· Features

From the C-suite: despite the criticisms, team building can work

Taking staff outside their comfort zones can develop a company culture you want to be a part of

Creating a company culture that you want to be part of every day isn’t something that happens overnight. It’s about building trust between colleagues and ensuring that hierarchical barriers do not find their way in. We don’t want to put limits on our team, we want to push them to do things they didn't know they were capable of.

Years ago I went on a training session with the army, so I knew firsthand how beneficial army training can be. Our motto is about making life simple, and on our away day we aimed to find the people that can identify easy solutions to complex problems. The results were surprising.

Last summer we partnered with 11 Signals Brigade at Nesscliffe Training Camp in Shropshire. Everyone arrived at the crack of dawn and were changed out of their civvy clothes into army overalls, which put us all on a level playing field. Over the next 30 hours we were put through challenging mental and physical exercises, experiencing life as an army reserve and camping out military-style under a traditional army basher.

Team building may have a bad reputation, but this is a huge generalisation. This team building activity worked harder for us than anything we've done before. It’s brought a new dynamic to the office and given people the confidence to challenge each other and have their point of view heard.

Traditional away day activities such as raft-building are too predictable. When companies ask staff to put their work on hold and their own time into something it’s important that a strategy is well-thought out, so that the time is used effectively.

Many MD’s would outsource to an events company, which may have little knowledge of the business or the dynamics of its employees. To avoid this everyone completed a Belbin self-analysis report and we used the results to assign the teams, which encouraged staff to play to their strengths and work together to succeed in camp. It highlighted those that had leadership potential and provided an opportunity for those already in a leadership role to bring their teams together and work in a completely new environment.

When we got back to the office we created Belbin-based trump cards for each employee and desk name badges that highlight their individual strengths, serving as a reminder of the weekend and to keep the training front-of-mind.

The only downside to the experience... I’m going to have to come up with something spectacular to top it next summer. But taking staff outside their comfort zone is certainly a theme I’d like to continue.

James Villarreal is co-founder and CEO of Glide Utilities, a utilities and service provider for shared households