Catersource is part of the Informa Connect Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Are Your Teambuilding Events Working?

I recently did a presentation on teambuilding events and asked the audience whether they loathed or loved teambuilding events. The result? Of those who participated, there was a split of about 50-50 on either side.

Companies across the world spend billions of dollars each year on teambuilding events, attempting to bring their people closer together. The problem is that these efforts are often met with eye rolls and resistance from several employees who immediately think of trust falls and cheesy ice breakers when they hear “teambuilding.” On the other hand, consider the US Army, an organization that places significant emphasis on the importance of teambuilding. In an environment that can literally be life and death, they have found that creating closer connections not only improves the ability for teams to meet their goals and accomplish the “impossible,” but it is also paramount in helping to build bonds that can mitigate post-traumatic stress and prevent suicide.

If we want to do the work of building trust and bringing our team members closer together, we need to understand why many teambuilding events fail. 

1. They’re often forced

Assuming everyone wants to go out and play paintball for free with the resident pro in the office because he has a membership might fall flat because it doesn’t appeal to many people on the team. Instead, plan something that has a wider appeal to start, and don’t make it mandatory. Making events optional gives you the buy-in of the people who want to be there and eliminates the people who don’t want to participate. That is, those individuals who would otherwise be working against your efforts if forced to join in. Comments like “Why are they making us do this?” and “This is so dumb” will detract from your goals, create a bigger divide among your team, and ultimately ruin the effort for everyone. Start with the people that are “all in” and build momentum in a positive way, then you can address the resistors later. At some point if they are not on board with the direction you want your team to go, it may be time for what we like to call “CDE” (Career Development Elsewhere).

2. Lack of intention

The second reason teambuilding events fail is because there is no intention behind them. They are done out of obligation and haphazardly thrown together in the form of a company picnic or holiday party. As caterers, I’m sure many of you have been hired to do these types of events for other companies and you watch as a fraction of the expected guests show up and those that do are eager to leave shortly after arriving. 

If you want to do teambuilding right, think about who needs to be there, the purpose behind it, and your ideal outcome. Then you can work backward to make it unique by putting thought and intention into figuring out the right activity, the best format, and how to get people excited about it. This doesn’t necessarily require spending a lot of money. Think about how to get creative with the resources you have. There are many companies that put on a “Catering Olympics” event at their facility with competitions for tray carrying, table setting, chair stacking, and food plating. These challenges create friendly competition, reinforce training, and allow team members to show their creativity utilizing many of the products and equipment you already have on hand.

3. Misunderstanding team camaraderie

Finally, teambuilding events fail because organizers don’t understand the current state of team camaraderie. No one wants to look silly, especially around people they don’t know very well. You must take time to understand where your team stands and plan an appropriate activity. If your team is fairly new or has been struggling to work together, they probably aren’t going to be too keen on sharing deeply personal information. Start slow with approachable teambuilding activities like volunteering at a local food bank or taking a field trip to a purveyor. These offer great opportunities for team members to share an experience and get to know one another in a more organic way. Then once certain levels of safety and comfort have been established you can work your way up to more in-depth activities that help build deeper and stronger connections among the team.

Remember, not all teambuilding needs to be in the form of an event or a company outing. You can take advantage of hidden opportunities throughout the day. A five-minute kickoff question to start a meeting, a quick stretch break during the day, or providing space for team members to eat lunch together can all make a big difference if done consistently over time. Sharing personal and professional wins each week during a meeting or highlighting personal accomplishments on an internal social media account helps team members get to know one another better. And an impromptu taste test competition or trivia game can infuse fun and build camaraderie during work hours.

No matter how small, shared experiences create moments of belonging as well as offering opportunities to take our relationships to even greater levels of trust and intimacy. As leaders, we have a responsibility to help foster these connections within our teams and much of that work can be done through teambuilding activities. To ensure your teambuilding efforts have maximum impact, make sure to involve your team in the planning, be intentional about what you want to accomplish, make them unique, and do the work to understand the current state of relationships on your team.

Anthony Lambatos

Owner/CEO, Footers Catering, Denver, CO

Anthony Lambatos grew up in the catering business working for his father and founder of Footers Catering in Denver, Colorado.  Anthony and his wife, April, purchased the business in 2010 and have successfully made the transition to a second-generation family business.  They recently moved Footers Catering into a new facility that will also house their newest venture – an event center called Social Capitol.  Anthony is passionate about helping other companies create great places to work and inspiring people with heart leadership and does that through his sister company MIBE (acronym for make it better...