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Why team building should have experiential learning

Running team building events never grows tiresome for me and I can’t see it ever being the case. You see, I believe, done in the right way it is still the fastest, most beneficial way to experience real shifts in attitude and performance.

A fair number of years ago I learned about David Kolb and his concept of the learning cycle. Essentially this concept purports that we all learn in different ways and exhibit a preference for a learning style. The learning cycle is a deceptively simple concept, easy to understand and use.

Add to this the concept developed by John Adair around where we focus our time as leaders and managers and you have the basis for experiential learning.

With corporate team building events it is necessary to create thought provoking activities. This kind of team building activity has characteristics that cause delegates to revert to type and behave as they normally would at work. Now, creating activities that mimic the behaviours and processes used with work is not as straight forward as it seems. After all, we are trying to create a different kind of experience you get from run of the mill fun team building games.

When working on new team building ideas we take time out to imagine ourselves in a workplace context. That way we know what issues and challenges we can creat that are as realistic as we can make them without actually being in the office.

Because of this attention to detail, our activities feel much more akin to worklife.

So, now we have a powerful activity we’re off, or not! You see there is another couple of important factors to get right if you want the learning to make a difference. The activity alone is seldom enough, you need time to reflect and review you team’s performance and decide how you can improve.

Now, having planned and run hundreds of team building events over the years you get to see some familiar sights. Probably the most common is a group who only say nice things about each other and their performance. Another is lots of talking about planks, ropes and coloured blocks. In essence they often end up reviewing how to be better at the activity and missing the point.

This brings up another essential aspect of team building that makes the difference between having a good time and learning something valuable. A first rate facilitator.

A good facilitator really has their work cut out as they have to understand all kinds of business, understand some of the psychology behind how people tick and be able to challenge a group when they need challenging. If you’re not careful you can find yourself working with a facilitator who is little more than a “good time maker” or out to “polish their own ego.

Right, you now have a great activity, a good opportunity for reflection and review and a great, results focused facilitator. Is that enough? Of course not, you need to be able to take what you’ve learnt back to work and do some good with it. This is where pulling it all together in a tailored team building programme with an action plan for work is important.

Okay, so why does all of that make this such a great process co pared to other forms of learning? Experience and skill.

Over the last few years I’ve been more and more involved in modular style leadership and management programme. Quite often I have been brought in to focus on the experiential bit. I can’t tell you how many times the feedback has been the same citing the experiential module as the most eye opening and useful.

For one particular client this approach helped them save over 6 million pounds in project improvements. My most memorable individual started a programme with us basically as a machine, lacking self belief and showing almost no initiative. By the end of the programme he had been promoted and earmarked as “rising talent”. Furthermore, he instigated a business project which saved his company over one hundred thousand pounds.

Experiential team building has shown itself time and again to be the most powerful learning process both for individuals and their respective employers.

Spirit Consulting

About Andy H

Andy H
I have been working in Training & Development for over 20 years and also in web development and internet marketing for nearly 10 years. I have managed training functions and operational functions in some of the leading industry brands and been fortunate to learn from some amazing people. My specialist areas are experiential learning, coaching and performance consulting.

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