Someone asked me this question last week. Our subsequent conversation followed a format similar to several hundred similar conversations I have had over the past 20 years or so! It went something like this:
Branch Manager: “You’re involved in training aren’t you?”
BM: “Do you do ‘team building’ events?”
Me: “We do. Why do you ask?”
BM: “Oh, we organised one last month – to sort out a few issues. It was a complete waste of time and money.”
Me: “What happened?”
BM: “We spent loads of time sorting out a suitable event, agreed to several increases in budget, and even arranged cover for some staff to make sure they could attend. But on the day there was a lot of waiting around, too much fooling about, and quite a lot of fairly irrelevant activity!”
Me: “Did people not enjoy it?”
BM: “Oh yes, they enjoyed it alright. But what did it achieve? I don’t see that they’re working together any better as a result!”
Me: “What were you hoping for?”
BM: “Well, I thought the idea was that this sort of activity was supposed to make learning more effective!”
BM: “That’s what they told me…. I wouldn’t pay out that sort of money for some kind of jolly!”
Me: “How much time was allocated to evaluation?”
BM: “I don’t know… probably half-an-hour or so?
Me: [silent – letting the penny drop]
BM: “Do you think that wasn’t enough?”
Me: “Absolutely right!”
Our conversation developed from that point, focused on the most important part of any team building event – evaluation! This is often seen as the ‘boring’ part of such events and some facilitators don’t want to ‘spoil’ the day by spending too much time on it. Others would argue that substantial development has already taken place and it does not need to be articulated. And some (sadly) just seem to miss the importance of evaluation altogether.
Evaluation can, and should, be the most rewarding part of a team building event! Of course it is unlikely to compete on a fun level with some of the activities that may have proceeded it, but it should be enjoyable and exciting, as teams explore ways they have been working together (or not!) and discover ways to improve and enhance performance.
Some of these discoveries will come out of better understanding, some as a result of looking at things from a different perspective, some after facing difficult issues head on. But most of them will be missed or lost without a strong approach to evaluation.
So what do I mean by team building evaluation, and how much time should be allocated to it?
Effective evaluation should consist of 3 main criteria:
- Allocation of realistic time to think and talk issues through.
- An adequate structure around which to think and talk, and/or an able facilitator.
- A commitment to one or more key actions.
Let’s look at each of these in turn:
How much time for team building evaluation?
While individual situations will be subject to many variables, I would argue that around 50% of any team building event should be allocated to evaluation. Some will disagree, but in my opinion that is a result of misunderstanding what evaluation is all about. It is not an end-of-day tag-on, but the most important part of the event. Simple as that! If you find yourself saying you cannot afford to give that much time to evaluation, I would suggest a thorough review of what you are planning. Better to have a simpler, less time-consuming, (and possibly less costly) activity, and ensure your evaluation session receives the attention it deserves.
Use an able facilitator
An able facilitator is ideal, and the best way to ensure productive discussion in many cases. Many event organisers offer ‘facilitation’, but they are sometimes more focussed on organising great activities, and are not necessarily the best of facilitators. If buying in external support, I would recommend hiring great facilitators, who are willing to organise an appropriate event. Alternatively, teams can be set up to carry out their own evaluation process. This generally works well as long as there is a clear focus for the team to present their results: i.e. their insights, discoveries, and commitment to actions! A (free-to-use) example team building activity, designed on this basis is available – get in touch for the link on our contact page.
Commitment to action
Commitment to action is the key way to bring about desired change. It is important to focus on a realistically achievable set of actions, which may mean that some hard choices have to be made as to what gets priority. But better to have fewer commitments that are followed through on, than an initially impressive list which fails to deliver! And whatever commitments to action are agreed upon, it is of course obvious that final implementation of change will be much stronger if accountability, encouragement and support are provided. I say obvious, although strangely, it is often the case that one or more of these key areas are neglected – but that’s another blog!
I hope these thoughts may help shape planning of some excellent team building events. If you would like to discuss any particular aspect further, please feel free to contact me through the contact form.
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