Alison Coleman discusses the benefits of staff away days and team building events in spite of the increasing pressure on managers to cut such ‘luxuries’ from their budgets
In times of austerity, staff away days and team building events are seen by some employers as a luxury they can no longer afford. Others consider them a waste of money.
Yet few would disagree that taking a team out of their comfort zone and into a more challenging environment can benefit the organisation by strengthening team dynamics and boosting employee engagement.
“Do staff away days and team building events work? The simple answer is yes, albeit with a caveat or two; if done well and if there is a clear and meaningful reason to do it," says Chris Clarke, director at P&MM Events & Communications.
“Reasons can be many and varied; do you want to foster an environment where disparate groups of people understand each others' roles and responsibilities and how they should interact with each other? Or is it about communicating a message, one that everyone receives at the same time, the same way and by the same people. Experience and perceived wisdom says that there is genuinely no substitute for a 'face-to-face' get together," he says.
When choosing the event, you have to consider the profile of the group. A study carried out by forest adventure company Go Ape found that 67% of employees feel the main purpose of a corporate day is to have a good day out with colleagues doing an activity that they would do in their own time.
Many small and medium sized firms are recognising the value of staff away days
Karen Meager, director of Monkey Puzzle Training & Consultancy, says: "You might love sailing, quad biking, or other outdoor pursuits but if others in the group don't, they'll be terrified and won't engage with the day. If the team is a mix of extroverts and introverts try to build some interaction and some reflecting time into the day so that the extroverts stay engaged and the introverts are not exhausted or inclined to retreat from the engagement."
Corporate team building events are certainly not restricted to large organisations. Many small and medium sized firms are recognising the value of staff away days. The Go Ape treetop challenge provided the perfect team building environment for the eight members of staff at Southport Road Dental Practice, in Chorley, Lancashire.
Owner and principal dentist David Hickey said: "I wanted an event that would encourage them to work together to overcome obstacles, and would also bind the team together. We had a number of new members of staff who didn't know each other very well and members of the team who possibly didn't see the value in what others did, so everyone had an opportunity to get to know each other better, and most importantly to bond.
"It also gave me a chance to speak to members of the team in a different environment. I found them to be more honest, and for me it was easier to 'hear' them when I wasn't focused on other things. For the team as a whole the feedback was that the away day made them feel valued, and the plan is to repeat them every six months."
For team building events to deliver real benefits to the organisation, the outcomes must be measurable. One way of doing this is by completing feedback forms after the event.
Even better, says Natalie Gunson, managing director of AYMTM which organises team building events for blue chip organisations, is to conduct post event focus groups.
"These allow you to assess how effectively lessons learned during the event have been applied to the business environment and what impact there has been day to day," she says.
Clarke agrees, adding: "Legacy is important, if decisions are made or promises are committed to, they must be followed through post-event. It provides longer lasting value and your employees won't feel that it was simply a fun yet unimportant event. This will also allow you to measure ROI more accurately in terms of monitoring 'actions'."
Crucially, team building events and away days are among the most effective ways of increasing levels of engagement within an organisation. Engaged employees feel connected with the organisation’s values and that their contribution is valued, which in turn encourages people to demonstrate effort, commitment and passion.
Emma Lloyd, managing director of training company Energise and Engage, adds: "The impact of engaged employees is superior customer service, both internally and externally, increased performance and a passion to be the best; all factors that will increase profitability and equip a business to achieve goals."