An effective age-old way to build a team is to increase bonds and connections between persons in an organization. One route to that end is to convene special time away from the office. Taking a risk to move away from predictable entrenched patterns and allow time and space to engage in new approaches is a robust tool in deepening, maturing, solidifying, and growing an organization or business.
Whether a group is a nonprofit or for-profit business, the methodology and outcome of team building is the same. According to Wendy Penner, an organizational psychologist and independent consultant, “Monthly or quarterly meetings between organizational leadership and a board of directors allow for the review of basic agenda items through the fiscal year. The value provided by an offsite retreat is all parties can come together and reflect on bigger concerns: Are larger organizational goals and objectives being met? How do we know? Do we have a clear sense of how strategic priorities are moving us forward to accomplish the organizational mission? Addressing these larger questions makes it possible to gain a shared sense of challenges, opportunities, and priorities, and identify actionable items to move an organization forward.”
Here are some notes and tips on successful outcomes from team-building exercises:
- Be inclusive of representatives from all or as many groups and factions as able in the process
- Getting offsite allows for the breaking of familiar patterns
- Inspire and motivate leadership and innovation
- Improve performance
- Build trust among persons
- Explore and have fun
- Identify goals and objectives while allowing adequate time and energy for open ended items
- Find a leader capable of understanding your group and its distinctive challenges
A leader in conversations and communication skills, author, and wise seasoned facilitator who I greatly enjoy and respect is Jack Ricchiuto. Jack offered this insight: “Offsite retreats are prime opportunities for people to become more present to emergent and important questions and opportunities. Getting beyond the noise of every-day urgency allows for more reflective dialogue and authentic commitment to key choices that will drive the next iteration of agile growth of the business. It’s the critical practice of working on the business instead of only in the business”.
I decided to round out this piece by asking a leader in the Business Hospitality Industry for a special success story off the top of his head that emulates the value of offsite team building. I called on Dennis A. Noonan , the vice president of sales and marketing with Nemacolin Woodlands Resort.
Noonan enthusiastically reported, “There are so many stories that come to mind. We had the pleasure of hosting a very successful firm with specialties in the tax, accounting, consulting, and the audit world. This firm had enjoyed excellent growth and acquired another company to further grow the business and extend the reach. The art of combining/fusing two cultures can be quite the task. The company made the investment to bring the team together for three days of meetings, planning, strategizing, and team building. The Nemacolin environment was perfect, a neutral ground, per se, away from the day-to-day office grind surrounded by pristine Pennsylvania Woodlands in the beautiful Laurel Highlands Mountain Region. There was certainly concern, tension, and hesitance from both parties, egos, pride, who is right who is wrong.”
Noonan continued, “During the visit something magical happened. The working together created a bond, a relationship, an agreement to work through their differences for the common good and a common goal for the new organization. After the program, the senior executive in charge of the project shared with me that the risk was absolutely worth the reward and indeed the team building was the best thing they could have ever done. Plans were being made, projects were being completed, people were working together across old lines and boundaries, an effective and efficient team had been created. The same senior executive estimated at least a 15 percent to 20 percent ROI on the Nemacolin program and committed to this being a part of their annual planning process.”
A great facilitator is a key catalyst and role player in the successful offsite team-building scenario. It is important to find individuals to lead this critical game-changing process. I am fortunate to live in a city where we have many great leaders who guide group and organizational development projects. A friend I respect, Sudhir Kade Raghupathy , candidly spoke with me about this important work. He has had the honor and privilege of serving in various facilitator roles since starting his MBA with a focus in Organizational Behavior and Entrepreneurship at CWRU in 2004.
“During my MBA work it was impressed upon me how important great leadership is – and I consider it a great gift to have had the privilege of learning about authentic, resonant, servant leadership from a variety of great educators and coaches since. Facilitation can be defined a number of ways, but I look at it as working to help individuals and organizations develop skills and bonds by guiding and supporting (rather than dictating) their own best work through one or more processes or methods. For example, I have had the great opportunity to contribute to the design and delivery of key outcomes for dozens of organizations, including Leadership Cleveland, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Center for Families and Children, the VA, the Rotary Club, and Forest City Enterprises, just to name a few.
“What I love about facilitation is the opportunity to learn and educate simultaneously. The art of facilitation is about creatively and effectively leveraging the ‘toolkit’ of diverse methods and practices one gains expertise with. Such ‘positive change’ methods I have had the privilege of learning and applying include experiential learning, team building, Appreciative Inquiry, Gestalt, and Open Space. We are very fortunate to have the pioneers of these practices here in Cleveland. I have facilitated both independently and in teams, as contractor and as employee. I feel we best facilitate leadership development through leading by example. I believe we do that by being fully present, supportive of the client’s best work, and serving with an authentic desire to edify and empower others. The great challenge in this work is effectively designing the space and guiding the best experiences that allow people to meaningfully connect, collaborate, and co-create. In this way participants learn from one another and appreciate diversity to build greater capacity for success as leaders and co-workers. Many of these sessions have taken place as daylong retreats, typically away from the workplace. I would be remiss if I did not mention the many opportunities to do great facilitation work with and through the Institute for Creative Leadership. I am also thankful to have great and influential mentors like David Cooperrider, founder of Appreciative Inquiry. In closing, I simply say that I am energized by the thought of continuing to develop and hone my skills and enrich my toolkit over time, to foster a flourishing future for clients and community alike.”
Nicole Ponstingle, our client services leader at BlueBridge, had this to say about the value of offsite team building and decompression: “While most of our team building happens on a smaller scale, usually put together by a team member or two, we try to get out at least once every other month to catch up on what is going on in each other’s lives. We have gone to concerts and sporting events together, but more often than not it’s happy hour. Whether we are checking out the latest downtown hot spot or frequenting an old favorite, it’s nice to get away from the office and decompress as a team. We laugh a lot, get caught up on each other’s lives and, of course, talk shop. Sometimes it is just more constructive to do it outside of the office, when the brainstorming is more relaxed and free flowing.”
Recently I was present at the induction of a client, mentor and friend, Mr. Ray Dalton, PartsSource’s executive chairman, into the Cleveland Business Hall of Fame.
During his induction acceptance Dalton declared that, “Companies are not built by one party. One party does not hold the course, even in the darkest days. It’s a celebration of a team effort. Go out and integrate your partners, build a team, and make it work.”