Organizations frequently need to bring a large group of people together, whether it’s for an all-hands gathering, a team-building event, or a celebration.
While these large-group events are energetic, exciting, and a lot of fun, they can also prove to be very stressful for the people who are coordinating them.
Keeping the details straight and attempting to make it an unforgettable, highly meaningful experience can be very challenging, especially if event-planning is not something you’ve done in the past.
How can Team Building Be Improved?
In our work with many different kinds of organizations over the last 40 years, we have organized our fair share of team building events for large groups.
As you begin to put together an event for your team or organization, there are a few best practices you should follow to ensure that your event goes as well as possible.
We know that some of these tips may seem simplistic or like common sense, but making sure that you have your bases covered in the following areas will help you build a solid foundation for success.
1) Ascertain Your Stakeholders’ Vision for the Event
Get together with key stakeholders and decision-makers early in the planning process so you have a baseline understanding of their vision for the event. You can use this information for guidance as you begin planning the event itself.
Ideas and opinions on this can vary widely between people and organizations. Even if stakeholders and decision-makers don’t know exactly what they want, probing them for more information and asking some targeted questions can save you time and effort as you begin to narrow down your options and craft appropriate solutions.
2) Clearly Understand the Event’s Objectives and Outcomes
When organizations come to us asking for help, they often struggle to clearly articulate their objectives or desired outcomes for the event. Common objectives and outcomes include
- Cross-functional team development
- Intact-team development
- Leadership-skill or core-competency development
- Announcing or discussing the strategic vision of the company
- Building momentum for organizational strategy
- Fostering better communication
- Building energy and team unity related to a product launch
- Building connections and relationships
- Increasing employee engagement
If you are leading this effort for your organization, it’s essential that you get some clarity on the event’s larger purpose and goals. Likewise, if there are multiple phases to the event, it is important to understand the objectives of each phase.
3) Determine Your Approach to the Learning
The next step in the planning process is to determine the methodology you would like to use during the experience.
Depending on the goals of the event and the needs of the audience, there are many different approaches you can take to organize team building strategies for large-group learning events:
- A high-energy, highly engaging and participative experience where participants are physically active
- Focused learning with some experiential elements such as team exercises, business simulations, or direct application of the learning
- Celebrating, recognizing, and rewarding successful work
- Large-group learning focused on key themes (teamwork, communication, emotional intelligence, leading and managing change, etc.) and/or targeted to key functions of the business (sales, marketing, R&D, others)
Use the stated vision and objectives to guide your decisions about the best methodology or approach to use as you begin to build out the structure and agenda for these team building problem solving activities.
4) Build the Agenda
Most organizations tend to select a 2–3-hour, half-day, or full-day format for their group events, although some organizations choose multi-day or even week-long formats.
What is best for your organization depends on the nature of the big group, the purpose and goals of the event, and the needs of the organization.
When planning a team-building event, you nee
d to consider how much time will be needed for each activity in and section of the agenda. Then, create an outline of the day’s agenda so you can see whether you will have enough time for everything that needs to be accomplished during the event. For example, beyond the time needed for the group activities you plan, do you also need to build time into the agenda for organizational stakeholders to cover critical messages, items, or points?
5) Research Potential Venues
Conference centers, hotels, and resorts can fill up quickly, and space for large groups can be limited or in high demand (and in some cases, very expensive) during a given location’s busy season.
Each type of venue offers different benefits and drawbacks, and depending on the meeting space, breakout space, ease of access, and other variables, these factors can greatly impact the event’s structure, success—and ultimately, the experience people will have. When considering event venues, having some idea of the group size or ballpark participant count is essential.
And please remember to never underestimate how much space you will need.
6) Prepare to be Flexible
Large-group events have many moving parts and often require extensive coordination between many different people and in many different ways. Use the event’s objectives to guide you in working through obstacles, challenges, and changes in the following areas:
- Stakeholders and decision-makers
- Event coordinators (you and others)
- Third-party vendors (availability, limits, or restrictions they may have)
- Audio/Visual capabilities, staff, or vendors
- Fluctuations in the participant count (a best practice is to plan for 10% more than you expect to attend)
- Seating arrangements
- Unexpected meeting-space constraints
As you manage multiple parties and work through the detailed components of the event, you will need to be flexible and prepared to quickly respond to changing or limiting circumstances. Work through the challenges as best you can and don’t let them frustrate you or stress you out—and if there are some things that simply can’t be changed, don’t hesitate to speak up. Most venues will try to be as accommodating as they can.
7) Know that Time is Against You
Get started mapping out the details as soon as possible.
We’ve seen far too many organizations lose out on top-notch facilitators, moving keynote speakers, and ideal meeting spaces because they haven’t begun planning far enough in advance.
Additionally, getting events like these on the calendars of busy participants can be difficult even under the best of circumstances. When to begin planning a large-group event has no easy answer: it depends on what makes the most sense for your group, for the type of experience you want to create, and for the time and date you have available to do it.
To create a reasonable timeline for planning the event, work backwards from your target date and estimate how much time you will need to accomplish each piece (for example, meeting with key stakeholders, building and gaining approval on the agenda, researching and working with venues, etc.). And remember: be realistic about the time you will need. The quality of the event will suffer if you cut your planning time too short.
8) Ask about a Process Map
If you are working with a third party in building a memorable experience, ask them if they have a process map that they’ve used for events like these in the past.
Process maps can be extremely helpful in guiding event planners and others through the complex process of coordinating a large-group event. A skilled and experienced third party should be able to walk you through a series of questions, checkpoints, and considerations that will help you think through all of the essential details for these kinds of events.
While this is far from an exhaustive list of best practices, it does cover a healthy handful of the things that can truly make or break your team building event for large groups. If you are in need of more guidance or are looking for some help with planning your next large-group event, CMOE is here to help.
About the Author:
Christopher Stowell has been with the Center for Management and Organization Effectiveness for over 15 years. He is currently serving as a Vice President of Sales and Marketing. Chris has a special talent in working with various organizations across the globe.
Chris’ special interests lie in teamwork, e-learning and assessment design, and delivery. Additionally, he has extensive experience in designing, coordinating, and facilitating customized adventure-based experiential training events for high performance teams.