Sam Sutton, director of New Forest Activities, gives PA Life an insight to how the team-building industry has changed over recent years and the vital role PAs play in organising these events.
Q: Is there a typical client that books an outdoor team-building event?
A: Broadly speaking there are three genres of clients that come to us, for very different reasons. Small to medium-sized companies typically bring most if not all their employees. In many cases, the outdoor activity is scheduled in to a timetable of one or two days of events. For example, conferencing on day one, coming to us day two and back to a hotel for an evening meal and drinks at the bar.
Other bookings tend to be from larger companies and corporations who deploy departments and teams of staff. These teams can be work groups or graduates, employee induction days, or sales teams and staff that work together, but remotely, communicating via telecoms or periodic meetings. The team-building activities provide a platform to engage personally, get to know each other and enhance working relationships.
Then there are corporate family days, maybe a conference on Friday and friends and family join in Saturday. These work really well; employees say they see this contribution by their employers as a real perk of their job, cementing loyalty and commitment.
Q: Which member of company staff initiates an enquiry?
A: Undoubtedly, it’s almost always the PAs in the first instance. They are tasked with finding a provider that can satisfy the criteria they have been set by their managers. We have found PAs to be really tuned in to value and cost. They embark on plenty of research and perform due diligence before going back with a selection of proposals.
A lot of bookings we receive are confirmed on the strength of our proposal forms, value for money and relationship of trust the PA has built with us. However, it’s not unusual to have a conference call with the PA and her managers to discuss ideas, suggestions and tweak the activity in line with the company’s objective for that particular group.
Q: Is there a difference in perception between employees and employers as to why they are on a team-building activity?
A: Sometimes, but this really does depend on how the team build has been presented by the company to their staff. Maybe it’s a celebration of finishing a project or sales target.
Being away from the office is a great chance for a company to strengthen and emphasise their mission, ethos and message to staff. Some employees don’t have a clue what their company values are. But I would say nine out of 10 employees are on the same page as management as to why they are out enjoying themselves.
Q: Why do you feel outdoor team building is so much better than indoor?
A: Actually it’s the delegates that feel that way. I’ve had it said many times that anything indoors feels like an extension of the office environment and more akin to training than team building. The employee’s mindset is still “I am at work indoors just doing something different”.
Outdoors, you breathe fresh air; it’s mood enhancing and provides a liberating environment to relax and get to grips having fun, getting to know your colleagues and working together.
In a feel good, relaxed team, there is no managerial hierarchy and every member is equal; colleagues see themselves in a different light. Managers often discover skills and strengths within their team or a particular member of staff that they didn’t realise were there.
Outdoor team building ignites personalities and undiscovered skillsets: leadership, decision making, motivational, flexibility, organisational and strategic thinking are just some of the abilities that employers have discovered and taken back to the office with more appreciation of what skills he/she should utilise and promote.
Q: How can companies get the most out of an activity?
A: To get the best out of team building, sessions need to be achievable, relaxed, open and enjoyable. If the team build is a reward they don’t necessarily have aims, objectives and goals attached.
Sometimes, there are reluctant or unmotivated participants and these employees are most often the ones where team building can bring about a real tangible change. Once they realise that they are going to take part in something that is low level and safe as opposed to embarrassing and frightening themselves, they come on board. You see a positive mindset, physical appearance and confidence bloom.
For this reason, the PA’s research, analysis, selection and trust in finding a team-building activity company that can deliver really needs to be comprehensive and detailed. The PA may have an idea of the type of thing they want, but they shouldn’t be afraid to question, make suggestions and take advice.