Ever found yourself way outside your comfort zone, all in the name of team-building?

Ever found yourself way outside your comfort zone, all in the name of team-building? Photo: Michelle Smith

Afternoons on the fairway, nights on the town and interminable team-building days... they can be as integral to climbing the corporate ladder climb as long hours at the desk and stellar performances in the boardroom.

While some gregarious types can't get enough of schmoozing and boozing, others say less is definitely more when it comes to out-of-the-office bonhomie with colleagues, peers and clients.

High on the hate list is the team-building event – be it scrambling over rope courses, trusting colleagues to catch you as you fall, or taking part in scavenger hunts, a la The Amazing Race.

Senior corporate lawyer James says such days, while designed to engender team spirit and co-operation, are often "wanky and contrived" and overly optimistic in what they seek to achieve.

“Some of those team-building, learn-your-personality-on-a-pie-chart days have been bad,” James says.

“Nobody has engaged or believed... everyone is watching the clock, waiting for the torture to end.”

Grant Thornton tax partner Sian Sinclair agrees, describing "Great Races" and the like as "generally a groan".

“Just a lunch out is nice if you want to build morale and team spirit,” Sinclair says.

“It's more personal and relaxed... gone are the days when people get excited about an afternoon of Skirmish [paintball]. Simple recognition and reward is enough, versus a day out making staff do stuff they don't want to do.”

Putting workers on the rack does not come cheap. Companies typically budget $70 to $300 per head for an event, with "Great Races" and barbecue MasterChef cook-offs superseding the ropes and obstacle courses of yore.

Finance industry workers are the most frequent participants, followed by those in the insurance, education, legal and pharmaceutical industries, according to Uplift Events director Sam Tram.

XL Events general manager John Chichkan says the focus has shifted from companies expecting mentally and physically challenging activities to simply trying to bring some fun to their teams.

A capable facilitator and "participants who come with an open mind and are willing to throw themselves into the activity" make for an event where watches aren't glanced at surreptitiously and grins forced.

Most groups include a few obvious arm-crossers, but Chichkan believes they're in the minority.

“Clients look for an activity that 95 per cent of the team will enjoy,” he says.

“They're wary of putting people in situations where their physical or psychological wellbeing is tested.

“We do our best to change perceptions if some people are negative. Often there are one or two like the child standing in the corner. Generally it's someone who is more individually oriented – someone who doesn't see themselves as part of a team.”

Psychology Melbourne senior psychologist Campbell Thompson says team events are a waste of time if they're badly planned or don't have a specific organisational outcome in mind.

Too many are arranged in the spirit of, "oh God, got to do an annual away day", while others fail to consider the individual differences of group members, he says.

When it comes to getting people out of the office to mingle and bond, simple activities such as lawn bowls may induce less groans than a highly choreographed event.

All-day corporate shindigs, where it's impossible to skive off half way through, are also approached with caution by some.

“The ones I really don't like going to are veiled opportunities to lock you up with a sales guy who is going to present to you the whole time you're there,” says Chris Goldstone, founder of IT consultancy Strategic Directions.

“The worst for this is the corporate golf day – if there's a sales guy shoved in your group and you're captured for four or five hours, [for] a lot of senior executives it's not what they want to do when they're out of the office. If they want to know about products and services, they will just go and ask.”

Sian Sinclair shares his views. Golf invites are passed up, while other functions with open-ended finishing times get a wary eye.

“People don't want to be trapped for a really long time,” Sinclair says.

“You've got to have a reason for doing it or something special on offer... the longer the event, the less inclined you are to get buy-in... Gone are the days of putting on good booze to get people along.”