Teambuilding: Thanks for the memories – and the smoothie making

Purveyors of teambuilding training love to say their activities make it memorable. Alas, too often it’s memorable for all the wrong reasons. L&D needs a more assertive approach.

Lately I’ve had a slew of press releases detailing training that’s described as memorable. Indeed, memorable is a key word in the training and L&D lexicon – it’s a given that everyone involved in training wants the event or learning to lodge in the participants’ memories for as long as possible.

Most of the ‘memorable’ training offered by providers tends to focus on teambuilding activities that have nothing whatsoever to do with the work done by the participants. For example, the chocolate making undertaken by staff at Suffolk County Council last spring, which sent the Taxpayers’ Alliance apoplectic.

Others that have crossed my radar include smoothie making and leadership, rolling down hills inside large plastic orbs and teambuilding, horse whispering and leadership, and a host of other activities such as opera singing, cooking, corporate dancing, and abseiling off castle walls.

The premise is that such stuff is so out of the ordinary that delegates will not forget what they were learning at the time and will bond with fellow employees while doing it. Of course, what makes such stuff truly memorable is when something goes horribly wrong or someone makes a total prat of themselves.

For example, a colleague of mine attended a teambuilding event in Dorset, which included abseiling from some cliffs. This was about 18 years ago and she still recalls it clearly. Why? Because the instructor fell to his death after slipping during a demonstration of abseiling techniques.

Trainers themselves can also linger long in the memory. I’ve had them all. The dull, the dishevelled, the incoherent, the poorly prepared, the worse for wear, the technically inept and so on.

Of course, what is really required is that the detail of the training should be memorable. This is achieved through engagement, relevance, assessment and repetition and not through making smoothies or pizzas or chocolate.

These are really energisers that can be very costly and, as every L&D manager knows, this is not the time to be spending training budgets on fripperies.

One way of looking at whether particular elements of training are memorable is to examine the skills you have now, such as arithmetic or using a particular piece of software, or even a soft skill such as interviewing.

Repetition and relevance will have played a key part in acquiring these skills, while ballroom dancing is unlikely to have played any whatsoever.

My tip is this: if L&D managers want to ensure the training their employer offers is memorable in the right way, vet trainers’ programme outlines and notes beforehand. If there are no progress tests or repetition exercises then the learning is unlikely to lodge longer in a delegate’s memory than an England friendly.

Sapped out

I see the HR director at SAP UK is moaning about what she calls “the talent crunch” the company faces as it struggles to find and retain the skilled IT staff it needs to do whatever these software folk do.

I’m afraid this is the price of success that SAP, like other IT companies before it, must pay. Its worthy but dull products bestride the world atop Lord knows how many computers and require constant updating as more and more enhancements are released. It’s the treadmill of success in the IT market that IBM stepped on to 50 years ago.

Since then, of course, it spawned a thousand imitators and spin-offs – including one called SAP. There are a couple of answers to the crunch crisis: pay staff very high wages and send them on smoothie-making lessons. Or recruit cadres of youngsters and train them in the arts of SAP software development.

They could be called Sappettes.

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