have seen the benefit of the training the managers have
received and managers now feel better about their jobs.
EFFECTIVENESS * * * * *
ABILITY TO MEET BUSINESS NEEDS * * * * *
VALUE FOR MONEY * * * *
APPROPRIATENESS TO ANY BUSINESS * * * * *
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE * * * * *