Run a Google search under “team building” and behold the dizzying array of entries scrolling down your screen: drumming circles, fire walks, laser tag, paint ball, team cuisine, murder mysteries, treasure hunts, ropes courses, improvisational theater – the list goes on and on. Choosing the right team building company from the myriad options can be like picking a cereal from your average supermarket breakfast row – all the boxes are pretty and well-packaged, but what is really the best-tasting and most nutritious meal for the price?

Whether it’s cereal for your family or team building for your corporate meeting, the key to making informed choices is knowing your group and understanding your expectations. Following the seven steps below can start you on the right track to selecting that one right team building company for your organization.

Step 1) To Thine Ownself–Ask Questions: Says Rudi Diezmann, Director of Server Development at Adobe Systems, after a recent team building session, “We were looking for an activity that everyone could participate in; ‘strenuous’ activities tend to lose about 10-15% of the people right away.” Are you as clear as Diezmann about what your group can handle? Do you know both the general demographic as well as the temperament of your group? Will your people be better suited for a strenuous, high-impact, outdoor activity (like river rafting, outward bound-style survivor course, etc.), or would a lower-impact program be more appropriate? While a small start-up of active, gung-ho 20-somethings might enjoy a strenuous day of rock climbing and rapelling, a larger team of multi-generational engineers might be better suited to a more relaxed, indoor program of traditional classroom team building. Know your group and the training session will follow.

Step 2) Honestly speaking… are they telling it to you straight? There’s a scene in the movie Miracle on 34th Street where Kris Kringle, the department store Santa who believes he really is St. Nick, refers a shopper to another store. His manager goes ballistic; that is, until the shopper tells her friends how helpful they are at Macy’s, and business skyrockets. That’s the level of honesty you’d be wise to look for in your prospective team building companies. Are they promising you the moon, no matter what objections or limitations you offer them, or are they really listening and trying to satisfy your needs – even if it means referring you to another outfit? Rule of thumb: look for “helpers,”not “promisers”.

Step 3) Outcomes, Outcomes, Outcomes. Says Rick Sauer, Vice President of Sales & Marketing at Oldcastle Precast Communications, “We were looking for a team building program that would be effective and enjoyable, with long term results. (After our recent team building), people are playing a better game today.”  Most every outfit uses and re-uses the same jargon, promising to help participants grow morale, work as a team, develop strategy, communicate, be creative, empower, plan, implement, etc.” But what does this all really mean? Where the rubber really meets the road is:  will your people acquire practical business skills during the session? What often passes for team building today is merely “morale-boosting,” the equivalent of shooting billiards or visiting a brewery–fun to be sure, but hard to justify to your cost-conscious bosses. Make sure your team building provider can articulate concrete business “take aways.” Are there worksheets? Or action steps? Or communication tools people can employ immediately? Team building seminars should offer re-usable tools for teams to employ when returning to the office.

Step 4) Is there a Custom of Customization? You go to the drug store looking for aspirin; after scanning shelf after shelf of generic drugs, you spy a box with your name and your picture on the cover. Kind of spooky, perhaps, but which aspirin are you going to buy? When it comes to team building, you really do not want something that’s generic or “off the shelf.” During your conversations, observe how thoroughly the team building outfit interviews you. Are they eager to become intimately familiar with your website, your products and the current “hot” issues you’re facing? Are they mastering your company buzzwords and acronyms? Says Sauer, “We look for programs that are not canned. They should be personalized and related to our company.”

Step 5) Location, location, location. Let’s say your new hairdresser has two locations – one is a clean, modern shop on the outskirts of town, the other a rustic villa in the foothills of the Sierras. In times past, you might have chosen a leisurely jaunt to the villa getaway – but gas is expensive now, and time is precious. Thank heavens for the convenient shop nearby. Similarly, in today’s tight economy, cutting travel costs is an issue of great significance. Does the prospective team building company offer a convenient location no more than 30 minutes from your office? Or better yet, can they come to you? Travel takes time and time, as we know, is money.

Step 6) Ma’am, Can I See Your Credentials Please? You’ve found this great team building outfit on the internet, fronted by a big-name, nationally-renowned management consultant. Come the day of the training session, however, imagine your surprise when your facilitator turn out to be a mere college student, getting paid $12/ hour for their peppy personalities and their “cheerleading” ability. Checking, beforehand, on the credentials of a team building company’s facilitators is an absolute must. Where do their trainers come from? What are their qualifications? Moreover, who are the outfit’s previous clients? Is the company just starting out, or do they really possess “corporate” experience, having worked with well-known clients (with “big-business” needs)? Further, is the organization, itself, run as a team? Do they, in fact, conduct team trainings for their own staff? A team building company should always practice what they preach.

Step 7) The Customer is King…or is it? How many times have you sent an email inquiring about a company’s services, never to hear a response? Or worse, you receive the dreaded auto-mailer! Customer service matters greatly when trying to distinguish one team building outfit from next. Do they answer your calls or emails promptly? The same day? The same hour? Do they provide references straight from the get-go, saving you the trouble of asking for them later? Are they willing to send you a marketing packet, whether you’re a “pre-qualified” client or not? Choosing an “easy to work with” company will save you a lot of grief in the weeks leading up to your program.

Remembering these seven steps won’t assure you of choosing the “perfect” team building company – but it will get you off to a great start.