Big group team-building activities are way different than small group team-building games. Remember that every new team activity is an experiment. So, rather than experimenting on your big group, you might learn from our experience.
They say, “Experience is the best teacher.” That is only half right, though. They call that type of experience the “School of hard knocks.” Instead, a better saying is, “Someone else’s experience is the best teacher.” Because if you learn from other people’s mistakes, you don’t have to make those mistakes yourself.
In this post, we will reveal some of the biggest mistakes we’ve made when delivering big team activities. The goal is not to have you read them all and think, “Wow, these guys are idiots. They never do anything right.” In fact, it is just the opposite. Over the years, we have seen everything. When we make mistakes, we also make a note of them to make sure we don’t repeat the mistakes on future events.
Still, though, we get requests every week to come out and do some of the things we mention below. In those cases, we try to subtly coach the requester to do something a little different. Because we have already experimented with different ideas, you don’t have to make the same mistakes we made.
Keep Your Large Group Comfortable During the Large Group Team Building Activity. Otherwise, It Will Go Very Bad Very Fast.
Step one in creating a fantastic large group team activity is to keep the group comfortable. This means making sure they have enough room to move around and interact. Second, you also want to ensure that the presenter can be heard when hundreds of people interact. Finally, it also means keeping the venue at room temperature. Let’s cover each of these in more detail.
Consult with the Venue Sales Team to Pick the Appropriate Size Venue.
Most professional venues will give you a guide that shows the appropriate number of people per room style. Pay close attention to these recommendations. For instance, a ballroom that will hold up to 600 people may only comfortably seat 300 people conference style. If you try to organize a 500-person team activity in this room, the venue will seem tight and uncomfortable.
The opposite is true too. Too much room takes away the intimacy of a team activity. The room will feel awkward.
Here are some practical examples of how space can affect the group’s satisfaction.
I once led a team activity on the campus of Johns Hopkins University. The largest room held 300 people. They wanted us to lead a Build-A-Bike ® event for 250 people. We cautioned the organizers that the venue was going to be too small. But since it was the only available space, they decided to take the risk.
Once we inserted a stage, the bikes for the event, and tables for the teams to gather around, the room was even smaller. The event turned out fine, but the satisfaction level of the attendees was not as high as it could have been.
It’s kind of like riding on a subway during rush hour. You turn around, and someone is in your personal space. Big team activities are very similar. Being crowded is bad.
On another occasion, a client scheduled an 800-person event in an NFL football stadium. The whole concept sounded fun. And it was. But it was also wrought with challenges. If you think about it, the venue was designed for 71,000 fans. Our group had 800.
Although we were a large meeting, we seemed very small in the venue. That was the opposite of what the organizer wanted.
The Biggest Risk in Big Group Team Activities Is the Sound System.
Out of all the lessons learned over the years, here is the absolute most important. Don’t skimp on the sound system. You can have the best presenter and the best activity, but if the group can’t hear the instructions, it will flop every time.
A sound system may work well for a meeting where one person speaks to a silent audience of 1000 people. However, in a large group team building activity, the goal is to have the group up and moving, talking to each other, and energized.
I learned this lesson the hard way almost 20 years ago. An event planning company hired my team to lead a team-building event for 900 people. At the time, this was a world record for a big team activity like this.
Since it had never been done before, we had no idea how to do it. So, we just organized it the same way we organized the 50-person, 100-person, and 150-person events we were used to doing. The hotel had also not ever organized anything like this, So, they recommended that we hold the event in a big tradeshow floor room. We had all been to tradeshows over the years, so it sounded like a good idea.
The day before the meeting, I met the sound guys in the room and tested the sound. Everything sounded perfect. At the time, the room was empty. It had a concrete floor and a huge ceiling.
The Audio Test to an Empty Room Will Not Give You a Realistic Picture of the Sound Needed.
The next day, as the first few people began to walk into the room, I greeted them from the stage. As 100 people stepped on the concrete walking to their team’s area, the noise bounced off the walls and ceiling. They greeted their team members and that sound bounced as well.
By the time all 900 people were present, the noise from the movement and talking was bouncing everywhere. I started the activity and three minutes in, my constructors were rushing to the stage to tell me that only the 200 or so people closest to the stage could hear me. I shushed the crowd and began to speak a little louder. The audio guys also increased the volume. Now my voice began echoing four times as I gave instructions.
I said, “Welcome everyone, please make sure that you have gathered with the team number that is on your badge.” But the people in the audience heard, “Welcome everyone, welcome please everyone make please sure that welcome you everyone make have please gathered with that you make sure the team welcome number everyone gather with that please is that you on your make gather with sure badge that you gather with…”
It was a mess. Luckily, we brought 12 instructors for the activity. So, we ended up just breaking the group into 12 smaller groups. And each of the instructors did 12 separate activities.
We learned a lot from this challenge. First, never do a big team activity with a concrete floor. Second, the team activities that work for a small group often don’t work for a big group. We now do events as big or bigger than this group every week.
A Comfortable Temperature for a Big Group Means a Comfortable Big Group.
One big mistake that event organizers make is choosing to do a big group team-building activity outdoors. “What? What do you mean? Why wouldn’t you want to get your team outside the meeting room and let them enjoy nature?” The concept sounds fun. However, anytime people begin to get uncomfortable, they notice EVERY additional glitch or challenge that often occur.
Last May, one of our clients stayed at the Omni next to the Atlanta Braves stadium. Their team came in on Sunday, and all met at the game. The next day, they had us do a big group team activity in the area around the pool that overlooked the stadium. We were nervous because the average temperature at that time of year is about 80 degrees.
We started setting the area up mid-morning. I had sweat pouring all over me. Luckily, after noon, the shade from the building began to cover the area. By the time we started, the shade provided a more comfortable event. The group was uncomfortable, but the event was fun and the location was fantastic.
On another occasion, the group decided to do the activity at the top of their parking garage in Houston. The temperature was about the same. The event was still fun. But the group was making paper fans this time. In the exit survey, most gave the event a four-star versus a five-star.
All it would have taken was one little additional glitch to drop those reviews to two-star, though. We had to make sure everything else was absolutely perfect!
Our advice, find a comfortable room indoors so you can control the environment for your team.
Carefully Schedule Team Building Events. (Don’t Cram It into an Already Full Day Hoping It Will Make the Day Better.)
Many of the people who are responsible for the company (or department) annual meeting only organize these meetings once a year. If this scenario sounds familiar, pay close attention to this suggestion. The Preseident, CEO, VP, and CFO all have different goals for the meeting. So, the organizer tries to create an agenda that ALL of them will approve of.
The schedule starts in the early morning and stretches into the late evening (because we only have a couple of days.) Then, we look at the schedule and think, “Dang, this doesn’t look very fun. I know. Let’s add a fun team building activity to the agenda.”
A Little Team Building Goes a Long Way.
With team building, don’t overdo it. Meetings and team activities are like a great meal. You may start with a light appetizer. Then add soup or salad. Next, you get a fantastic main course. You’re full, but the host shows you the dessert. You can’t help yourself. You eat every bite. The meal was perfect and very satisfying.
The first three courses are like your meeting. What would happen if you start with the main course, then do another main course, then another? Then you add two appetizers. When you get to dessert, you’ll be so full that you won’t want anything else. If you force yourself to eat it, you’ll feel sick.
This is a great analogy because it explains other challenges as well. The team activity is the dessert. So, if you start the meal with a dessert, add a smaller dessert before each course of the meal, then end with a huge dessert, each additional sweet will have a diminishing effect.
Or another challenge would be to finish the meal with a fantastic dessert and then add another one. Organizers will sometimes ask us to do two activities in one afternoon or one on Thursday and another on Friday.
By the way, as a team-building consultant, I’d love to double our income from you. But the second activity will likely not be nearly as fantastic as the first. It would be like eating an entire Cheesecake and then trying to devour a Baked Alaska. Yes, you can do it, but it probably isn’t the best idea.
So if your agenda is too busy, cut something from the agenda if you want to add a team activity. And we know your team LOVES the team activities. But don’t overdo it. A little goes a long way.
Big Group Team Activities Are Difficult to Deliver. Professional Speakers/Facilitators Are Worth Their Weight in Gold.
Specialists have experience that generalists don’t have. If you have a heart problem, you can go to your family doctor for help. However, a cardiologist will likely be able to help more. Not because the heart doctor is any smarter than the family doctor. It is just that the cardiologist deals with this specific challenge every single day — over and over.
Professional event planners and team-building instructors also have a critical expertise. In that experience, they learn lessons. You learn from their experience without making those mistakes yourself.
An executive assistant was organizing an executive retreat at a resort in Cabo san Lucas. She was very nervous because this was her second time organizing this annual meeting. The first time was a fiasco. The executives went to a dude ranch. The group hated bottle-feeding the baby goats and having the calves suck their fingers.
Not wanting to make the same mistake again, she was overly cautious. She wanted to know EXACTLY what her team instructor would be doing and why. We spent weeks walking her through the entire suggested agenda. Interestingly, though, every time we gave her options with recommendations, she chose the opposite of our suggestion. It was strange.
She only had a single experience (a bad one) to draw from. But she was receiving recommendations from people who had hundreds of successful events under their belts. And she went against every recommendation. Eventually, we suggested that she find another consultant.
Rather than start all over, she decided to follow our recommendations. The activity was a huge success. I doubt it would have been if we had just followed along, though.
The Customer Is Sometimes Right But Often Very, Very Wrong.
An adage in marketing is, “The customer is always right.” It is confusing, though. For instance, if know nothing about accounting, you wouldn’t hire an accountant and give her a task list. Or, if you are falsely accused of a crime, you wouldn’t dictate to your attorney the case strategy. God forbid you get diagnosed with cancer. You wouldn’t tell your oncologist what protocols to follow.
So, when you hire an event planner or team-building instructor, tell them your goals. Then ask for their advice. They will keep you from making huge mistakes when you organize a large group team-building event.
This can be challenging if an executive is giving direction to an assistant who is giving information to an event planner who is giving information to the team-building instructor. It is like the old “telephone game” where someone whispers an idea into the ear of another. Then the message is relayed from person to person. By the time the message gets to the last person, it has been distorted dramatically.
It is better to start the process with a meeting with all of the stakeholders. Then, take meeting advice from your professional event planners. And take team-building advice from you team-building specialists.
You’ll get a much better result.
Large Group Team Activities Need to Build to a Crescendo. End on an Emotional Note.
One reason why a professional team-building consultant can be very valuable is that he or she can build an experience for the group. I’ll use the Build-A-Bike ® team activity as an example. Since we have been doing this activity for almost two decades now, it is pretty famous.
At least once a week, though, we’ll get a call for someone who “just wants to do a bike build.” The person will have heard about how much fun they are and wants a service project. You have to understand that building a bike is just manual labor. (That isn’t very fun.)
By the way, the bike-building part is also very short. It will only take two or three people about 10 minutes or less to build a bike. So, if you want to do an hour long service project, building bikes will be very, very expensive and not much fun.
Most organizers will just add a few unrelated team games before the bike build. That will make it fun, right? Not really. In fact, your group will likely just say something like, “Next year, let’s just do the service project part.” Because the rest of the experience seemed like a waste of time.
Of course, next year it will be even worse because now none of the activity is fun. And you’ll likely begin to get a drop-off in people wanting to participate.
Charity Team Activities Are Different than Service Projects.
The charity team-building activity is quite different, though. The activities build to a crescendo. Each activity leads to the next activity. For instance, in Build-A-Bike ®, we start with an icebreaker where we make the teams think that they are competing against each other. We give the winning team a head start on the next activity. In the second activity, they have to work together to earn each bike part.
Of course, what they don’t realize right away is that if they work with the other teams in the room, the answers are pretty easy to find. So, the first activity sets up the next one. And, even if one team member doesn’t turn a bolt, she was still responsible for the team getting the handlebars. The group feels like a team.
At the end, kids from a local children’s charity rush into the room to receive their bikes. The teams take photos with their child and the bike. The event ends in an emotional crescendo.
Don’t Make the Team Activity a Surprise. Instead, Promote It Effectively So Your Large Group Anticipates and Wants to Attend.
I think we may have, indirectly, created this big mistake. Over the years, the one big anomaly that is uncontrollable is the charity presentation at the end. These poor non-profits are underfunded and understaffed. So, when a company calls them out of the blue and asks them to come receive a donation, it can cause problems for them.
First, they have to find someone to cover their shift at the non-profit. Second, they have to find transportation. Finally, if we want them to bring kids or other recipients, that is an even bigger challenge. So, sometime, the charity representative would say he was coming but then just not show up at the end. This is rare, but it actually happens more often than you would think.
As a result, we began to make the charity recipients a secret. If they showed up for the event, we turned it into a fun surprise at the end. For instance, if we were giving away bikes or backpacks to kids, we’d have the charity representative say a few words at the end. Then, during the presentation, we’d surprise the group by opening the doors and having kids from the charity rush into the room for a “big reveal.”
It created magical and emotional endings to the event.
Since Keeping the Charity a Secret Worked So Well, Why Not Keep the Whole Thing a Secret? That Would Make the “Big Reveal” and Even Bigger Reveal, Right?
Then something strange started happening. Organizers would ask us to keep the entire event a secret. They started putting “team meeting” on the printed agenda. Some will even have us cover up the boxes of the items being donated until very late in the activity. This is a huge mistake.
First, anytime you are vague about the purpose of the meeting, you will inadvertently build resistance from the group. You’ll actually make them anxious. “What exactly are we doing? Is it going to be cheesy? Why are we doing it?” You’ll just be creating a lot of questions for them.
Remember how I mentioned earlier that a good big group team activity builds to a crescendo? If you try to keep the activity a secret (even while the event is going on) you lose that benefit altogether. Basically, you will be forcing your team facilitator to just insert a series of unconnected games.
You also lose the ability to get your team to want to participate. If you tell them, “Show up at 3:00 PM and we will do something fun as a team.” They will respond with, “What?” “It’s a secret, but you’ll like it.” “Wait, why is it a secret? What are you trying to hide? I’m not going to like this, am I? Otherwise, you’d just tell me.”
Alternatively, you could say, “Show up at 3:00 Pm. We will be participating in the world-famous Build-A-Bike ® team-building activity.” Some of the people in the group will say, “Oh my gosh, we did that at a company I previously worked at. You guys are going to have a ton of fun!” Or, “I’ve heard about this, and I’ve always wanted to do one of these!” You build up energy and anticipation for the event.
So, for Best Practices for Organizing Large Group Team Building Activities, Do the Following:
- Keep the Team Comfortable and Invest in the Best Possible Sound System. Don’t Force them Outdoors.
- Don’t Cram a Team Activity into an Already Overcrowded Meeting Agenda.
- If You Have a Big Group, Hire a Professional Team Building Facilitator.
- Link All Team Building Games Together to End in a Crescendo.
- Instead of Keeping the Big Group Team Activity a Secret, Promote the Heck Out of It!
If you do these things, you will create a memorable and positive experience for your big group!