Ben Dattner, consultant and psychologist, on NPR's Morning Edition, Wednesday, February 28, 2007, spoke on team building. "Unfortunately, organizations frequently miss opportunities to actually build teams during team building. Dattner says." (See http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=7627924)
The facilitator has a responsibility to the group desiring to build a team to understand the current culture of the team as well as desired objectives. The benefits of team building fall into three categories including the immediate, the short term and the long term.
Immediate benefits include fun, reduced stress, increased awareness and even improved skills. Short term benefits might be increased confidence, stronger relationships, increased employee satisfaction, higher morale, improved decision making and process improvement. Long term benefits might be reduced turnover, improved productivity, improved quality, greater customer satisfaction and improved ROI - Return on Investment!
I agree with Dattner that an off site event can be and should be fun (that should be a major component of any team building program, workshop, off site or retreat) but that is first level team building - energizing. Paint balling, white water rafting and other out-of-the-office activities can be energizing and deliver immediate benefits.
Deeper levels of team building move toward discovery, skill development and culture change. Many times these deeper levels of team building programs require more than one-day and may be an ongoing process. Probing, open-ended questions and assessment help to uncover what is going well as well as problems. Its always best to build upon what the group does well to help them build a strong team. Shelia Campbell and Merianne Liteman in their book Retreats That Work (Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer, 2003) describe key elements for a successful team building program.
Be clear on expections and objectives for the retreat or program. Interview not only the team leader but participants before creating the program. Build-in a wide variety of intiatives, media and tools to help all types of learners. Create white space for people to noodle and reflect. Be open to possibilties. Sometimes during a team building program a discovery is made and there is a need to divert from the origional agenda. Things may go wrong. Be willing to forgive and work to make things right. Celebrate learnings and positive behaviors! What gets celebrated gets repeated! Finally, no program is complete without a meaningful close and action steps. What will individuals/team take away from the program. What will individuals/team stop doing? What will individuals/team continue doing? What will individuals/team start doing?