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Team Building Trends for 2019

Published Date: December 15, 2018

Team Building Trends for 2019

12 Team Building Trends for 2019

What’s Ahead?

15 December 2018, by Anne Thornley-Brown, MBA

Download: 8 Team Building Trends for 2021 (PDF Version)

Download: 12 Team Building Trends for 2019 (PDF Version)

Since 2013, we’ve released our annual team building trends forecast. We examine economic trends and pinpoint what we’re observing in the marketplace.

We are pleased to release our 2019 team building trends report. Economic storm clouds are on the horizon and the “R” word is once again being thrown around. This report is intended to identify tools and strategies to help executives improve team building R.O.I. in 2019.

Team building is not a once a year or even a quarterly event. It’s an ongoing process that begins with hiring and promoting the right team members in the first place. Get this wrong and building effective teams will be a challenge.

Unfortunately, not all trends of the trends that we are observing represent best practices. So, once again, we are examining Best Practices and Pitfalls to Avoid.

12 Team Building Trends for 2019

Best Practices

  1. Revenue Generating Team Building
  2. Masterminds for Executives and Entrepreneurs
  3. Shrinking Teams
  4. Short, Modular Approaches
  5. On-site Team Building
  6. Unique Venues
  7. Virtual Reality for Team Building Pitfalls to Avoid (Including More Cringe Worthy Moments)
  8. Less Team Building
  9. Sex Scandals, Sexual Favouritism, and Sexual Nepotism
  10. Scandals Involving Racial Discrimination
  11. Even More Foolishness and Folly #baaadteambuilding
  12. Extreme Activities as a Substitute for Team Building

Best Practices


1. Revenue-Generating Team Building

A direct approach to the bottom line.

With stock market volatility and talk of reccesion, executives are scrutinizing expenditures across the organization more closely.

Team building and executive retreats are usually perceived as cost centres. As companies attempt to identify opportunities to maximize revenue, revenue-generating team building delivers immediate bottom line results.

This approach is an opportunity to test pilot marketing and sales initiatives before introducing them to the market.

Here are 3 approaches to generating revenue through team building. Either of these approaches will produce results that can be quantified:

Revenue can be generated for the company, a charitable cause (CSR), or both.

One of our clients has given us permission to share video footage from their executive retreat. In this example, revenue was generated for the company and there was a CSR component.

Visexecutaries: The Challenge

  • Viral Video DIY (Toronto)Teams design, shoot, and launch a video across social media platforms. Can be designed in conjunction with a pop-up event or guerilla marketing.

The best approach is to design projects that address specific business challenges and generate solutions including:

  • identifying new target markets to replace segments that are declining
  • identifying new uses for existing products or services (think 3M)
  • uncovering hidden business opportunities
  • re-engineering time consuming processes
  • The Quest for Black Gold: Uncovering Hidden Business Opportunities (Dubai) Participants engage in a series of small group exercises to identify their business challenges, team dynamics, and interaction styles.Next, they are taken to the desert and given the task of using clues to locate an abandoned oil field and broken down oil derrick. If they succeed they will pump black gold…oil…and enjoy a celebration under the stars.The debriefing focuses on the tools and strategies the teams used to be successful. Through facilitated business exercises, they identify untapped markets for existing products or services and hidden business opportunities.The teams formulate a plan that they implement back at work to generate revenue.

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Mastermind: “The coordination of knowledge and effort of two or more people, who work toward a definite purpose, in the spirit of harmony.”

“This form of cooperative alliance has been the basis of nearly every great fortune.”

Think and Grow Rich


2. Masterminds for Executives and Entrepreneurs

If 2 heads are better than one, think of the power of many.

Napoleon Hill, author of Think and Grow Rich was the first to highlight the power of mastermind alliances that meet on a regular basis to provide support to members.

Mastermind groups can work for corporate groups seeking solutions to business challenges. A cross-functional approach is highly effective.

Professional facilitators help the groups gel, and remain targeted, focused, and on-track.

Today, team building isn’t just for corporate teams that work together daily. In a complex and turbulent market, entrepreneurs who usually work independently can benefit.

The same tools that assist corporate teams in improving their effectiveness can add tremendous value for entrepreneurs and executives from different organizations who meet regularly.

Today, in a growing trend, groups like Vistage, Entrepreneurs’ Organization, and Tec Canada (the Canadian wing of Vistage) apply the mastermind alliance principle for corporate executives.

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3. Shrinking Teams

Small teams…a challenge and an opportunity

In small team building sessions, Team members tend to relax and go deeper about their concerns. Introverts are more likely to open up than when sessions are large.

As a result, it is important to allocate more time for each session. With the pressure to compress team building into tighter and tighter timeframes, this may not be possible. If you can’t increase the timeframe, have only one or two areas of focus per session.

One thing to keep in mind is that, the smaller the group, the higher will be the per person fee for facilitation and venue rental. As a result, small teams often experience sticker shock when they review proposals.

Many organizations that used to sponsor team building initiatives at the director and VP levels now divide up the budget and distribute the budget to departments.

The miniscule amount that results makes it difficult to afford anything other than a short social event that is not a replacement for team building. Recreational activities don’t address or resolve team challenges. When used as a substitute for real team building, think of them as a placebo.

If 2 – 4 teams, pool their budgets, it can be enough to make team building affordable.

Another way to make team building facilitation accessible to small groups is to sponsor these initiatives at the VP level and enter into an agreement with a team building consulting firm. Economies of scale that keep team building facilitation affordable even for small teams can be realized.

The kick-off session, activity portion of the team building or OD initiative, or the celebratory social after objectives have been achieved can still involve the larger group.

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4. Short Focused, Modular, and RELEVANT

The power of focus…

One way to leverage team building for shorter timeframes, shrinking budgets, and smaller groups is to use a modular format for intact or cross-functional teams. Each team needs to have a very specific focus.

Here is how it works.

  • Set the stage at kick-off for the whole group (2 hours):
    • executive briefing
    • identify the issues and opportunities
    • describe the approach
    • review the shared toolkit for brainstorming, decision-making, and planning (briefly)
    • map out the plan
  • facilitation training for team leaders and back-ups (Varies depending on experience)
  • mini-simulation for team members who are unfamiliar with the toolkit (3 hours)
  • weekly breakout sessions for each group – facilitated by the leaders who have been selected and trained (2 hours per week)
  • re-convene to present recommendations (3 hours)
  • implementation
  • measure results
  • celebration

With this roadmap, the entire team will be together for about 5 hours.

If you schedule the kick-off, mini-simulation and team leader training back to back, the facilitator will work with your team for 1 1/2 to two days initially and come back for the final session. Executive Oasis International can also design the celebration.

Gamification, one of our 2018 team building trends, can amp up the fun factor without blowing your budget.

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5. On-Site Team Building

A sure-fire strategy to stretch your budget….

Rather than scrapping team building, reign in the cost of team building by bringing all or part of it on-site.

This strategy will eliminate a good chunk of the budget (e.g. meeting room rental, accommodation) and let you care out the funds to engage an expert facilitator.

You can even get employees to supply their own lunches and snacks as they would on any other work day.

One concern is that there will be too many interruptions. Some solutions are to:

  • use a branch office at the same company
  • swap meeting spaces with a supplier or client
  • using a hybrid format (a combination of video conferencing and face to face sessions)

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6. Unique Venues.

Set-up for success….

When budgets are tight, a little bit of creativity can help you come up with a venue that will enhance team building and even reinforce your theme.

To stretch budgets, groups can hold all or just the activity portion of team building off-site at affordable venues like:

  • college or university campuses
  • libraries
  • city hall and other municipal offices
  • country clubs (if some executives are members)
  • acting studios
  • art galleries
  • greenhouses
  • swimming pools
  • community theatres
  • movie theatres
  • conservation areas
  • ice rinks
  • shopping centres
  • equestrian facilities
  • fitness centres
  • summer camps during off-season
  • video game parlours during off hours
  • virtual spaces (Sansar)

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7. Virtual Reality for Team Building

The next frontier….

For the last 2 year, we have highlighted virtual reality (VR) as a top team building trend. Progress has been slower than anticipated. More experiences that underscore team dynamics are needed.

Interactive VR simulations for teams are also an important area where design and development need to devote some attention.

Sansar, Linden Labs virtual playground, came on stream in July, 2017 and its growth will continue.

Remember, team building is not an event. It’s about how teams collaborate and works together to achieve results day in and day out. Hololens by Microsoft is an example of technology that transforms the virtual world and creates more sophisticated spaces in which teams can interact.

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By using some or all of these strategies, teams can continue to realize the benefits of team building without blowing their budgets.


Pitfalls to Avoid (Including Cringe Worthy Moments)

Now let’s examine trends for 2019 that fail to move the yardstick and actually impede team effectiveness.


8. Less Team Building.

Scrapping team building in times of uncertainty is short sighted.

When the economy is uncertain or turbulent, many companies shelve team building or replace it with short, strictly recreational activities.

Off-sites have continued to disappear. Today what gets called team building is either a corporate play day or a boring meeting followed by a recreational activity.

Unfortunately, while this short-sighted strategy provides temporary relief from budgetary pressures, the core issues that team building could help organizations resolve are never resolved.

We’ve addressed the pitfalls of scrapping team building, replacing it with recreational activities, and drastically reducing the time allocated to team building in about a dozen blog posts since 2011. While this is not the best approach to team building, here are some suggestions for getting the most of short team building sessions in:

Also consult:

The main take-away is that these sessions need to focus on ONE specific issue or opportunity that the team is facing. Provide some information ahead of time and give participants an opportunity to think, reflect, and come prepared with ideas and input.

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9. Sex Scandals, Sexual Favouritism, and Sexual Nepotism

Corporate teams urgently need clear guidelines for appropriate behaviour.

“Google employees around the world staged walkouts on Thursday to protest what they say is a workplace culture that has turned a blind eye to sexual harassment and discrimination.”

Sexual favouritism, sexual nepotism, and sexual harassment are triplets. Where you find one, the other will eventually turn up.

This is one trend we wish we had not called accurately. Even we did not see this coming from the hallowed halls of Google.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Sexual harassment allegations will pour in and topple the powerful corporate elite

We will see the lid blown off favouritism and sexual nepotism which have created the poison work environment in which sexual harassment thrives in many industries.

It begins on LinkedIn and other social media platforms. Women who look like models or who post revealing photos and videos are rewarded even for subpar content. The content goes viral and the job offers and business opportunities poor in.

When it comes to hiring and promotions, favouritism based on stereotypes of what’s hot and what’s not play a major role.

It’s no secret that a lack of gender and racial diversity in the workplace is a problem numerous companies and industries struggle with…when it comes to Black women in the workplace, progress in some cases stops altogether.

According to the 2018 Women in The Workplace survey from LeanIn.org and McKinsey & Co., when it comes to moving up the ladder in the workplace, Black women experience more hurdles and challenges than any other demographic.

Far from a fluff issue, anything that denies qualified individuals a place on corporate teams and access to promotional opportunities will undermine team effectiveness.

Women are being denied opportunities for which they are well qualified. Jobs and promotions are awarded to women who are perceived as being more nubile and desirable.

These dirty little secret of corporate life STILL has not been explored in depth by the media but there has been a start.

These biases have a particularly negative impact on Black women.

It’s a ticking time bomb. In 2019, look for this genie to leap out of the bottle and into the headlines..in this case, the dye bottle.

In her acceptance speech, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley reference not only the concrete ceiling Black women face but hair is often used as an excuse for exclusion.

It’s time to re-visit protocols and policies re: appropriate behaviour at company functions. A clear message needs to be conveyed that hiring and promotions should be based on qualifications and performance not hair colour or cup size.

Unfortunately some companies just won’t “get it”until they are slapped with lawsuits.

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10. The Silence on Racial Discrimination will be broken.

In a trend unseen since #metoo look for stories about racial discrimination to come pouring into the public arena.

Facebook has a “black people problem,” according to a former black manager at the company. Mark S. Luckie, made public a memo he sent to Facebook’s global staff before leaving the company…

Luckie has been open about his experience at previous jobs, too. Prior to joining Facebook, Luckie worked at other tech firms…After leaving Twitter in May 2015, he wrote a Medium post about what it was like to work at a tech firm as a black man. “The widespread underrepresentation of faces of color in tech is already alarming,” wrote Luckie, who was previously an editor at the The Washington Post. “However, the situation is more dire than raw numbers project.”


For teams and organizations to be successful, the right team members must be in hired in the first place. If qualified candidates are bypassed because of race and ethnicity and under qualified candidates are hired, this will have a detrimental impact on organizational performance.

Black executives and professionals have been intimidated into silence about racial discrimination. Speaking up about discrimination in hiring, promotion, and team dynamics is a career limiting move.

Speak up and you will be perceived as a troublemaker, “playing the race card”, accused of having “attitude” or a “chip on your shoulder”. Heaven forbid, being labeled an “angry Black woman”.

Black women are finally speaking out publicly about the discrimination they face when being considered for employment or promotions when they wear their hair natural. (Preference is given to White women with long, straight, blonde hair even when they are less qualified.)

The media has exposed this discrimination that is excused as “personal preference” on dating sites. Now it is rampant on social media sites that it is sparking discussion and some initial media coverage.

In an attempt to spare the next generation of professionals from the hardships which they have endured, Black professionals who are approaching retirement are beginning to speak out about their experiences.

Even younger professionals are so frustrated with the barriers that have been placed in their way they are no longer waiting to speak up despite the risk of repercussions.

Mark S. Luckie, a Black former manager, slammed the social media giant for the way that it treats Black employees.

It isn’t only Black professionals who are starting to speak out.

Ahmad Iman, an Egyptian real estate professional who is based in Australia, started the ball rolling with Why don’t recruiters like my name? his ground-breaking video.

This genie is now out of the bottle and it will not be going back any time soon.

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11. Even More Foolishness and Folly #baaadteambuilding

Even we didn’t see this one coming…”

We were among the first to sound the alarm about this trend. As a result our President, Anne Thornley-Brown, has been quoted regularly by the media.

Last year we asked “From rage rooms to axe throwing the folly continues? What’s next? Pie throwing?”

Goat yoga anyone? Even we didn’t see this coming.

When the Hotels.com commercial was released, we thought it was just something silly that was made up for the commercial.

Wrong answer. Companies are actually spending money on this in the name of team building. Our only question is “Why?”.

One thing is certain, the foolishness in the name of “team building” is bound to continue and it is one of the factors that will result in the shelving of team building by many organizations.

See our previous reports

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12. Extreme activities as a substitute for team building

Extreme activities have no place on the corporate agenda.

At the extreme end of the spectrum are dangerous activities that are used a substitute for team building. We did extensive coverage about this trend in:

There is nothing to add to what we have already shared. Our position is unchanged. Extreme and dangerous activities have no place on the corporate agenda. It will take hefty lawsuits for some companies to wake up and put an end to this madness.

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Want to avoid team building pitfalls and uncover more best practices?

Our e-book is available for purchase.

Team Building and R.O.I. for Executives (PDF)

Team Building, Innovation, and R.O.I.: An Executive’s Guide to Boosting the Bottom Line is a call for a return to sanity in team building.

For a fraction of the cost of a consulting session, this 55 page e-book is designed to stimulate discussion and an exploration of how team building can, once again, be used by executives to produce bottom line results. You’ll walk away with tips, tools and proven strategies to improve the effectiveness of team building and executive retreats.

Download a Preview (PDF)

Purchase the E-book (PDF)

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Anne Thornley-Brown, M.B.A. @executiveoasis is the President of Executive Oasis International.

Executive Oasis International

Survive, Thrive, & Grow
Even in the Midst of Turbulence

Executive Oasis International, a Toronto team building and management consulting firm, designs and facilitates virtual team building, executive retreats, team building retreats, and business team building simulations for organizations facing rapid change.

Services are available globally including Canada (Toronto, Montreal, Quebec City, Ottawa), USA, Dubai, Oman, Caribbean (Jamaica, Barbados, Dominica, Anguilla), Europe (Germany, Switzerland, France, the Netherlands, Italy), Japan, Singapore, Malaysia.

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