Scaling the heights to create a better team
The Coins 3 Peaks Challenge is the ultimate in team building. But you don’t have to move mountains to improve your company. Denise Chevin reports.
In the next few days more than 300 construction professionals will don hiking boots and cagoules to scale three mountains in 24 hours for charity.
The Coins 3 Peaks Challenge is one of the industry’s biggest fund raisers and also one of its most high-profile team building exercises.
It’s seen as a big opportunity for folk from across different regions, or within their departments, to come together and pit their physical stamina and mental endurance against others within their own company as well as their rivals.
It’s meant to be a bit of fun too. But those who have taken part say the exhilaration, exertion and mutual support it takes to get everyone in a group to race to the summits of Ben Nevis, Snowdon and Scafell and down again, on little sleep and in the pouring rain, forges an altogether better understanding and respect between colleagues.
Construction firms organise all kinds of exercises to get people working together in the same companies, or across projects. They’re not all this scale, or all that physical. But how successful are they?
“No question. Our level of mutual respect and understanding was very strong after the event,” is the view of Taylor Wimpey CEO Pete Redfern, who took part in the Three Peaks Challenge last year in one of four teams fielded by the house builder. In his group were senior colleagues drawn from various parts of the company either abroad or in the regions, and because of this disparate geography didn’t get to spend much time with each other.
“I was climbing with individuals who I respected and knew who did a good job, but whereas before I might not have been quite sure where they were coming from or their approach, I feel I understand them much more now and vice versa.
“It wasn’t just about coming together for the day, we also met up for practice climbs during the weekends leading up to it.”
Redfern, a keen marathon runner who says exercise has helped relieve the stress of managing the house builder through recent difficult times, has now signed up to do the Coins 24 Peaks Challenge in the Lake District in June. He says the very fragmented and competitive nature of construction, which draws many different professions together, makes team building exercises vital.
Tempting though it may be to cut back on whilst money is tight, Redfern’s view is that it’s never been more important to instill team spirit and get everyone working as a cohesive unit as pressure increases to boost efficiency. Taylor Wimpey regional managers are encouraged to organise activities at a local level that bring different parts of the business together. Five a-side football and It’s a Knockout-style tournaments are favourites at the house builder.
But successful team building doesn’t have to be about physical education. At Mount Anvil, ranked 38th in the Sunday Times Best Small Companies to Work For 2012 listing, groups have competed to produce the best newspaper — complete with front-page scoop and cartoon. Mount Anvil sales director Brian De’ath often organises the company training days that include team building exercises. He says it is essential that everyone takes part. “Doing something wacky brings people together and it makes communication across the company better.
“People get to appreciate the problem-solving skills that other people have in the business that they may have little contact with. People often get stereotyped, but when you do something like this, it can show people in a different light.”
Greg Davidson, who runs a team building company called Spy Games, agrees: “It provides an opportunity for people working together to engage with each other in a non-work environment. This is helpful as often they can see other people’s true personalities come out.” Davidson adds: “Team building can provide for an innovative and fun/informal way to communicate the importance of certain key business skills such as communication, time-keeping, teamwork and decision-making. And the opportunity for staff and management to interact and communicate while not in the pressured environment of the work place.”
Peter Jacobs, managing director of Morgan Sindall London and senior vice president of the CIOB, stages team building activities for teams coming together on new projects as a way of breaking down barriers. This can involve anything from cooking competitions to indoor golf. “One of our clients is a shooting fan, so we’re about to organise an indoor shooting event,” says Jacobs.
Team building extravaganzas
Davidson says for team building to work it is vital to choose the right kind of event to suit those taking part — and then matching an activity to a budget. He has run team building extravaganzas for big corporates that have involved staff in James Bond-type scenarios, or following in the footsteps of George Clooney and Brad Pitt staging Ocean’s Eleven-style bank vault heists. But he’s also staged code-breaking exercises for housing associations spending £15 per head too.
For others, though, team building comes with everyday actions too. “All that stuff, like taking part in the Three Peaks Challenge, is the icing on the cake. It’s good behaviour and we’d certainly support it,” says David Chambers chairman of Lincoln-based Lindum. The £86m turnover a year firm is 18th in the Sunday Times Best 100 Companies To Work For list — the best placed firm in the industry.
“I’m passionate about building teams, that’s what contracting is all about. But team building, for us, is about breaking down the hierarchies that exist in the industry. It starts with everyone respecting everyone else top to bottom. It’s about not blaming someone when things go wrong, but working out how we can put it right. It’s about good manners, no one going first class, or directors getting parking spaces — and that starts with me.”
Greg Davidson on making your team building event a success
If you’re organising an event for your company here’s a few points you should be thinking about:
1. What is the purpose of the team building exercise?
Is it purely to give people a fun time with work colleagues? Bring out the importance of key business skills such as communication, decision-making, leadership and strategy? Or is it to help bond, integrate, and introduce a group of people? The purpose will be the initial factor in choosing the type of team building activity.
2. Who will be taking part?
Once the purpose is known then the type of activities must give consideration to the people taking part — are they male, female, old, young, fit or not, or a cross section of all? If a team building activity is chosen that only provides interest for one of these groups then the others will not enjoy the experience and possibly feel the company is just paying lip service to “team building”.
The end product could be an event that alienates some of the participants and fails to achieve its purpose.
3. When will be the best time for the business and also for the people attending the team building event?
There may not be an ideal time, but it must be considered.
4. How much can be spent and who will provide the money?
If delivered by an in-house team will it have the same impact as by an external supplier? If using an external company, make sure you pick the right one. A supplier may offer very exciting activities, however if the people they employ to deliver those activities are no good then the whole event will not deliver its intended outcomes. So find out as much as you can about the people running the event.
5. Always involve the people who will be attending where possible, or a “focus group” if the team building event is to remain a surprise.
The event will not be a complete success unless everyone (or the vast majority) buys into the occasion.