A leader I’m coaching asks me about facilitating a day of team-building. The start of a new year is a natural motivator for groups to reflect and plan. I tell her I prefer working with a team over six months, coaching them to a higher level of cohesion based on collective development. But this team only has a day. The question is, what can a team reasonably do in a one-day retreat?
- Have fun, celebrate and relax together. Sometimes the best “team-building” days are those that give the group a chance to relax and just spend time away from work being people together. You might go hiking, play D&D, try axe-throwing or bowling. Have a meal together. Visit the local museum or butterfly museum. A team that is physically spread out might most appreciate this face-to-face time.
- Get to know each other. Many teams like to use a self-assessment like Myers Briggs Type Indicator, or SDI or DISC to have a common language to describe themselves and their workplace preferences to each other. Maybe its time to get to know each other’s unique work experience. Give each department a chance to showcase what they do. This can increase respect for diversity and make clearer how everyone is connected and interdependent. Teams are often surprised to learn more about each other’s challenges. A day can be spent peer-coaching on “hard to solve” problems.
- Make a meaningful contribution together. Almost everyone has a cause they care about. Poll the team and see if there is an appetite to do-good together. Food banks, Habit for Humanity and many other organizations look for volunteers and can often coordinate a few hours of work for an ambitious team. You might paint, or repair or even entertain together. With some planning you can organize and run your own fundraising event (rummage or bake sale, 5 KM lunchtime run) on behalf of the cause.
- Increase shared mindset. Teams work better together, and for their customers, when they are aligned on their vision and mandate. But it means taking those public statements and unpacking them together. One of the best ways is to spend time in dialogue. Skillful inquiry and listening builds respect and commonality, and it feels completely different than the usual debate and decision-making at the heart of most team meetings. Time away from the day-to-day tasks can be used to share strategic perspectives, and create a new space to examine systemic and cross-functional concerns.
- Kick-start or finish-off important projects. Most teams have a few items that are important but not urgent. These things can be a drag on morale if ignored too long. It might be a practical task better tackled on one day, like, “clean up our office space” or “get rid of backlogs”. Perhaps you have an ambitious desire to plan a new customer experience strategy or rethink your business model. Make sure everyone does appropriate prep and has good back-fill for the day-to-day so they can dive deep into the retreat topic.
So, what can a team do in one day? They can generate ideas and solve problems. They can renew their interest and enthusiasm for the work. They can recommit to their customers and each other. They can even forgive the past and reframe the future. A day is long enough to see something different and make a new commitment. As in any relationship, the real team-building comes the day after, and the day after that.