Team Building Activity Styles
Classic Outdoor Team Building
Outdoor adventure based team building and experiential learning could arguably be traced back to ancient militaries seeking to develop cohesion amongst their troops, and the ability to think on their feet for their officers.
Indeed modern militaries still do exactly this with outdoor team based adventure training scenarios of various formats. These range from devilishly difficult problem solving tasks used for Officer selection and development (e.g. by the Australian Army / Royal Military College Duntroon / ADFA), to small and large unit competitions that will pit units against myriad physical and cerebral challenges in the field at annual regimental, Brigade or Divisional competitions.
In the context of approaches used for commerce, schools and non-military organisations, then looking to the late 60’s and early 70’s for High and Low Ropes Courses and the like is more appropriate. Individuals like Karl Rohnke and organisations like Project Adventure in the USA pioneered the use of High and Low Ropes Courses.
In the UK organisations such as Dryll, Impact, Brathay etc were at the vanguard of using the outdoors as a venue for team building challenges and experiences to aid the team and leadership development process.
Often approaches adapted for commercial use will be of far less physical intensity and use the outdoors as more of a novel backdrop than as a medium for imposing genuine physical stress and discomfort as the military would.
Outdoor Initiative Games
In tandem with the popularity of the Ropes Course format into the 1980’s came various formulae of outdoor initiative tasks or games used for team building.
These are often disparagingly nicknamed “string and bucket games”.
Typically offerings like “Spiders Web”, “Prouty’s Landing”, “Planks Between the Islands” style come to mind as pretty standard fare throughout most of the 80’s.
Those used by the military and more cutting edge providers were typically of a more sophisticated design and construct, but the concept of a team of approximately 6 – 10 people working to rescue something, cross something or beat the clock in a 20 – 30 minute timeframe was usual.
Some overarching narrative, storyline or brief was usually given to spice up the scrounged string and rubber bands that were being used to recover a fake bomb / Dragon egg etc.
Indoor Themed Business Games
Increasing demand for more sophisticated forms of experiential learning that could inject content far more relevant to business spurred some providers into designing tabletop themed business games.
Amongst the pioneers in this field across the late 80’s and early 90’s were Sabre Corporate Development (Aus), Eagles Flight (Canada) and Catalyst Events (UK) All three of these providers are still operating.
Games such as When in Rome, Battlespace, Gold of The Desert Kings, River Runner and Diamonds R4 Ever come to mind as good examples of the genre. They are typically 2 – 3 hour indoor table top formats (with some hands-on tasks around the room), and have high production values for printed materials, game pieces and de-brief materials.
The design, testing and production of this genre being far more sophisticated than that required for standard 10 - 30 minute outdoor problem solving / team building games limited it to a handful of providers world-wide for quite some time.
Arguably there are still only a handful of providers that can claim to generate original games of quality in this field to this day.
Art Based Team Building
The gradual movement of team building indoors brought with it a desire for providers to start looking at genre other than tabletop games.
Team painting challenges, movie making and even theatrical productions, theatre sports and comedy formats started to appear in the 90’s.
Reality TV Team Building Formats
The arrival of the reality TV game Show “Survivor” onto world TV screens brought with it countless parodies and copies for staff team building or as conference team events.
Not long after came the “Amazing Race” and then “Master Chef”.
Whilst there was initially some novelty value in parodies of these formats, they also can arguably be blamed also for lowering the standards in the team building field for creativity, originality and sophistication.
Behavioural Profiling for Team Building
Experiential learning whether in the form of classic team building, or more sophisticated business games has great potential to achieve some team bonding and short term outcomes (if designed and delivered well).
It does however have truly limited long-term value without some solid underpinning and linkage back to real world outcomes.
Behavioural profiling tools such as The Belbin Team Role Model add tremendous value to classic team building activities by also providing insight into the real behavioural interactions that impact teamwork and daily execution.
Individual and team profiles can enable people to see clearly during and after the team building activity content just how individual and team strengths and weaknesses manifest when people work together.
In the absence of some form of good evidence-based behavioural profiling and de-brief, there are substantial risks that the“feel good factors” from a team outing will wear off quite quickly under real world pressures upon a return to the workplace.