In the latest episode of Outback Talks, we sit down with Senior Engagement Consultant Bryan McWilliams to pick his brain about diverse instances where organizations do team building.
Team building comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes. In the latest episode of Outback Talks: The Employee Engagement Podcast, we sit down with Senior Engagement Consultant Bryan McWilliams to pick his brain about diverse instances where organizations do team building.
Listen to the podcast below or continue reading for a summary of the discussion, where we cover these topics and more:
- Common-Use Cases for Team Building
- The Big Benefits of Team Building
- Outside-the-Box Team Building Scenarios
Team building has an extensive reach. It's something that can apply to a wide variety of situations and specific needs and can benefit literally everyone – which is why so many organizations make it a core component of their workplace culture.
Bryan McWilliams, a Senior Engagement Consultant at Outback Team Building & Training, has helped plan thousands of team building activities to meet customers' objectives – from the common to the not-so-common – in his 11 years with the organization. Working primarily with Fortune 500 companies like Microsoft and Deloitte, Bryan has a special knack for understanding his clients' needs and finding the right event to suit them – a big factor in why they're also frequently returning customers.
"We're invested in these relationships long-term," he says. "A lot of the clients I've been working with, I've been with them literally for seven, eight, nine years, and they'll come to us year after year for their annual conferences and for other professional development or employee engagement opportunities. We're invested in the success of each of the events."
In Bryan's experience, some of the most common situations he's seen organizations integrate a team building event into are:
- Retreats for leadership team members (check out our online guide on company retreats)
- Kick-off meetings and conferences (read more about how to have an unforgettable kick-off in our article)
- Regional off-site meetings for Human Resources departments (work in HR? Check out this online resource)
But, Bryan adds, "Anytime there's a catalyst for bringing a team together, it would be a good opportunity for a team build."
These morale-boosting events have a huge range of benefits for corporate groups, including:
- Getting to know your colleagues better – which is pretty important considering that, according to research from Gettysburg College, you spend one third of your life at work￼. On average, 90,000 hours!
- Increasing employee engagement. Did you know that, as per data collected by Daily Infographic, companies with engaged employees have more than double the revenue than companies with low engagement?
- Further developing skills like communication and collaboration. According to Bit.AI, 86% of employees cite lack of collaboration or ineffective communications as a reason for failure in the workplace.
- Reinforcing company culture. A joint study by Columbia and Duke Universities found that 92% of surveyed CEOs said they believed improving their firm’s corporate culture would improve the value of the company.
It’s not just about retreats and kick-off meetings, though. There are plenty of other, more unique reasons that companies seek to reap to benefits of team building. Mergers and acquisitions, for one.
"It can be pretty interesting where you literally have two separate cultures and you're trying to create one in the merger and come out as one team,” Bryan says. “It can be quite a unique scenario to be involved in those and hear ideas from both sides of the table and try to come up with a collaborative approach that's going to work for everyone, one team moving forward."
Read our case study on how we helped two separate credit unions engage their employees and bring their different cultures together.
Another situation that Bryan has seen businesses incorporate team building into? Pharmaceutical product launches.
"We've seen some interesting ones where some companies have been working on a new drug for 10 years," he says. "There's been a lot of hype, a lot of buildup, and they've finally launched the drug and it's an opportunity to celebrate and bring their whole team together."
A recent activity Bryan worked on was a philanthropic-themed one to launch a pharmaceutical drug that helps sick children in hospitals.
“And [the company], actually, as part of the event, built these care packages with a bunch of care items that were going to go to their patients,” he says. “So, then you talk about collaboration and making an impact – of course, their drug is making a huge impact, but then so is this team building event and all these care packages that they're giving to their patients as part of the drug launch. So, incredibly memorable, and you've got thousands and thousands of dollars of donated items going to these kids in need.”
With a diverse range of situations can often come the need to create a custom team building activity. At Outback, we can create a custom event that suits your company's unique needs that will also retain the event's higher purpose (read our blog post to learn more about a few times we did exactly that). Bryan tells us how he helps his clients find that balance:
"When I'm consulting with my clients, one of the questions I love to ask is: 'is there an overarching theme to your retreat, to your offsite, to your town hall?' Because, quite often, what we can do is we can use that information and pick one of our standard events – we have over 60 different themes and options for team building programs. [We can] pick a standard event that organically will tie into that theme for the conference. Or, we can take that theme and [our] custom creative department can layer in that theme into the team build to bring it to life. The engagement will go up and some of the retention of the learning and takeaways will go up, as well."
One of the most unique custom team building activities that Bryan helped plan was for a technology client a few years ago that combined two different types of learning styles: experiential and intellectual.
During an executive retreat to launch their new leadership principles, the organization wanted to wrap up a very cerebral-focused session by bringing those values to life in an original way. So, Bryan and his client came up with the idea to have the colleagues, split into teams, partake in an art project where they would create special mandalas that related to the new principles.
"The facilitator gave each team a letter, a printed-out letter, and then a bag of white sand,” Bryan recalls. “And they were given the instructions to superimpose that letter on top of their mandala design. So, one team would do an E, another team might do an F, another team might do a D, and then we lined up all the boards in order and superimposed letters with these beautiful, colorful backdrops and spelled out the three leadership principles that the company was launching at that executive leadership retreat. Then, they built a custom quilt that went up in the company's head office, with the three leadership principles. They were talking about those leadership principles throughout the entire two-day retreat and then it was brought to life through an experiential two-hour experience and everybody remembered it."
The event provides a great example of how a unique idea can come together to create an all-around impactful team building activity.
"I'm a huge believer that people different people learn and retain knowledge in different ways," Bryan continues. "And I've read a lot of studies that talk about people who pick things up in an experiential way versus in an intellectual way. I think it's great [that] at one of these conferences you could have a keynote speak in a very intellectual way – but if you can layer in an experiential activity, like I just described, for all the experiential learners in the room, they're now going to absorb it and pick it up through that process, as well. And then, it will land and will actually be remembered by everyone. So, that type of dual purpose or dual learning approach can have big impact. So, this is a vehicle to do that."
After all: team building is for everyone. No matter how unique your situation or group dynamic is, there’s an activity that can help your organization achieve the goals it needs to meet. And, at Outback, we have no shortage of fantastic options – from indoor and outdoor to charitable and philanthropic – to choose from.
Need Further Support on Planning a Team Building Activity?
Just reach out to one of our knowledgeable Employee Engagement Consultants to find a team building activity that's perfect for your corporate group.
Yasmine Shemesh: Welcome to Outback Talks: The Employee Engagement Podcast. This podcast is produced by Outback Team Building & Training, a leading team building, training, and consulting provider for organizations across North America. I'm your host, Yasmine Shemesh, and today we have a very special guest joining us. Bryan McWilliams is a Senior Engagement Consultant here at Outback and he sat down with me to talk about the diversity of team building, as well as some of the common and uncommon applications of it that he's seen throughout his 11-year career. Take a listen.
YS: I'm sitting here with Bryan McWilliams. Thank you so much for joining me today, Bryan.
BM: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
YS: You are a Senior Engagement Consultant with us here at Outback. So, how long have you been working at the company for?
BM: I’ve been with the company, it’ll be 11 years this July. Hard to believe.
BM: Yeah, thank you.
YS: That's a big milestone.
BM: It is, yeah, for sure.
YS: So, in that time, approximately how many team building activities do you think you've helped plan? Ballpark.
BM: Yeah, good question. I think I'd probably break it down and think about it per year, on average, doing around, I would say 250 to 300 team building events per year. So, I guess that would be somewhere between 2,500 and probably 3,300, roughly somewhere in that range, over the past 11 years.
YS: Wow. So, who are some of your clients that you've worked with over the years?
BM: So, a lot of the clients I work with are Fortune 500 companies, a lot of major corporations. So, companies like Microsoft, TD Bank, Deloitte, Exxon Mobil, those types of organizations, NOW Canada. So yeah, a lot, a lot of different corporations, good amounts of employees, typically do offsite conferences. And we've had the pleasure of working in almost every type of industry from telecommunications to tech to pharmaceutical. So yeah, all different realms.
YS: That's wonderful.
YS: So, now, you just mentioned offsite conferences. What are some common reasons that organizations usually reach out to you?
BM: Lots of different reasons. Anytime there's a catalyst for bringing a team together, it would be a good opportunity for a team build. So, a lot of the common scenarios would be leadership retreats for executive leadership groups or key management teams, sales kickoffs or sales conferences, regional off sites for HR groups.
Some of the more interesting ones or unique ones would be things like product launches. Recently, I've seen a bit of a trend with pharmaceutical drug launches. We've seen some interesting ones where some companies have been working on a new drug for 10 years and there's been a lot of hype, a lot of buildup, and they've finally launched the drug and it's an opportunity to celebrate and bring their whole team together. So, some situations like that.
And then sometimes just simple quarterly team builds where groups at a local, regional office or headquarters want to get out of the office for a few hours in the afternoon on a Friday or middle of the week and just build some camaraderie, have some fun, break down barriers, those types of things. So, it doesn't have to be an organized offsite. A lot of it could be a localized thing where they just want to get out of the office, as well, for a few hours.
YS: That's really cool. So, do you see a lot of unique applications of team building as well, aside from those sort of more common themes?
BM: Yeah, that's a good question. I'd have to think about that a little bit more. I think I'd probably go back to what I mentioned a minute ago and the more unique ones would be pharmaceutical drug launches or a big product launch that's gone on. I guess it would depend on definition of unique or what we are thinking of with unique. I think some of the more interesting ones I've worked on is when there's been some mergers or acquisitions and you've got two different cultures coming together and forming one company through the merger and acquisition. Can be pretty interesting and pretty unique in a sense there where you literally have two separate cultures and you're trying to create one in the merger and come out as one team. It can be quite a unique scenario to be involved in those and hear ideas from both sides of the table and try to come up with a collaborative approach that's going to work for everyone, one team moving forward. So, I've seen more of those recently and I consider those quite unique, the mergers for sure.
YS: Now what about what about really customized team building events, unique applications in that sense? Have you seen a lot of those?
BM: Yeah, tons of those and one of the trends we've noticed in recent years is, as I mentioned, a lot of these team builds have been applied as a component or segment of a multiday offsite, where of course there's going to be other things going on: keynote speakers, planning sessions, addresses from either the CEO or Vice President of companies. And some of them could be new themes or goals for the company moving into the new year. So, a lot of this stuff could kick off at the start of the year. Obviously, companies have different fiscal years, so it could start off at the kick off of their fiscal year. And what we've noticed is companies don't want just a random team building event to be plopped in the middle of a two- or three-day conference with no context and no flow to the other elements or components of that three-day conference. The feedback being that if you just have a random idea that just plops in, it's going to feel disjointed and participants aren't going to feel as engaged because it's not very relevant. The feedback could be, “Hey, we just had this keynote speaker that was talking about this specific topic and then he threw us right after into a team building event. It was completely different and there was no tie and no relevance.” So, what we've been finding is when I'm consulting with my clients, one of the questions I love to ask is: is there an overarching theme to your retreat, to your offsite, to your town hall? Because quite often what we can do is we can use that information and pick one of our standard events because we have over 60 different themes and options for team building programs. Pick a standard event that organically will tie into that theme for the conference. Or we can take that theme and we actually have a custom creative department. They can layer in that theme and messaging into the team build to bring it to life and then make the team build feel like it's actually designed and it's bespoke for the client conference and therefore the engagement will go up. And then some of the retention of the learning and takeaways will go up as well.
YS: Absolutely. That's a great point that you made. And that was actually something that I wanted to touch on with you as well, is that, you know, if a client does want to customize something so much, is there ever a time where perhaps the intention of the activity can be lost in translation of that and then finding that balance between making sure that their needs are met and that the intention of the program is still there. How do you find that balance when those things occur?
BM: Yeah, that's a good thought. I think it's an interesting question. The theme has to be realistic in terms of being able to bring it to life and incorporate it into a team building event. So, for example, some common themes that I've worked on in the last couple of years could be things like “one team together” or “rise up together.” And there's things, those types of themes we can bring to life through a team building event. But if it was too specific or too technical, for example, there's certain technical things we just couldn't bring to life, right? But if it's, say core values of a company or core themes of a product launch, there's a good chance we could work that into an existing team building event and bring it to life.
I think my biggest take takeaway is it can't be too complex cause there's only so much we can do in a two- to three-hour team building events to bring it to life and make it still engaging, still interactive, still relevant. If it's too technical, it might be better served bring that message to life through a keynote speaker or through an internal L and D session for example, to bring that technical information to light for the participants. Because ultimately the team build still has to be engaging, it still has to be hands-on, it still has to be interactive, it still has to be experiential. And sometimes if the content is too high level, too in-depth, you just can't incorporate it. But most of the time with conference themes and company core values, we're able to bring them to life.
YS: That's great. And the great thing is too, I mean, being someone who has so much experience in this field, you know, you understand how to help that client meet their needs, if maybe there is something too complex and then here's the way that we can balance it to sort of meet in the middle.
BM: For sure. Yeah, absolutely. And we're invested in these relationships long-term. A lot of the clients I've been working with, I've been working with them literally for seven, eight, nine years, and they'll come to us year after year for their annual conferences and for other professional development or employee engagement opportunities. And we're invested in the success of each of the events. And we want to put our best foot forward. And I have absolutely no qualms with telling a client that, ”Hey, I think we're grasping at straws a little bit here and be realistic with the outcomes.” And if we feel like we can't deliver on something or something's a bit of a stretch, we'll be up front about that because we were putting our brand forward and I understand clients have certain objectives and they have to get certain takeaways out of a program. And if we don't feel we can deliver on that, will be very upfront with them about that and see if we can brainstorm alternative ways to meet the same objective or if there's other tools or services that could be delivered to help meet that objective, for sure. But yeah, I think overall, most of my experience, the custom content that clients want to bring forward, it's not overly complex.
And, as an example, I had a tech client do an executive leadership retreat a few years back and they had three leadership principles that were two words each. And we created this really unique custom program around mandalas, where essentially each group of six were given a bunch of different colors of sand and they had to create a beautiful art project, a mandala, and it was all about patience, and mindfulness, and empathy in creating the mandala. It was a colorful project. There was probably, I think in total about 21 teams, and then at the end – or actually now that I think it through, there would have been more than that, there would have been about 38-39 teams.
And then at the end, the facilitator gave each team a letter, a printed-out letter, and then a bag of white sand. And they were given the instructions to superimpose that letter on top of their mandala design. So one team would do an E, another team might do an F, another team might do a D, and then essentially what we did is we lined up all the boards in order and then superimposed letters with these beautiful, colorful backdrops and spelled out the three leadership principles that the company was launching at that executive leadership retreat.
And then we had our graphic designer put it together… and then they built a custom quilt that went up in the company's head office, with the three leadership principles. So, that's an example of, they were talking about those leadership principles throughout the entire two-day retreat and then it was brought to life through an experiential two-hour experience and everybody remembered it, and then you had an end project afterwards, right?
That was an event we had never run before and the client came to us with the objective of, we want to bring these leadership principles to life because they're incredibly important in our business moving into 2018. So, then we came up with this way to do it and it went over quite well and the feedback was quite strong. And then the lasting benefit, they actually have this beautiful art piece to remember it by.
YS: Absolutely. I would imagine as well, every time that they look up at that thing too, the quilt, they're going to remember all of the great points of their activity and the things that they learned and how they felt.
BM: Absolutely. I'm a huge believer that people different people learn and retain knowledge in different ways. And I've read a lot of studies that talk about people who pick things up through experiential learning, in an experiential way versus in an intellectual way. And I think it's great at one of these conferences you could have a keynote, you can have a member of leadership speak about what the three leadership principles mean to the organization in a very intellectual way, I think that's phenomenal – but if you can back fill it and layer in an experiential activity like I just described for all the experiential learners in the room, they're now going to absorb it and pick it up through that process as well. And then, what I said earlier, it will land and will actually be remembered by everyone. So, that type of dual purpose or dual learning approach can have big impact.
And if the message is as is important enough, which I, for a lot of companies, I would hope the leadership principles are important to really layer in and really hammer home, it's worth approaching it from a few different angles and sure that it really is retained. Because then, in my experience, a lot of times that can be the sole purpose of these two-day retreats is obviously collaboration, get some facetime, but launch the new core values, new leadership principles and make sure the leaders know them and understand why they're important. So, this is a vehicle to do that.
YS: That's a wonderful example you just gave, but, just off the top of your head, what is the most unique application of team building that you've seen?
BM: Yeah, that would be one of them for sure. And then as I mentioned earlier, like I think it's just really cool recently some of these pharmaceutical companies I've worked with that are creating incredible drugs and medical devices that are helping thousands of people around the world and their team has literally been at it for 10 years, coming up with the drug and they finally launched it. And there's just so much energy and there's so much excitement. And instead of just running a traditional party, like, “Hey, let's just have some food and beverage,” they're actually doing some experiential team building events with some charitable components that basically celebrate this massive win that the thousands of people or hundreds of people that have been working on this drug or medical device for the last 10 years, they've literally invested their heart and souls into it and they've launched it, they've succeeded, it's helping tens of thousands of people. And then we'll bring to life an experiential team building event that recognizes them, that rewards them, gives them a platform to collaborate and celebrate each other. But that can also layer in a philanthropic element, where there's a build item or a care package that's built.
I recently worked on one where we did, it was a pharmaceutical drug that helps children in hospitals, sick children. And they actually, as part of the event, they built these care packages with a bunch of care items that were going to go to their patients. So, then you talk about collaboration and making an impact – of course, their drug is making a huge impact, but then so is this team building event and all these care packages that they're giving to their patients as part of the drug launch.
So incredibly memorable and you've got thousands and thousands of dollars of donated items going to these kids in need. So, those types of stories I think from a human level are the ones that land the most because inherently people do like to give, they do like to help, they do like philanthropic actions and these experiential charitable team builds that tie directly into company's patients makes so much sense from all angles.
I worked on one of those recently, out east. I would say those are probably my favorite ones to work on and definitely have the biggest impact. And you mentioned a minute ago about the memory afterwards. The feedback I always get from clients when I reconnect six months or 12 months after a philanthropic event is, they'll say, “We still remember the massive impact that donation had and then through that memory, I remember who, which of my colleagues, I did it with, what I learned about them, the energy of the night, all the positivity of the activity and everything else.” So yeah, tons of positives that come out of those philanthropic events, for sure.
YS: That's wonderful. Because then it's not just about helping the internal team, it's doing it for a larger purpose, giving back. That’s really amazing.
BM: Absolutely. And it all ties in, right? And I think in today's business world where everyone is so busy, everyone's going a mile a minute, there's hundreds of emails in your inbox unread at all times. And people are busy and if you're going to ask them to take two to three hours out of pocket to go do an event like this, it's got to have impact. It's got to be meaningful. It's got to be relevant. And if you just pick a random team build just to do a team build, the feedback I received from clients is it doesn't land. People are too busy to do that. It has to be relevant. It has to be bespoke to their group and all these things we're talking about. And then participants leave saying, “Wow, I am going back to probably a few voicemails and a bunch of emails from being out of pocket, out of the office for the afternoon, but it was worthwhile because we just gave $10,000 worth of gift baskets to sick children.” Versus, “Hey, we were just playing around with some goofy team build for a few hours. I would rather probably been at work.” Right? So, it's got to have that impact for sure, because people are busy.
YS: Absolutely. Well, thank you so much Bryan, for taking the time to chat with us. This was really wonderful.
BM: Yeah. My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
YS: And that's it for this episode of Outback Talks. Thank you so much again to Bryan for taking the time to be on our show today and thank you for listening. Outback Team Building & Training helps organizations across North America build relationships through memorable team building, training, and consulting experiences. And our team has been recommended by over 14,000 corporate groups in the United States and Canada. For more expert advice on team building and employee engagement, visit the downloadable resources section of our website at outbackteambuilding.com, to take a look at our free guides, or just get in touch with one of our Employee Engagement Consultants. And don't forget to subscribe to our podcast on Spotify, iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher. Until next time, this is Outback Talks: The Employee Engagement Podcast.