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2020 Team Building Trends

Published Date: August 26, 2020

2020 Team Building Trends

6 Team Building Trends for 2020

A Wake-up Call for Executives

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

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

Almost every year since 2013, Executive Oasis International has released an annual team building trends report. For the past few years, we’ve divided our trends into Best Practices and Pitfalls to avoid.

This year’s trend report is completely different.

Given the current landscape, I will highlight the factors that will eventually result in the demise of team building. I am writing this as a wake-up call. I will suggest some strategies to assist companies that really want to harness team power to generate bottom line results.

2020 Team Building Trends1

A Corporate Team Building Wake-up Call

There is a role for team recreation and celebrations. Who would want to work for a company where no one ever smiled laughed or played. It would be a dreary environment.

Unfortunately, the scale has been tipped too far in the direction of “play”.

The term “team building” has been COMPLETELY HIJACKED by suppliers of recreational activities. A new generation of corporate leaders seems to have no awareness of the fact that, until 15 years ago, team building meant:

“A facilitated process to help a group of employees work cohesively and effectively as a team in order to improve business results.”

Today, the term “team building” has come to mean fun, games, socialing, and activities…the more outlandish the better.
We are starting to see the results.

For example, WeWork placed a heavy emphasis on the “fun factor” in all aspects of its business. They offered unlimited beer and wine in the office. They grew rapidly and globally and were known for their signature “summer camp” event with non-stop fun and partying.

Looks great doesn’t it? Consider what happened just over a year later.

The lack of attention to metrix of corporate performance created a host of problems that have led to the founder and CEO stepping down and THOUSANDS of employees around the world losing their jobs.

To avoid more of the same in 2020, there are number of team building trends that need to be reversed.

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Team Building Predictions – 2020 Team Building Trends That Need to be Reversed

1. More Flavour of the Month: Under the banner of “team building”, flavour of the month prevails with no thought to improving bottom line results.

Right now axe throwing, escape rooms, and, believe it or not, goat yoga, and rage rooms are all the rage. These activities have nothing to do with “real” team building or business effectiveness but companies have jumped on this bandwagon left, right and centre without considering the risks involved (in the case of axe throwing).

Expect to see even more foolishness and folly disguised as team building in 2020.

2. More “Extreme” Team Building: Weekend warrior types at the helm of organizations will continue to coerce other executives and the members of their team to participate in extreme activities like mud obstacle courses.

This will inevitably lead to more accidents like this one tha resulted in a lawsuit.

3. More CEO heads will roll: As the numbers come in and corporate performance is far less than expected, more CEOs will be fired or asked to step down from their roles. Fail to hold your team accountable and YOU will eventually be held accountable.

As regulators and Government bodies scrutinize corporations more closely, ethics and integrity will become more and more of a concern.

4. More Corporate Scandals: In 2019, we have seen everything from sex scandals and scandals involving sexual nepotism to ethics violations.

In 2020, expect this to continue. Companies with toxic corporate cultures will also make the headlines. CEOs who have been enriching themselves at the expense of their organizations will be held accountable.

With Corporate Scandals on the Rise, People Must Demand Accountability

5. Offsites Will Become Increasingly Rare:  While the NASDAQ and the DOW have recently hit records highs, the fundamentals to support this simply aren’t there . It is only a matter of time before the house of cards comes tumbling down. Expect offsites to become increasingly rare in 2020 as many companies will no longer be able to afford them.

6. Team Building & Team Recreation will Disappear From Many Corporate Agendas: As I first predicted in 2003, team building is about to become something we used to do.
It appears we learned nothing from the 2008 meltdown. As financial pressure heats up, the axe will fall. (Interesting metaphor since axe throwing has become so popular.) Anything that is considered to be a discretionary expense gets chopped when times are tough. Since there is now rampant confusion in the market about the definition of team building, instead of just cutting recretional programmes, organizations will also cut “real” team building that has the ability to impact the bottom line and assist with the resolution of business challenges.

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2020 Team Building Trends3

Reversing Team Building Trends in 2020

The Context: Uncertainty about Brexit, the USA/China trade wars, and Governments in the USA, Canada, and the UK will have a ripple effect.
Canada has elected a minority Government which is unlikely to last long. Elections in the UK are just around the corner. The U.S. election will cast a shadow over the economy and corporate performance for all of 2020.

Many countries have downgraded their economic forecasts for 2020 and the “R” word is being used with increasing frequency. There is also talk about the possibility of banks in Europe and Australia having negative interest rates. With increasing uncertainty and volatility in the global economy, it’s extremely important for corporate executives to hit the pause button. The time for business as usual has long passed.

Is there going to be a recession similar to 2008? Many analysts are saying that it’s not a mater of “if”. It’s a matter of WHEN.

Companies that want to survive the next shake-up need to get really serious about improving team and organizational performance.

Continuing to distract employees with corporate play days and fun and games while failing to address fundamental business issues will have serious consequences. It’s time to get back to basics in corporate team building.

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2020 Team Building Trends4

Team Building Best Practices Re-visited

I have written volumes about the key ingredients for effective team building but I am going to take the time to re-visit them briefly.

1. Attention to metrix: Where are we now?

Companies ignore key financial indicators at their own peril. The barometers of financial health need to be monitored and tracked regularly.

  • Profitability Ratios: Net profit margin, return on investment (R.O.I.), return on equity (R.O.E.),
  • Liquidity Ratios: current ratio, quick ratio
  • Efficiency Ratios: inventory turnover, average collection period, customer churn, client retention
  • Leverage Ratios: debt-to-equity, debt-to-asset

Ask: What business issues are derailing organizational and team performance?

It may not be sexy. It may not be fun. BUT, when running a business, an understanding of these metrix is essential for assessing corporate health, identifying gaps, and pinpointing areas for course correction.

2. Clarity: Where do we want to go?

ALL improvements in corporate and team performance begin with specific goals and objectives that are articulated clearly and communicated throughout the organization.

3. Gap analysis: What are the current gaps in team performance?

To design team building that helps move the needle in terms of corporate performance, gaps in team performance must be clearly identified.

  • Has groupthink set in?
  • Are there silos and turf wars?
  • Is there a lack of role clarity?
  • Are there communication stopgaps?
  • Are there bottlenecks in your processes?
  • Is the decision-making process cumbersome?
  • Are you losing your best performers due to an incresingly toxic corporate culture

These are just a few examples of tough questions that may need to be answered.

4. Goal Setting: What specific improvements do you want to see as a result of team building?

When organizations contact us to request team building quotes, few of them can answer this question.

5. Get Help: What internal or external facilitators can help esign a roadmap and introduce us to the tools our teams need to succeed?

6. Team Assessment: What are the team’s strengths and areas for growth?

7. Team Member Assessment: What are the learning styles of participants?

Also consider physical capabilities and disabilities so that team building is designed to allow everyone to make a meaningful contribution.

8. Determine Content: What does the team need to learn to address gaps in performance and address developmental needs?

9. Leverage Business Simulations: What immersive experience can keep team members engaged and faciltate learning?

Games and activities can be used to bring team building simulation themes to life. Whatever you select, remember the context setting through executive and team briefings, the debriefing, and business application exercises are essential ingredients for team building success

When combined with skilled facilitation, team projects (e.g. designing guerilla marketing, pop-up events, viral videos) can really boost the relevance and effectiveness of team building.

Tech enable simulations using virtual reality and drones to capture footage for viral videos have tremendous potential.

Other effective simulations use themes that integrate facilitated exercises and outdoor or indoor team challenges. The experiences parallel and mirror the challenges that teams face in the real world and debriefing an business application exercise bridge the gap.

Desert Survival

Reality TV inspired simulations amp up the fun factor and still deliver powerful tools and learning.

Think of how much value a Shark Tank, Dragon’s Den, or Undercover Boss simulation could deliver.

10. Set a realistic time frame: How much time to do we need to allocate to cover the content at a pace that allows participants to digest it easily?

The push to cram team building into shorter and shorter timeframes is what lead companies to replace “real” team building with “quick fixes” and placebos. Team effectiveness cannot be improved with 2 hours of games and laughter.

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2020 Team Building Trends2

Core Building Blocks For Effective Team Building

  • Executive Input: Be sure to obtain the input of executive sponsors and stakeholders when designing team building.
  • Executive Briefing: Kick things off with a brief presentation that pinpoints the company’s goals and the desired outcomes from team building.
  • Team Briefing: This presentation by the facilitator identifies the shape the team building session will take and the expected take-aways.
  • Toolkit Introduction: The toolkit to be used during a specific team building session should tie back to your goals, team, and team member assessments (4,6, 7.) It is an attempt to fill any gaps.
  • Simulation: This is an opportunity for participants to work together in a risk-free environment, brainstorm, apply the toolkit, and pick up new strategies.
  • Debriefing: Participants mine their experience to unpack what they learned.
  • Business Application Exercises: Team Members apply the tools and strategies that they have picked up to SPECIFIC business challenges.
  • Follow-up: Team building is not an event. Depending on the complexity of issues confronting an organization, follow up can be weekly (in cross-functional teams, monthly, or quarterly.
  • Measure Results: What does not get measured will not be valued.


  • Indoor or outdoor recreational activities to keep the team active, alert, and energized.

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2020 Team Building Trends5

A Parting Shot

There is a role for “fun” in corporate team building. In fact, games, and activities can greatly facilitate learning. Just like dessert adds excitement and variety to a nutritious meal, “the fun factor” can “spice things up”. I am a big believer in it. However, one would never invite someone over for dinner and serve them only dessert.

In the same way, continuing to serve up fun and games as “team building” is a serious misstep that will eventually lead to its demise and disappearance from the corporate agenda.

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