10 Ways to Mess up a Teambuilding Program


1) Make the teams randomly.   How many times has a client told you, “Oh, just have people number off—the team makeup doesn’t matter”, only to have the same old clique be randomly placed onto the same team?   This is very common!   Nine times out of ten, your clients want the event participants to get to know people they don’t usually work with.   Why take a chance on randomizing the process and having friends accidentally placed with friends, buddies with buddies?   Make the teams intentionally, beforehand – with the assistance of your client, of course!


2) Neglect the client’s goals and needs.  Some years back, a client asked me to create a teambuilding scavenger hunt program for their sales team and their spouses.   Needless to say, if the spouses are along, they are not going to be interested in a business-oriented event; they’re on the event to have fun.  However, my facilitator neglected to ask the client about their goals and needs, proceeding to frame the entire program in terms of efficiency, deliverables, and ROI!    The spouses rolled their eyes the entire time!    It seems like a no-brainer, but ask your clients what they want, and then give it to them.  Off-the-shelf teambuilding never works!


3) Neglect the participants’ physical abilities.   Although there is a lot to be said for pushing people beyond their perceived limitations, you don’t necessarily want to go overboard on this.  If your client tells you that more than one or two participants need to be off of their feet (due to recent foot surgery, for example), you may not want to have people do a long, walking-oriented teambuilding event.   At the very least, you should have some way for disable participants to participate while the others are walking!  Perhaps you can station them along the course of your scavenger hunt, as “living clues”!  Again, ask your clients about the physical abilities of their team first, then plan your event accordingly.


4) Fail to ask about the team’s temperament.   Each department or division has a specific mood or energy.  In general, sales teams tend to be more extroverted and rambunctious, while engineers can be more introverted and low-key.   But this can vary widely!  Ask your clients about the temperament of the team, then choose the right teambuilding activity that all will enjoy.  Don’t ask a sales team to quietly solve math puzzles!


5) Neglect the team demographic.  Not all teams are created equally.   The teambuilding activity that a group of Baby Boomers would love (Oldies TV trivia, for example) may not be a Millennial group’s cup of tea.    Always ask your client such questions as:  What’s the age range of this group?   What’s the balance between men and women?    How many of the participants are native speakers?    Where are people from?   How many of them are managers or senior managers?    The more you know about the demographics, the better your chance of satisfying all (and minimizing complaints like “It wasn’t fair!”).


6) Run over time.  As a teambuilding facilitator, your priorities are:  make it fun, make it relevant, and over-deliver on your client’s requirements.   But you also have an unstated priority, namely to finish on time!     Often clients have tight schedules; many times they have restaurant reservations afterwards that cannot be changed.   Don’t run over time!   As my father used to say, “When in doubt, cut it out!”


7) Neglect to prepare a back up program.    This is particularly relevant for outdoor teambuilding programs!    If bad weather is forecasted, you better have permission from the client to continue, rain or shine.  Better yet, however, why not have a back up plan!   Is there some way your event, in a pinch, could have happen indoors?  For our teambuilding scavenger hunts, for instance, we always prep an indoor hunt option.   It’s just good sense.


8) Fail to take into account noise and distractions.    If you perform your events outside, as we do at Dr. Clue, a lot of distractions can spontaneously pop up to derail your activity.   One of the most common is street noise!   Say you’re about to start your talk when a nearby jack hammer starts banging away.  You can soldier on, of course, OR you can move the group to another part of the park.  Or you can simply ask people to wait a moment.  Or you can go talk to the construction worker.  Whatever you do, don’t ignore the situation. Be aware and respond.   Make sure, as well, to always remind the group to step in close when you’re talking.   Teams have this strange centrifugal force that pulls them away from the speaker, especially during break out activities.  If you want them to hear your precious pearls of wisdom, shepherd them in!


9) Allow side conversations to hijack the program. As a facilitator, if you’re doing your job right, people will be excited; they will be animated, engaged and expressing themselves.   However, there are times when you have to get people’s attention; the last thing anyone wants is for you to be yelling, “Hello, I’m trying to say something here!”.   Take control of the situation from the very beginning, with a technique like, “If you can hear me, clap your hands once”.   Eventually, enough people will be clapping to alert everyone to stop their talking.  My favorite tool is to tell people “Pass the shush”.  When they hear this, participants know that they’re supposed to say “Sshhhhh” and turn their attention to me.  It works like a charm.


10) Under-prepare materials.  Say your client tells you, “We’re going to have 20 people in attendance.  Please prepare for 4 teams of five”. And then, upon arrival, you notice that an extra 10 people have suddenly materialized.  You prepped for 4 teams of five; with 30 people to cater to, you must now create 4 teams of 7 or 8 people, which is just too many!    No matter what your client estimates, over-prepare!   Always bring enough materials to accommodate unexpected late comers.



To hear Dave Blum’s further thoughts on this topic, click on the video below: