Experts disagree on whether or not team building activities work for traditional workforces. When employees work in the same office space and interact in person every day, team building and off-site retreats often feel like an imposition rather than an opportunity.
As one executive from Mars puts it, “Most corporate team building is a waste of time and money.”
This dynamic changes, though when working with remote teams. Remote teams need team-building to foster better collaboration and boost morale. Team building activities, when done right, can improve productivity and employee retention for remote teams. They’re also great for innovating new business ideas and getting on the same page before launching a new product or service.
It’s easy to do a team-building activity when your workforce is limited to 15 people.
But, what happens when your remote team has grown to 50+ employees?
Some team building activities become impossible. Here are some alternative team building options to try at your next all-hands offsite.
The challenges of team-building in large groups
When your company has grown to more than 50 people, it can be intimidating to plan a team-building activity for so many. One of the biggest problems of team-building in large groups is that 50+ people are not homogenous.
That’s great news for your company – diverse teams are innovative teams – but can also make it hard to bring together everyone under one activity. Some members may get easily distracted or bored. Others won’t feel like they’re involved.
It’s an issue we’ve encountered when planning work retreats at Surf Office. It’s easy to find a consensus on how to spend your time as a small group. But for a big group, it’s hard to find an activity that makes everyone happy. Luckily, at Surf Office, we’ve hosted retreats for as little as a dozen to as many as a few hundred people. Here’s what we’ve learned in the process.
How to get everyone involved: two approaches
Raymond, our in-house retreat planning expert, says there are two main approaches to planning a retreat for a large group. The first approach is to split the bigger group into smaller groups.
When there’s a group of 50+ team members trying to come together, dividing into smaller groups can make it easier to manage the schedule of activities. These smaller groups should be divided according to the activities they want to do together, not based on their organizational siloes.
For scheduling purposes, each smaller group is doing an activity at the same time, but everyone is engaged and occupied with the activity they selected. The downside to this approach is that the team members are divided. Some people may not get the chance to spend time with others, depending on the activity they select.
Here’s an example of how Surf Office implemented this approach to large group team-building. Surf Office hosted an all-hands meeting for a large company at our Lisbon location. The bigger group wanted to split out into smaller teams.
Each team had an idea of what activity would bring them the most value during the week. The issue? The activities were only available on different days and at different times of the day.
That meant Surf Office was unable to schedule simultaneous events for the smaller teams to participate in. Some people would be left idle while waiting for others to return from their adventure. This had a negative impact on the overall work schedule.
Alternately, some companies – especially those with fully-remote teams – prefer to keep the big group together. The downside in this instance is that there are fewer options for large group activities. Large groups move more slowly and take longer to transport places. There’s only usually enough time in a retreat schedule for one chill activity.
But, there are some good ways that Surf Office has found to accommodate everyone’s interests. For example, an afternoon at the beach provides the opportunity for each team member to do what suits them. Some people might go for a surf lesson, others might relax at the beach bar. This loosely structured event makes it easy for the team to get to know each other without the forced bonding of many typical team-building activities.
Activities for Large Groups
Surf Office has a great playbook for bringing together a large group during your offsite retreat.
One of our favorites is called “treasure hunt.” In this activity, teams compete to finish a treasure hunt through a city’s historic streets. Smaller groups head out to look for top tourist sites, hidden gems, and architectural monuments. It’s a great way to get to know the city and your colleagues.
We’ve also hosted short sailing trips for our retreats in Lisbon, Ericeira, Santa Cruz, Mallorca, Valencia, and Barcelona. These are memorable evenings out – usually with a stunning sunset! – and we can book as many boats as necessary to accommodate a large team.
A crowd-favorite bonding activity: karaoke. We’ve booked a karaoke bar in the center of Lisbon for one team looking for a fun night on the town. Karaoke might not seem like your typical corporate retreat activity, and that’s the point.
As Monica Zeng from Aragon One pointed out in our podcast just last week, going off script is what brings people together. Her retreats, which often include singing and dancing, are designed to take people out of their comfort zone and break down workplace stereotypes in a fun way.
Last but certainly not least, Surf Office has found that hackathons are a great way to bring together big groups. A traditional hackathon is an event where a group comes together for creative problem-solving.
The hackathon doesn’t have to be connected to your main product or service. Instead, you can be focused on improving internal communication (or any hot topic that matters to the company).
They can even be completely unrelated to your business; it’s a vehicle for thinking creatively and team bonding. The aim is to get more people working together in small groups of five people from different job functions.
At the end of the hackathon period, teams present their ideas on “demo day.”
Best practices for large groups
Overall, we recommend a healthy mix of large group icebreakers and activities that allow smaller teams to get to know each other better. At a minimum, we’ve seen teams really enjoy an organized dinner at the end of the day where the large group comes together. Try to plan at least a few instances where your entire large group is in the same place.
If you choose to take the first approach and divide your large group up from the outset, organized your whole-team activity for the last day of the retreat. For example, on a three-day retreat, do a big activity on the second day, then have dinner together, and leave the next day to go home.
Retreats for larger groups work best when they’re spread out over three to five days. This time period allows for the perfect balance of work and rest.
Find a place that’s convenient for the entire remote group using our handy Location Finder. This advisor can recommend a location where people from the distributed team should meet.