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Trends in team building activities

In the fields of team and leadership development there are discernable trends that decision-makers follow for the latest models, books, theories and profiling tools. Just like the fashion industry.

Team building activities are no different, with clearly identifiable eras, fads and major trends that are often interesting to reflect upon when the cusp of a new era is apparent.

When we first began operating back in the late 1980's the trend was still for "outdoorsy" experiences usually inspired by the work of operators such as Project Adventure and Outward Bound. These approaches developed in the US in the early to mid 1980's predominantly for at risk youth groups, and were adapted for business clients.

These approaches, and the high and low ropes courses around which they were usually based, trickled into Australia and began to typify the "team building" of the day.

In the UK things were developing around outdoor mediums, but on what was arguably a far more "creative and sophisticated" trajectory where the outdoors was used as a "venue", but the actual programme design tended to be far better matched to a client's needs with profiling tools and classroom based content also.

A pioneer of these approaches in the UK was our good mate "Chas Sewell" at Dryll Management Development. His innovations and profesisonalism in this field were an inspiration to us when we had the opportunity to do some joint client work with him the very early 90's.

As the 90's unfolded organisations such as Eagle's Flight started to develop indoor business games (the first of which was Gold of the Desert Kings) which challenged the notion that team building needed to be a purely outdoor affair.

As "DIY Video" equipment started to become more affordable and manageable, the "make your own movie" or TV ad styles of team building activity grew in popularity.

Then there came an absolute tsunami of "drumming" and percussion based events (the best and most original of them by far being Beats Work by Catalyst which we used to love running).

This percussion and drumming trend became so quickly overdone (as it was relatively easy to equip for an deliver), that it was a relatively short lived trend.

The next "big thing" was the Reality TV game show parody.

Once "Survivor" had hit the small screens in the year 2000, quickly thereafter came the teamy knock-offs and copies for conference themes and team events. In quick succession then came the onscreeen rash of "vote them off" reality TV formats in the cooking, dancing and singing genre (and also Mr Trump's "Apprentice"). These too rapidly spawned their own rather tacky team building parody versions.

The most immitated reality TV game show format of them all has been "The Amazing Race" which has brought about literally thousands of copies around the world, including tablet and smart phone based treasure hunst and the liked branded as "races".

In immediately just pre and post GFC many providers could simply stick the name "race" on virtually anything and sell it cheaply based on the popularity of the TV format. This definitely lowered the bar somewhat in not just design quality for programmes, but it also created quite unrealistic client expectations about what tailored team development actually costs.

Another noteable trend around this time was the rise of the charity and CSR based activity. Pre-GFC these were a nice gesture from the many clients starting to meaningfully engage with charities via a team building activity.

Once the GFC hit though, and budgets dropped, this sense of altruism sadly diminished rapidly alongside the fiscal doom and gloom to be chewed up by F&B budgets on conferences. Clients still do charity based events occasionally, but in nowehere near the numbers that they did pre-GFC.

The trend lately seems to be driven by a pleasing return of accountability, demand for quality and simply getting more "bang for buck" in shorter timeframes.

This has created a renewed demand for more sophisticated programmes that are fusing individual and team profiling with more complex thematic business games.

So the trend is shifting away from the more frivolous "team builds" towards programmes that can be fun, but are also justified and linked to a real business outcome (even if across only 2 - 3 hours at a conference).

What will come after this, who knows?

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