Three keys to planning a successful large group team building activity

By Jayne Hannah

There is nothing like walking past a ballroom and hearing cheering and laughter. You might think it’s a group of children having fun and if you peek in you would see 12 newly constructed contraptions with marbles speeding through them and 250 adults jumping with anticipation that they are the winning team. And winning what exactly? Nothing but the bragging rights of boasting to fellow work mates that they won the morning teambuilding challenge.

What you wouldn’t realize in just walking past is that the teams are also learning key components in how to work more effectively together.

Product Pipeline is an ideal program to choose if you are a large group also needing your participants to come away with a learning tool.

Recently with 250 people, we were able to provide them with a key moment of learning where the action was stopped in order for team leaders to redirect the activity for a better working structure and an effective method of getting the task achieved.

With large groups, the immediate problem is that there will be too many people wanting to take over, and rather than feel this is the reason not to do a training module, it is the perfect opportunity to present solutions for something that happens in a regular working day.

Quite often the challenge for large groups, is that a client wants a competitive, energetic program while providing their participants with a learning opportunity. For them to come away with new ideas while still having the wow factor from a lively program that is not a sit down lecture on a new way to work.

It is possible to present this but your teambuilding provider needs to fully understand and have experience of programs of this nature for them to be successful. Gimmicks cannot just be relayed on a larger scale. There are programs that will work and those that cannot. Quixote Consulting knows the difference.

  1. First, simplify your needs. You will never keep everyone’s attention with too much information. So go for one or two direct points and demonstrate them in an experiential way. 
  2. Set up and planning is key and this is basic, but allowing time for participants to get from one location to another, including time to check phones and go to the bathroom. Once your group is all together and the program is underway you do not want them to be thinking about something that could have been solved by including a fifteen minute break before the teambuilding session. Breaking a session half way through is not a good idea.
  3. Trust your provider to know their set up requirements, time and space are key for the implementation of large group trainings. Recently for a large Product Pipeline the venue space was measured and divided using every inch available. The organization took three weeks of planning and was worth it to allow each individual an empowering experience.  

For this particular client, who wanted both training and a burst of high energy to ignite their three day retreat, their success was in trusting us with the planning and delivery. By asking relevant questions we had a clear understanding on their objectives and also the limitations of the venue. Realistic expectations were set and the freedom to design a program that we knew from our experience would work best, and it did, with three placing teams, an ultimate winning team and people congratulating one another and us – it was three hours of focused learning and therefore winning. 

PS – Thanks to all who expressed your enthusiasm about our newest baby – and an offer to anyone who’s on a team, give us a call and we’ll help you change your culture to ‘one team, one goal’.

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What five things should we teach kids to prepare them for 2050?

I wrote recently that the future of education may lie in the “four Cs”: critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity.

In his book 21 Lessons for the 21stCentury, Yuval Noah Harari summarizes futurist educator beliefs around these four. If we want kids to succeed when they’re adults, teach them five things:

1. How to deal with change

2. How to learn new things

3. How to preserve your mental balance in unfamiliar situations


4. Downplay technical skills

5. Emphasize general-purpose life skills

If you’re skeptical, I can tell you first-hand this is what corporate work teams hire me to help them with. We’re titling these skills change management and emotional intelligence. They’re not going to wait until 2050. These skills are going to be needed even more than today, but they’re already highly sought-after.

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What are the four Cs and are they the future of education?

“Reading and writing and ‘rithmetic, taught to the tune of a hickory stick.” – School Days (song from 1907)

The three Rs were the focus of education for a long, long time. The most recent generations – millenial and whatever comes after millenial – have been focused on massive information gathering, with a side helping of a strong need for safety. That was certainly the trend in the ‘90s when I was leading team building and outdoor education with kids from New York City. That massive educational experiment is now being played out in the workforce. Much of the generational conflict I see comes from friction between Gen X managers and their millennial team members.

What about the future? Forget 2020. What about 2040? 2050? The futurist Yuval Noah Harari thinks that will be the era of the algorithm. ‘King algorithm’ will do everything we traditionally have been trained to do but better.

Our educational focus on stuffing kids until they look like informational Thanksgiving turkeys is already outdated. Information is no longer hard to come by. There’s this new-fangled thing called the ‘internet’ that some people find helpful to harvest information from when desired. We already thoroughly rely on algorithms – Google, Alexa, Siri are there for us.

Educators are now arguing we should switch to teaching “the four Cs” – critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity. These “four Cs” chose me early on and have given me an entire career. I didn’t pick them. They picked me. My first steps in the world of team building were in the woods of the Hudson highlands in New York with underserved kids from NYC, exploring the “four Cs”. We didn’t call them that then, but that’s what we were doing. A few forward-thinking schools gave their kids a head start with team building activities that taught the “four Cs”. And now, over twenty years later I’m the Pied Piper of the “four Cs” in corporate America. Or perhaps the Johnny Appleseed of the “four Cs”.

If you have kids, “teach your children well” as Crosby Stills and Nash sang. Don’t teach them obsolete information memorization, or how to be afraid, or be rigid or consume without producing. That’s past.

Teach your children critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity. And if you don’t feel qualified, teach yourself first.

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What if my spouse is not happy about my change?


(This question was posed to me after finding out his attempts to go to bed earlier was being met with resistance from his wife.)

If your spouse is not happy about your change attempt you get a first-hand look at why most corporate change attempts fail – no buy-in. Put yourself in your partner’s shoes. If change is happening around you whether you like it or not there is going to be resistance. Try these five tactics.

  1. Curiosity and empathy

If you were your partner, why would you prefer things to stay just the way you are? Why might this change be threatening or at least annoying? Ask.

Don’t ask if you don’t really want to know the answer. That’s just a leading tactic and people sniff that out. Real questions trigger the frontal cortex – the smart part of our brain that looks for connection. Faux questions and a lack of curiosity trigger the amygdala – the dividing part of the brain. ‘Us vs. them’ becomes ‘me vs. you’.

You also might get curious about what change they might want to make in their own lives so you can support each other.

  1. Let yourself be vulnerable

Vulnerability is the cornerstone of trust, something essential for a team, and a marriage is a team of two. This means not having such heavily fortified positions facing the enemy also known as the love of your life. Vulnerability might look like:

“I am not happy about this part of me and here’s why I want to change it”

“This is important to me. I realize I can’t do this alone – I can’t stick with this change without you.”

  1. Get clear about why you want to change and how it could help the relationship

Your partner’s resistance might force you to get clearer about why you want to change, not just for you but for both of you – and your kids too. Change works best powered by purpose – making a change for something larger than just you alone. You’ll want to be able to answer the other person’s unspoken, “what’s in it for me?”

  1. Disconnect to reconnect

There is a time in the evening we can safely call, “no good will come from an argument now” time. You’re both worn-out. When we’re tired the amgydala in the brain is ready to call anything a threat. If it’s heading downhill fast, pause. Stop. Then…

  1. Schedule your time to talk

When is the best possible time in the day for you both to connect? Every couple has a block of time that’s the sweet spot. Midnight after a long hard day at work is usually not it. Tomorrow in your sweet spot time is a better time to have this conversation. It’s worth it to wait.

(In case you’re keeping score, he told me later that he tried #2 and #3 and it worked.)

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Nuke your notifications


Finding it hard to focus?

Nuke your notifications. All of them. Get in there in settings on your computer and turn them all off. Then pick your phone and turn them all off too. For fun, each time you turn one off, you can say out loud, “nuke it!” It’s pretty satisfying.

Too drastic? Nuke one a day and see if your life falls apart or not. Also notice if you get more of the work done that matters instead.

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Charge or retreat?


“Fortis Fortuna Adiuvat” – Latin proverb which means ‘Fortune Favors the Bold’

“Sit quietly, you happy, lucky idiot.” – Nanao Sakaki

Your 40 days change initiative is either a charge or a retreat.

charge is action-focused, creating something new, building something, saying yes to something that’s scary. It’s a leap of faith into the unknown. The charge is action.

retreat is just that – a withdrawing from the outer circles of your life and the world’s sad pants-tugs. You stop doing something. You create space where there was none. You sit quietly, assess, reassess and plot a new course.

Working on my posture for 40 days calls for a charge. It needs action to succeed. There are three legs to the stool of support for change – action, thinking and feeling. In changing my posture thinking and feeling are used, but secondary to action.

Looking at what I’ve harvested in my first 50 years on earth and determining what I want to grow for the next 50 requires a retreat. It requires the other two legs of the stool – thinking and feeling primarily. Actions I take support the primary work of thinking and feeling.

Support is essential for a successful change initiative. Determining whether the desired change will be most helped by a charge or a retreat helps us target the support needed.

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Try it out


Try it out. Whatever you’re curious about, whatever theory you’ve read about or listened to that resonates, whatever idea that comes to you about getting beyond a fear.

Thinking about something you care about is great. So is being excited about it. And being scared is normal.

But nothing beats direct experience, actual experimentation. This is what play looks like. Start with low stakes, small areas to keep concern and worry at bay.

Try it out. There’s no way around it, only through it.

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To each their own carrot, to each their own stick


For every person you manage – employees, children, siblings, significant other, etc. – you need a carrot and a stick. The carrot is a way to entice, encourage and ignite positive behavior. The (metaphorical) stick is a way to inform, show where the boundaries are and reorient negative behavior.

Most of us do some version of this, but it tends to be one way (usually the way we’d respond to). But there’s no one-size fits all. Each person responds to a unique carrot and a unique stick. Every person requires their own playbook.

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If I ignore it, it will go away


Weird lumps don’t go away when ignored. They grow.

Opossums playing dead don’t deter an approaching automobile.

Leaders hoping their people and culture problems will solve themselves? What do you think?

When I start coaching a leader I usually hear some variation of the “if I ignore it, it will go away” hope/failed tactic. Also, “I’m too busy/tired/worn down to do anything but give up.” Often managers will add, “It’s just easier to do it myself.” That means your people have trained you well. You’re now doing their work for them.

What’s an important challenge you’re ignoring? Has it gone away yet?

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Arrive alive

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A peer asked me before a meeting the following week what goal I wanted to achieve between now and then.

First thought, best thought: “arrive alive.”

It’s a busy time. Lots going on, lots of traveling. Just showing up to things can be a triumph. And breathing is an amazingly wonderful thing I want to keep doing as long as they’ll let me.

But it also means metaphorically “alive”. This is deeper. Real life takes so much out of us it’s easier to deaden and put away our vitality.


I want to arrive alive. To whatever I show up for, let me be fully alive. In a world of going through the motions, if you want to be the difference-maker, arrive alive. It may freak some people out. And it will also light up someone who needs to be reminded of what it means to truly be alive.

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