Feature – Team social events

If you read nothing else, read this …
•Avoid events that are too physical or exclusive – and make sure that everyone joins in, including managers.
•Mix teams by function, sex or age so that people do not stick with their own group.
•Market the event internally to ensure staff participate and are aware of the event’s objectives.
•Survey attitudes before and after to measure the success of team social events on employee morale.

Article in full
Flight Centre, spent more than £14 million last year on making sure that its staff had a good time. This was not a purely altruistic gesture; the travel retailer knows that investing in team social events and conferences is key to keeping its employees happy and motivated, which ultimately means that they will sell more holidays. “We would not offer team social events if they did not have a positive impact on morale,” explains Shane Parlato, general manager of product and marketing at Flight Centre.

It has long been recognised that employees need rewards to sustain a high performance, but these do not always have to be monetary-based. A study from the University of Chicago found that although 78% of employees preferred a cash benefit to a non-cash reward (such as a social event), cash-based incentives only generated an improvement of 15% in individuals’ performance, compared with a 39% improvement experienced by non-cash rewards.

Richard Bandell, managing director of motivation and communication company BI, says: “One of the theories behind the findings is that the value of a social event is remembered long after the cash reward.” Given this evidence, how can organisations ensure that team social activities maximise their impact on employee motivation?

“Events that work well, do so either because they involve the team in choosing what to do or they suit the nature of the people involved,” says Ed Hurst, director at occupational psychology consultancy, Saville Consulting.

However, he warns employers against using team events as a sticking plaster if it is out of step with the culture of an organisation. “If the management strategy of a company is autocratic, then asking everyone to participate in a team event can seem hollow,” he claims.

Lack of organisation can also bring problems, so good preparation is imperative. “Very often, people do not know why they are attending an event, so make sure that everyone knows what the objectives are,” says Dr Patrick Tissington, business psychologist at Aston Business School.

There are no hard and fast rules about the type of event, but employers must ensure that no one is excluded. “The ideal event is an inclusive, non-contact, team-based activity that engages people of all levels of ability,” says BI’s Bandall. Event management company Business Pursuits, for example, offers a team-building game called Everest Challenge, which requires participants to complete a series of group tasks, plan their route and compete to reach the summit.

But not all events have to be this hands-on. A black tie gala or night at the dogs can be just as effective, if it suits the group. All too often, events fail because they are irrelevant to their audience or make employees feel uncomfortable. The wellbeing of employees should also be observed. Flight Centre operates a non-smoking policy at all its organised events, for example.

Ultimately, events need to be part of a coherent strategy for rewarding staff and improving productivity. But when successful, the effects of team social activities often speak for themselves. “We worked with one event where we mixed up the sales and production teams and one of the salespeople said to me afterwards, ‘it is amazing, those production people are just like us,'” recalls BI’s Bandell