Interview: What makes successful team building?

Mix Magazine Interview Andrew Grant Andrew Grant

Heads together: Andrew Grant interview with Mix Magazine

by Joshua Tan of Mix Magazine, Sept 2009

1. What are the things to look out for when planning a teambuilding programme?

Andrew Grant: It’s important first to define your outcomes and to decide on your definition of “team building”. At one end of the spectrum team building is just fun activities that enable a natural sense of camaraderie to develop, while at the more sophisticated end of the spectrum, it is a program that works towards specific team development outcomes. At Tirian we believe it is risky to invest time and without careful program design and facilitation, so we recommend considering what the key issues or challenges are that need to be addressed through the program, and then deciding what approach will best meet these needs. No matter what the specific outcomes, an effective team building program will take the participants on a journey, developing a memorable theme and providing an engaging series of experiences that work towards a positive conclusion. Effective team building programs also allow participants to explore behaviours and ideas in a safe environment where actions can be trialled without serious ramifications in the real world. A good way to choose a program can be to consider the most cynical team member and think what will be most likely to engage that person and meet their needs. Cynical people want to enjoy the process and see the value for themselves and their team, so imagining how they would react can help.


2. How do companies ensure they get the most out of their teambuilding activities?


Andrew Grant: By starting with the end in mind. What do we need to get out of this? A fun afternoon? Learning about the team? Fun and learning? (– it is possible to combine both). It is possible to have fun AND learning AND connect the team building with strategic direction and any current training or vision, or (if in a conference setting) to other conference sessions and topics. At Tirian we try to ensure that the team building is integrated into the whole event – as we feel that to get the most out of the whole event and make it memorable there should be a few key implementable takeaways.


3. How long typically should a teambuilding event last?


Andrew Grant: If executed well and integrated into outcomes, experiential based team building can last a full day or even longer is and is extremely valuable. It provides the opportunity to have fun, learn, reflect, and look at how the learning can be implemented in the workplace. Half day can be fine to get a few key points across or have fun as a group, and if the event is themed well this can be sufficient to help build morale and create a buzz. Any less than half a day is often seen as a filler and does not provide a great return on investment for the client.


4. What are the indicators during a programme (if any) that indicate how successful/unsuccessful it is?


Andrew Grant: The best way to gauge the success of a program at the time it is running is to assess the levels of engagement from everyone in the group (including the cynics!). You can judge this by watching the body language – you can see who is actively participating in and enjoying the process, and who is stepping back from the process or is actively disengaged. You can also quickly and easily measure the success of a program by checking in the breaks and at dinner that night - are participants back to talking about mundane office gossip or buzzing about the experience they just went through? A key way we measure the longer term success is through how long after the program people continue to remember it, talk about it, and apply the learning. We have followed up participants from as long 10 years after the event, and the fact that they still talk about the positive experience and impact of the program as well as the practical ways the day affected their work and their lives in general shows us that it has been highly successful. When an event is memorable kinaesthetic experience it is easy to associate the experiences with what was learnt through it, and this is where the greatest value lies. It means that a leader can use the experience any time in the future to remind their team of key issues. The idea of doing as opposed to simply observing or listening will always have much greater personal impact.



Andrew Grant is the managing director of Tirian. He has written over 30 experiential learning team building programs that area now used under licence world wide. He is in high demand as a facilitator and keynote speaker on the topic. He lives between Bali and Sydney with offices Asia wide. For more details see