This is going to be worse than awful.

We’ve all been there….

You’re at a conference, AGM, company retreat, or town hall and it’s time for the team-building session.

You can almost feel the fear in the room.

You start to think, “Am I going to be embarrassed? Am I going to have to do something silly, something I’d rather not do in front of my peers?”

“Is there any value here? Don’t they know my emails are piling up?”

“How the heck will this help me with my work?”

“This is going to be a waste of time.”

Well, actually, it may very well be….unless…


Do I really have to do this?

I understand the skeptics and the cynics. I’ve experienced my share of pontificators who pace madly across the stage or deep into the audience to get me to pump my fist in the air while yelling “yes!” with a crowd of others, telling me that tomorrow my life will never be the same.

I’ve been to sessions that had me make uncomfortable movements, make silly sounds, and say or do things in front of my peers that I would rather not have done.

So I understand why there is a large movement of people who think that motivational speakers or team-building facilitators are akin to the person who sold snake oil back in the days of the travelling circus. You just need to type in the words “ team building waste of time” and you’ll find support for that argument. Here’s a typical one

But if you type in “Why is team building important?”, you get an opposing view.  Here’s one here.  

Team building had an honest beginning in the mid-1920’s with a series of experiments conducted by Elton Mayo called the Hawthorne Studies.  This study (not without its critics even then) did show that there was some correlation between people who felt closer together and an increase in productivity.

Trouble is, today, while there are many very well educated and competently trained people delivering speeches, workshops and seminars, there are also some with a flare for presentation who are neither of the above and who have simply found a way to capitalize on a hot buzzword or movement within an industry.

There are some who simply offer advice in bullet points to their audiences and have not really considered how to give value to their audiences.

That’s life.  Let the buyer beware.  It’s like that in many other areas so why should this field be different.

It’s all in the questions.

I have to admit I‘ve been a skeptic as well.  Many years ago, and before I started my own business (where team-building was the box I got fit into), I participated in a number of sessions intended to take me out of my comfort zone and help me “grow“.

Even though I had a career on stage as a performing musician, I was never fond of participating in touchy-feely ice-breaker/ team-building events.  I’m sure it stems from the fact when I’m not on stage or surrounded by friends and family, I am a pretty shy introverted guy.

However, I do believe people can learn from such experiences if they are done well and if the presenter can find a way to appeal to the audience, knows their audience, knows what the audience cares about, and can help build on what the audience already knows.

I spent a couple of decades teaching kids and adults how to become better at playing music. I had my go-to method books and a few tried-and-true ways of doing things. But far and away the most important thing I did was to ask questions.

I needed to find out their why - because if I didn’t know that, I couldn’t help them. Sometimes that meant creating a whole other method, sometimes that meant going into uncharted territory or experimenting. Personally, I loved the challenge.

My job was to help them be who they wanted to become. To do that, I had to know what that was.

I think good speakers and team builders do this too!



The role of any “motivational” speaker or team-building facilitator is to act as a medium of sorts.  They have to know how to take what they know and deliver it in a way that reaches the participant.

I totally agree with those who say that 1 or 2 hours of a speaker or team-building program is not a cure-all for organizational woes. Real change in organizations (like real change in our own lives) takes work.  It takes a plan, monitoring of that plan, and support.

But I will argue that a speaker or team builder can have an impact.  Done well, such presentations can create a spark, plant a seed, provoke some thought, forge new thinking, and provide momentum for a new action. They can perhaps even inspire, although I shy away from that word.

This is not done through forcing a group of people into a new place but by gently coaxing them to come along and see what they will learn, to get them to see the “what’s in it for them” or WIIFT.


Ways to Success


1) The presenter should know about your people.

The best presenters will ask questions about your group.  They will want to know about the group, what the culture is like, and what kinds of obstacles the group is facing. And also: What would you like to try to accomplish with them?  Why are you considering this type of presentation?  If the presenter doesn’t ask questions, you run the risk of receiving a canned presentation.


2) The presenter should talk to some of the participants.

It’s one thing to get the view of the person signing the cheque, or the planning committee. It’s a whole other thing to talk to the people the experience is intended for. I can’t tell you how much I have learned from this, how much it has affected what I plan to present to my audiences.


3) The best presenters know how to weave fun and learning together.

People work hard at their jobs. And it’s important that the desired outcomes are met. However, special events like a speaker or a team-building event need to offer more than information.

They need to touch people somehow. This could be through stories, humour or a cleverly crafted activity. It’s a delicate balance though. Too much fun and there’s confusion about the message. Not enough fun and the message becomes like a diatribe.  The best presenters are masters of this balance.


4) You need to keep the outcomes to a minimum.

Yes, there most definitely need to be outcomes. They should be the backbone of every presentation. If they are not, you are really just presenting some sort of entertainment.

But considering how much information we actually forget when we are presented with learning something new, less is more. (Studies show we tend to forget 50 to 80 percent ). The presenter should not overwhelm the participants with lists of bullet points or information but simply concentrate on no more than 3 key points.


5) The best presenters know how to build a program.

A good presenter knows how to present a program that builds as it goes along, much like a story, a play or music concert.  Things must happen for a reason when they happen. Facilitators take their audiences on a journey.


6) The best presenters get the audiences doing some work. 

It seems funny to say but team building is not all fun and games, and speaking is not all about speaking. People need some time to talk about what they are experiencing. 

People need to start making connections between the experience and themselves, for themselves. Sometimes this is done via writing things down or, in more active sessions, self-rating questions or in DYAD’s. Participants need to have their own “aha” moments and they need some time to think about those moments.


7) A Good Debrief.

No matter the expertise of the presenter, it can still be hard for some people to see the relevance of a speech or a team-building program, especially if it’s considered “ outside the box”.

A good presenter will make links as he or she goes along but there still needs to be a good wrap-up at the end. He or she can summarize the experience in a logical way, putting the event into perspective while keeping the outcomes in mind.


A couple of other things to consider to create value.


1) Do find a suitable venue.

I have seen it too many times where the venue doesn’t allow for the optimum experience.  I’ve seen, room’s that are too hot, too small for the activity, or set up incorrectly. These have had a huge impact. My advice is once you’ve decided on a presenter, ask them what would make a stellar event and go from there.


2) Do follow up on the speech or activity.

It’s really important that someone from inside the organization makes some connections to the experience that the group shared together.  That could be right away or in the days and weeks to follow, or all three. Otherwise, these learning from these types of special experiences will just fade away.


3) Don’t have false illusions

Know that a speaker or any team-building experience will not forever change or influence your organization.  That simply can’t be done in such a short time. 


4) If you know what to look for you’ll be ok.

I have certainly heard from many detractors when it comes to the value of hiring a speaker or putting on a “ team-building” event, once even right to my face as the person came into a room already set up with my collection of drums. He said “This is going to be worse than awful.”

I get it - doing new things can be scary no matter your age.

But if you can get a presenter who offers the items from my list above, then chances are things will turn out pretty well. And people will thank you for bringing in someone who helped them learn a little something or think a little differently.

BTW – within just a few minutes the guy was smiling, having fun and was totally into my session. At the end, he even took the time to tell me he’d actually learned a few things and really enjoyed himself.


Have some experience to share?  Good or Bad?  I’d love to hear about them.  Please feel free to comment below.