Should I surprise my people with at team building event?

Often times when working with the lead for one of our charity team building workshops, we find that there is a desire to surprise the participants. The thought is that it will serve as a fun ‘reveal’ when team members come into a room to find they will be putting together bikes or care packages, wagons with toys or wheelchairs. For many wondering what this secret happening that is next on the agenda, it is a happy thing to see there isn’t just another information workshop. The realization that the next couple of hours will be about giving back is refreshing. However, this must be well thought out. As a charity team building veteran, I’ve seen some pitfalls that can cause the surprise to backfire. I offer here a few nuggets of experience to consider as you prepare to for your company’s next corporate team building event. I hope this helps to make your workshop an even better.

Surprise Team Building

Nugget number one: Charity team building is active. Most team building events are active. If you have planned on 2-2.5 hours for any activity that will require a lot of standing whether moving around some or not, you will serve your people will let them know that. I have facilitated events with men in nice suits who get fully into the activity not worried about their shoes or coat. There have been women in high heels and dresses who have been as actively competitive and surprisingly agile in those clothes as they dash towards me after having successfully completed an activity. Clothes don’t keep team members from participating heavily. However, most people who have a choice and opportunity would prefer to be in at least business casual when putting pedals on a bike, tires on a wheelchair or playing any fame associated with the activity. It is very taxing (I’ve seen it and have been told) to not know there won’t be sitting and the surprise can be unpleasant with the wrong shoes.

Nugget number two: Team building events will require a lot of attention and for the duration of your event. Look around the room of any larger – or smaller – corporate event and a large percentage of people are checking email, texts and other modes of communication. A call will usually take someone out of the room, but at least one can reply and give attention to a customer, family member or co-worker while in a meeting. During a team building event, the expectation is that your attention and participation are needed not only to keep up with what is happening as a whole but because you have a small group of people who are counting on you for success in tasks and whatever charity donation you are working on. When your people don’t know that they will be actively occupied for a long duration of time, they will be put in a bad spot when they 1. Ignore their group or 2. Ignore those contacting them. That will impact their experience in a big way. You don’t want an “Oh No” when you surprise them with the great charity event.

Nugget three: Workshop activities will typically require hands. If you plan a meal or cocktails prior to the event, it is likely that some or many of your people will have an unfinished drink in their hand. If they have a clue that there will be an active event taking place soon, they might work to finish their drink before coming into the room or at least expect the activity will require the use of their hands. As a team builder, I lose a lot of friends right away when I suggest they need to put down a drink. Alcohol or coffee, soda or water. Sadness and glares both are common!

It isn’t only drinks that are a problem but purses, coats, backpacks or other items from a meeting. If it is known that there will be an active event, many will find a place for these things ahead of time and save a lot of worry about valuables floating around.

Nugget four: If you want to keep the event a total secret, think about the three nuggets above and at least tell people to be ready to stand and move around a bit. Suggest they finish calls and prepare to stay engaged of the duration what is to come. Put personal belongings out of the way and finish your drinks.

You don’t have to tell them why, simply that it will be necessary for what is happening next.

By the way, if you are worried that saying team building will cause people to ditch the activity, give them a hint as to what it is about. Charity team building will mitigate the potential stigma that the words team building could invoke for some. You don’t have to tell them what the charity is or what they will put together.

So take these nuggets for what they are worth and I wish you happy team building!