Ideas on People and Performance, Team Building, Motivation and Innovation

Tag: ideas to make events more interactive

Make Your Off-site Team Building Event Pay Off

Organizations hold off-site meetings to generate more alignment, introduce a new strategy initiative, build increased collaboration and related goals. The Big Idea is that the expenditures for these meetings will generate a return on that investment. I will loosely define one overall goal as “team building” and I will suggest some ideas and frameworks that will actually accomplish some of that.

These events and meetings should involve and engage participants and generate a better sense of ownership and involvement about what they might choose to do differently: “more better faster cheaper.” But inspiration alone won’t cut it and lectures and presentations will sometimes distract people from their emails. People will often drift off from a presentation and knowledge does not always translate into behavior change. Just explaining things will only have a modest impact on results or generate any change in behavior, as you have probably witnessed.

Human beings are paradoxical creatures.
What I know does not directly translate into what I do.

We judge ourselves by our intentions.
We judge others by their behavior.

And we are known to have that common behavior of overestimating our own performance when good measurements are not good.  This cognitive bias for over-estimating even has a term: illusory superiority.”

Examples abound:

  • In one study, 84% of the students predicted they would cooperate with their partner, but only 61% actually did. The irony is that their prediction of other student’s behavior was close to actual.
  • people with a below-average IQ tend to overestimate their IQ
  • In a survey of faculty at the University of Nebraska, 68% rated themselves in the top 25% for teaching ability.
  • In a similar survey, 87% of MBA students at Stanford University rated their academic performance as above the median.
  • For driving skill, 93% of the US drivers put themselves in the top 50% of all vehicle operators.

We will not delve into all the reasons for this; the information is nicely covered in a Wikipedia article. Here, let’s focus on practicalities when it comes to costs and impacts and generating commitment and change.

Here are some ideas and possible solutions that represent my personal biases along with 30 years of experience in these kinds of settings:

Have really solid goals and expectations for what you want to see done differently.  Communicating ideas and data might give someone the chance to be seen, but it is a pretty costly way to move that information. Think about the past and what worked well insofar as meeting goals and actual outcomes – what kinds of things helped attendees do something differently after the meeting to solve problems or improve results.

1 – Communicate before the meeting with the facts, information and relevant data that people will need to do things differently. Give them the tools and pre-thinking review time to allow the data to link with any new information or stimulate new ideas. Most people think better with time for processing and consideration and new ideas generally link to old information.

2 – Put the right people in the seats. Maybe you do need everyone to attend, but maybe you don’t. If your meeting is a celebration junket, that is different than if it is a key meeting to drive out a new strategic plan. The people who are there should be the people who need to be there! Everyone else is either costly or distracting or both.

3 – Let their feets get them off their seats. Do things that get them moving around and interacting in some kind of focused way. Breaks can be useful, but people are often off doing their own things with phone calls and emails instead of talking with each other about shared issues and desired changes. While some would suggest prohibiting cellphone use during the meetings, I think we should try to treat attendees as something other than third-grade students and allow them responsible use — you never know when they might have some real business emergency with a real business impact and you DO want them in the room and not out in the hallway expecting some call. Phones do have a vibrate setting!

4 – Design facilitated engagement and involvement. Don’t just do things TO people but insure that your sessions involve and engage them. Do things WITH attendees if you can. Solicit their ideas and their input. Challenge them to help solve business problems instead of presenting them with solutions, if you can.

Nobody ever washes a rental car

Be sure to do things to share ownership. People are more likely to take risks and challenges if they are invested in the situations.

5 – Allow people to work in teams but also collect their notes and thoughts. You can use worksheets or easel-pad brainstorming and mindmaps and similar tools. You can use dot-voting and other consensus-building activities. You can use twitter and other interactive media or collaboration software, if the group is comfortable with that approach. (You might encourage all of them to bring their laptops / notepads or smartphones to certain interactive work sessions.)

Leadership and presenters should be asking questions and generating perspective and sharing missions and visions more than they should be standing there “yelling and telling,” no matter how charismatic they are. Like John Le Carre wrote,

A desk is a dangerous place
from which to view the world

The more hands-on, broadly experiential the base of information, the more ownership involvement and real-world information you can generate, the better the impacts.

6 – Structure followup on the ideas that are generated and push people to do things differently. There are any number of ways to generate commitment and your current organizational culture and experience should offer you ideas about what kinds of things work (and what kinds of things do not). You might have each person post one good idea into email or on a specifically designed note card collected by the senior manager. You might organize natural teams to collect and look to help implement good ideas. Department heads might be tasked with generating 5 good ideas for change and improvement, along with action plans and a project management template of some kind.

But DO something. Make some things happen and attribute those positive results to the leadership and through the organization as experiences have shown to be successful. Too many meetings just end; they do not generate efforts at improvements, much less impact results.

If you are just meeting to meet, with no other expected changes, then consider communicating through podcasts or other techniques and save a whole big bunch of money in travel expenses, time and salaries. Your meeting should generate actions that impact results.


The reason I write this post is that I have seen some events that really fail to generate what they could, simply because of the “powerpoint presentation culture” that exists in so many organizations. Similarly, I hear about programs that do the simply “fun team building” kinds of things, the electronic spin-the-wheel “Wheel of Fortune” games or the Jeopardy or treasure hunt activities, none of which will generate much real teamwork or real problem-solving or behavior change.

Since 1993, we have been developing and supporting an actual business simulation exercise with real impacts on teamwork and planning and which structures debriefings focused on shared missions and visions, expectations and teamwork. A differentiating feature is the anchor point to inter-team collaboration, rather than the more common competition between teams. For so many organizations, “Interdepartmental Collaboration” is an oxymoron rather than an implementation strategy. Generating real collaboration is of very high value to most businesses.

We offer a most excellent team building exercise that you can purchase for repeated use or rent for a one-time event.

Lost Dutchman Gold Mine Logo with three icons

There are literally dozens of articles about the exercise here on the blog. Directly connect with me if this might be of any interest to your organization. I will try to share my thoughts and ideas about features and benefits of this exercise. It is straightforward in its delivery and not difficult to facilitate and link to a variety of desired outcomes. My coaching and design collaboration are free.

For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott SimmermanDr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.

Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at

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Scott’s quips and quotes on Poems on The Workplace is here.

Square Wheels are a trademark of Performance Management Company

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Avoiding Deep Vein Thrombosis and Death by Powerpoint

Exciting and Engaging and Large Corporate Event are phrases that are seldom linked together. Put 200 people in a room and all thoughts of interactivity are gone, even though there are some simple and effective ways to involve and engage people that would be a big benefit for most organizations.

Time is Money. True. For a half-day meeting, you have the cost of salaries, transportation and lodging, meeting venue, meals and all that stuff. So that justifies punishing them with a lecture that they will not remember? And, is any of that information presented not available in some other format like a webcast or a podcast or a downloadable presentation of some kind that did not involve all of the above costs?

And sitting. Lots of research says that almost every one of us does it way too much. I sit at my computer a good bit, but I also make it a point to hit the kitchen for coffee, move about when on the phone, hit some pool balls, work on my other  computer on a stand-up desk, and similar. Heck, when I finish drafting this, I have a lawn to mow…

Big Company Cultures are hard to change, and many are very much into the stand-up lecture by a Most Senior Manager plus some Big Name Presenter, with a name like Rick Pittino, there to tell everyone how to manage people, not to really step back and see that he “manages” a group of elite athletes of 20 years of age who are all trying to make it to the Pro ranks in basketball. Better yet, get some comedian or comedienne so at least people are laughing and writing down some of the jokes.

My view is that these events are unique, and thus represent really unusual opportunities to do things that cannot be done through email or conferences. So, I will try to add some key thoughts about making these large events more effective. Frankly, there seem to be a lot of strange and sometimes seemingly irrelevant things done in the name of team building and organizational development. 

Death by Powerpoint is such a common concept that it must have a high degree of commonality and truth. Bing showed 177,000 results for “death by powerpoint” and google showed 266,000. One thread in one LinkedIn group had over 250 individual comments a while back around the issue and with examples of awful presentations — at least they were memorable for something, right?

Hang around the ballroom area of any large hotel and when the doors open up, you will see lots of people sitting, just sitting there inactive. It reinforces this notion of Death By Powerpoint, or at least death by non-involvement. One wonders why there are not warnings about deep vein thrombosis for some of these presentations!

Wikipedia showed one of the causes as, “inactivity and immobilization, as with sitting, travel, bed rest, and hospitalization.” I thought to go onto the site and add, “Large Business and Corporate Meetings” and “Powerpoint Presentations” to that list…

People at came across my blog while researching Team Building and sent me a link to one of their articles. The title was, “How the Top Companies Take On Team Building” and I liked the way it started, since I pretty much agree with this:

Few corporate-culture business phrases are as potentially groan-inducing as “team building.” Visions of cheesy performances and “inspiring” activities like coal walking and trust falls immediately spring to mind.

If you have a group of people, why not put them to work? Why not get them involved and engaged and giving YOU ideas on issues and answers, on problems and potential solutions? There are all sorts of questions that are  best asked through team-based conversations and that would benefit from open communications and group problem-solving. You can make people feel like their ideas are valued and that they can make impacts on how things are done.

Let’s take Fast Networks as a simple interactive approach. Set up the session with round tables of 6 people. This is so much better than auditorium style meetings or classroom sets that simply remind people of being in school, which for many is not a highly positive memory!

Ask  each table to come up with a question or theme or something related to why the group has assembled. This could be along the lines:

  • Best idea for innovating systems and processes
  • Best idea for a new product or service
  • Ideas for improving teamwork within the organization
  • Best ideas for improving collaboration
  • Ideas for increasing workforce motivation or decreasing turnover
  • Ideas for implementing a new strategy company-wide
  • or pretty much any general theme of some impact. 

You can tightly anchor this to some of your real business issues, where the ideas and involvement of all of the participants are of interest and benefit and where some level of engagement might make things better.Let each table come up with ONE idea to work on, to present to the whole group.

Then, announce the process of Fast Networks, where everyone will get out of their seat and move around the room for three minutes, asking at least three other people to share their thoughts on that tabletop’s main idea. Since each table will have something different, in all likelihood, the sharing of ideas among the people will occur and people would get some different ideas to bring back to their tabletop.

The tabletop then has 5 minutes to discuss all the ideas and come up with ONE or two recommendations to share with the group and to transfer onto some document for collection and review.

The time limits are not “tight” in that three minutes might become five if the energy is high. The tabletops should have enough time to do a good job of summarizing and prioritizing but they will generally take all the time you allow them, with most of the work being done in the last minute or so…

Then, allow them to select a presenter to share their ideas with the group.

This kind of activity gets ideas as well as involvement from the group and can be a way to get at information that few other processes will allow. The ideas tend to be non-political and innovative, also.

Elegant Solutions

I have used this Fast Networks process many times and it works great in any size group – the time limits force energy and focused thinking. It is simple and requires no accessories other than marking pens and paper to enable some brainstorming and idea collection, and we generally post the work on the walls as evidence of the group thinking. It can be fabulous!

Me, I will continue to suggest organizations use effective large group team building simulations such as The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine or Innovate & Implement — these are fun, controllable, inexpensive and directly link directly to workplace collaboration and performance improvement. We know that it has a lot of long-term impacts on participants and gets everyone involved and engaged. All of our programs are also designed for very large groups of 200 or even more.

Team building exercise, Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine

We also suggest that our Square Wheels illustrations can be effective tools for generating alignment as well as new ideas for organizational change and improvement. They are an unusual and unusually effective way of generating divergent thinking and ideas for innovation or simple process improvement.
For the FUN of It!

Scott Debrief

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at

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