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Choosing the Best Venue for Team Building: Considerations for the (Not So) Great Outdoors

An effective team building program can accomplish several important business objectives: improving employee communication, engagement, collaboration, problem-solving, and leadership skills, among others.

It requires an investment in time, resources, and taking employees away from their regular roles. To optimize your return on that investment, it’s essential to create an environment where employees are comfortable and able to focus on the team building activity.

While it’s natural for workers to want to get out of the office and enjoy the fresh air, outdoor venues are usually not the best setting for team building (with the obvious exception of scavenger hunts or other activities specifically designed to be held outside).

Here’s why—and how to create the best environment for success, whatever environment you choose.

Focus on the—hey, squirrel!

Team building facilitators want to introduce activities in a way where nothing will interfere with the group’s ability to succeed. With any outdoor venue, almost anywhere and at any time, weather is a concern: heat, cold, wind, and/or rain can make conditions miserable. In a public outdoor setting such as a park, there are also potential distractions from other people, pets, extraneous noise, Frisbees, balls of various types, and other sources.

The goal of the facilitator is to explain and deliver activities in an environment with as few distractions as possible. This maximizes your group’s ability to succeed and increases the positive impact of your workshop.

In a purpose-built indoor space—such as a large meeting room on a corporate campus or a ballroom in a hotel or casino—it’s much easier to eliminate distractions so everyone can focus on the team building activity. The climate is controlled, the sound system is built-in, and tables and chairs can be easily arranged to fit the program.

But if you really want to be outdoors…

There are times when the allure of the outdoors is hard to resist. Maybe it’s (forecasted to be) a gorgeous Friday afternoon. Maybe it’s (forecasted to be) one of those first 70-degree days of the spring in Minneapolis, or the fall in Phoenix.

If that’s the case, here are a few strategies to maximize your chances of success:

  • Have a backup indoor space where you can host the team building activity in case the weather doesn’t cooperate.
  • Choose a private, dedicated, or reserved location where you’ll be free of distractions from other people, animals, and extraneous noise.
  • If you are traveling to a different city and your backup indoor space isn’t adjacent to your outdoor space, arrange for transportation in case it becomes necessary.
  • Three to five days out from the program, check the current weather forecast. If it looks less than ideal, consider moving the program indoors. If that’s not an option, decide if you simply want to warn employees to dress for the weather (e.g., it looks like it will be gray and cool but dry) or postpone the event (storms are likely). You want participants to benefit from and enjoy the activity—not to be miserable because they’re too cold, too hot, or too wet.
  • Have a “plan A” and a “plan B” to address the conditions. If it looks like the day will be damp, but not a washout, you may choose to move activities indoors, or keep it outside but use different materials (e.g., no paper or cardboard).

Wrapping it up

It’s easy to understand why people love the idea of doing team building activities outdoors. But nature doesn’t always accommodate.

Depending on your situation, you may decide the risks of trying to pull off a successful outdoor event are too great, and an indoor venue really is preferable. Or you may arrange for an outdoor location, with a backup indoor space or at least a “plan B” in case the weather doesn’t cooperate.

What’s most important is to create an environment where distractions are minimized; where you have plenty of space for the activity (follow the recommendations of your team building provider); and where employees are comfortable and able to focus on the activity. That will maximize the enjoyment for participants, the benefits they get from the team building program, and the return on your organization’s investment in increasing employee engagement.