H&E North hears from the experts on the benefits of corporate away days and how employers can maximise their return on investment.
While historically being seen as frivolous luxuries where budgets are splashed on lavish venues and boozy meals with little to show, forward-thinking away day providers have proved that done right, team building can be a valuable, cost-effective experience for businesses. HR specialists, corporate coaches and the event creators themselves make their case for the positive impact away days can have on your team and share advice on how to get the most from your time away from the office and ensure lasting tangible benefits.
Amrit Sandhar, founder of The Engagement Coach and former Head of Employee Engagement for Asda:
We rarely spend quality time getting to know the people we work with, and as a result, relationships are usually seen through the lens of our roles. This means that the impressions we build of our colleagues are dictated by how well they help us achieve our tasks. Under the pressures of the work environment, conflicts can arise as we make meaning out of perceived issues that rarely exist, such as: ‘that person or department is playing politics and driving their own agenda’.
From a neuroscience perspective, leading neuroeconomist Paul Zak’s work into trust has demonstrated that taking time to get to know the people around us can release oxytocin, improving the quality of our relationships and positively influencing our wellbeing which has indisputable benefits for our productivity levels.
Away days also allow us as employers to take a step back and clarify our perspective in relation to the bigger picture of our business goals, presenting an opportunity to review strategy and the function our teams play. Reflective practice is a critical skill to aid learning and away days are a great chance to think about what’s worked, what hasn’t and what we can do differently.
But the real test of how much of a return on investment away days can provide is what changes when you return. This involves putting in place supportive processes that maintain momentum, to remind everyone what was agreed and monitoring progress. Otherwise, as human beings, we are creatures of habit and things can very quickly go back to how they have always been.
Lizz Riley, HR Manager for Bolton digital marketing agency Bring Digital:
People are always different when you remove them from their work context. One of the most surprising things about away days is finding that the boss isn’t always the boss!
Team building activities are a safe environment to switch up the hierarchy and test new ways of working without any work suffering as a result. You may discover that someone is great at commanding a team in an activity like raft-building, yet they don’t have the opportunity to do so in the office. In this way, you can spot future leaders in your team.
If you only ever speak to someone in a work context, you’re always experiencing them under some sort of pressure. By seeing them out of that environment, you can identify new ways to connect with them that weren’t previously evident. Those relationships can help bridge communication gaps back in the workplace. By putting teams in situations where they need to be vulnerable with one another to succeed, you create a culture of collaboration that helps everyone to get more done to a higher standard.
In many businesses, it’s easy to slip into a silo culture, where different departments keep to themselves. Mixing departments outside of the office is a great way to remove any friction that might come from conflicting work priorities, making cross-departmental projects far easier to navigate as a result because you have a broader network of connections to rely on.
But fundamentally, away days show employees that their contributions are incredibly valuable, which is so important for helping people re-engage with the company they work for.
Graham Clark, Managing Director of off-road away day provider Land Rover Experience Scotland:
In designing our corporate team building programmes, the focus was on the benefits for both employee and employer. It’s very important that the course participants have fun, but it’s also important that they take their improved communication, leadership and decision-making skills back to their company.
With the help of instructors, each participant identifies any issues and problems faced during the vehicle challenges, and together the group examines how these issues may also occur in the workplace, as well as identifying potential solutions. This ensures that the course is much more than a fun day out – it is a seriously powerful employee and team development programme.