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Teambuilding: Should you use internal faciliators?


With companies training budgets being squeezed, should the top team use internal facilitators to run their teambuilding events and key meetings? Heather Townsend advises.

Most companies when team building with the top team, automatically pay out for an external facilitator. If many highly respected learning and development consultancies are to be believed teambuilding with the top team is a highly skilled process. Is this all just marketing spin? In reality, do you need a special process for top team building? Or, are the rules of the game the same regardless of the seniority of the team?
So what are these rules that I am referring to?

1. Clarify the return on the investment

Good team building, regardless of level of team, should be tied into quantifiable business results. When working with a top team, there is an expectation that any team event must produce tangible, measurable results fast.

2. Be aware of relationships and history between team members

In any team there will be politics, relationships, team norms and unspoken stuff that inhibit productive team working. For a top team add in an extra helping of big egos, attitudes and the stakes suddenly become very high. For example, are your top team a group of individuals or an actual physical team? How much are the top team members in competition with each other? In my experience the goals of individual top team members are unfortunately not always over-lapping (in process). More often than not the top team can easily agree on a number for the company – e.g. profit and revenue targets, but struggle to agree on how best to get to that number. I.e. what activities, projects, and strategies should the top team agree on and work together to achieve...

3. Trust and respect are crucial

Trust and respect in a team event goes three ways – how much do the top team trust and respect your ability to facilitate the event, how much trust and respect is there between team members, and how much do you trust the top team to play ball on the day? Many classical team building activities depend on having people drop their guard by doing something slightly ridiculous or amusing. Others depend on team members freely giving their opinion. (As an aside, think about how enjoyable and amusing it is to watch the behaviours that appear when running the red-blue game?) For any facilitator to get the ‘moose out on the table’, their credibility has to be established and team members have to trust that any opinion voiced will be handled sensitively without fear of retribution, and lead to a beneficial outcome. 

4. Consider your audience’s prior knowledge

Any learning invention should involve a detailed learning needs analysis – which then guides the design of the intervention. When dealing with the top team they will have been exposed to the majority of content, exercises, events within a decent learning and development professional’s tool box. Therefore, you may need to badge the intervention as a ‘strategy’ day, focus less on input and more on discussion and output

5. High quality facilitation is key

As a facilitator in a teambuilding event you will need to focus on securing credibility before and during the event with your audience. This goes without saying for all teams regardless of their seniority. When dealing with a team of ‘stars’, egos can get in the way and you will need to prove yourself worthy of their respect. Your board members may not be used to being challenged, and so your facilitation will possibly need to be more assertive than usual. Unfortunately, when teambuilding goes wrong claims of racism, bullying, discrimination & harassment can rear their ugly heads. This is no different for a top team, but the potential cost to the organisation of such a claim could be disastrous for both the organisation and individuals involved.

6.  Clarify your brief with the team leader

Any decent teambuilding event will involve discussions with the team leader to identify what they are trying to achieve from the event. It is essential to get quality time in with the CEO to identify what they want to achieve from the event. Not all team members may be aware of the CEO’s longer term plans and strategies.
So, in this discussion I have identified that with a senior team, the need for good team working is no different to any other team. The tools that the learning & development professional will use with the senior team are no different to other teams.
But, and this is a big BUT, when you are working with the top team these rules are emphasised in glorious technicolor. Break one of these rules and you could find yourself getting the metaphorical custard pie in your face, and a large dent in your credibility with senior management.
However, the two reasons why external consultants will still be able to make a good living from teambuilding with the top team, is nothing to do with the capability of the internal resource. It is simply that top teams do not like airing their dirty linen in public – as well as the content of the discussion could be too sensitive for an internal facilitator to be perceived as objective.
Read more in Heather's teambuilding series: When teambuilding goes wrong

Heather Townsend is the driving force behind The Efficiency CoachTM. She is a highly experienced corporate, career and executive coach with over 10 years experience in many diverse businesses including Tesco, Procter & Gamble, BDO Stoy Hayward LLP. Heather blogs at and can be contacted by email at [email protected].


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