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Master motivators

10 November 2005

One of the best ways to help retain staff is to provide training and development. When budgets are tight, it can seem hard to justify paying out for expensive courses and away-days, but they can be a sound investment. If you suspect there is low morale in your workforce and, like most companies in the hospitality sector, you have a high turnover of staff, motivational training and team-building days could provide some effective - and fun - solutions.

A growing number of firms are offering a wide range of services to help reignite some of the passion in your team. From more traditional team-building activities such as treasure hunts and paint-balling to weird and wonderful activities such as llama walking and fashion designing, there are many options to consider.

Jane Sunley, managing director of hospitality training organisation Learnpurple, says it's important to make activities enjoyable without losing sight of what you want to get out of them. "Ideally, a great team build can use some of the wacky stuff for warming up and general bonding and then go into facilitated and break-out group work," she says. "We deliver sessions using actual business scenarios and challenges and this can give immediate and lasting benefit to the business."

A popular bonding activity offered by Learnpurple is board-breaking - in which each team member literally karate chops a piece of thick board into two. "The point is to show the power of the mind and of positive thought and self-belief," Sunley says. "This creates a great feeling of motivation and ‘I can now do anything'. It can be a very bonding experience for a team to go through this together."

One of the main benefits of any team-building activity is getting to know the people you work with that bit better. Companies tend to send management for motivational training, but there is a case for sending all levels of staff so that the benefits can filter through the workforce.

Communication is key to the health of any business, but all too often staff feel they are not being listened to and so do not feel valued. "Improving communication and team working helps to create a culture of openness, trust and understanding, reduces conflict and makes potential conflict areas easier to deal with," Sunley says. "It also improves motivation and morale and overall makes a positive contribution on productivity and efficiency, which will impact the bottom line."

The "bottom line" factor is important. Dan Collins, director of team-building event organiser Freshtracks, says: "The hospitality sector can be more reluctant than others to invest in these events. But they have a lot to benefit from them. The cost of replacing staff is huge.

ospitality has one of the highest turnovers of staff. If people feel their voice is being heard and they are valued, they are more likely to stay. A team-building day can help achieve this."

Freshtracks provides a number of events designed to help staff gain confidence and realise their potential. For example, the "chocolate challenge" sees participants form small teams to make their own chocolate creations. From producing chocolate self-portraits and creating branded boxes to developing marketing plans and even making a 30-second TV commercial, the event is designed to simulate business processes and help participants use their creative skills.

Another event provided by Freshtracks is "The Italian Job II". The evening before the event, participants watch the original film The Italian Job on a giant video screen. The next day they are challenged to write, choreograph and film a trailer for the sequel to the film. Skills such as acting, make-up artistry, camera operation and even stunt driving are learned and after several takes, the film is edited and watched over dinner.

If all this sounds more like good fun than serious learning, you could be right. However, selling team-building events as staff perks can help motivate employees to get the best out of the event.

"Team-building days often lean more towards being marketed as a staff perk, as they must be something that people want to do," Collins says. "But they also need clear objectives. A team may, for example, set out to agree a set of shared values, which can be important for customer-facing teams because it can impact service. Developing a positive attitude can be key. If, for example, a silver service waiter has a miserable attitude, it doesn't matter how skilled he is in his job, he won't be as effective as someone who is less skilled but has a positive outlook."

Collins says he often shows participants who have customer-facing jobs a film about workers on a fish market in Seattle. It shows hard-working staff doing 12-hour days, dealing with the public - but they have fun while they work. "This short film illustrates how people in basic jobs can still value each other and enjoy their work, even if they work long, hard shifts," he adds.

Raven Hall Country House Hotel, in the North Yorkshire Moors National Park, has teamed up with the nearby Wellington Llama Centre to offer an unusual team-building event. The hotel already hosts conferences and arranges speakers on subjects such as "Spirituality in business"; now it offers teams the opportunity to go trekking with llamas.

John Gallery, marketing consultant at Raven Hall, explains: "We send teams out with llamas to go for a trek across the moors, taking a picnic with them. When people are with the animals they need to take care of them, but they also have time to think while looking out over beautiful views of moorland and the sea. The idea is that taking this time out helps people to think more laterally. It can be used as part of a team-building day or as a time to reflect after a meeting or conference at the hotel. It can help people feel more inspirational."

Another team-building activity with a difference is provided by 2 Divine Motivators. Vivien Horrocks, partner at the company, has held senior buyer positions for designer labels at Harrods and Selfridges and conducts seminars for fashion designers in the UK and abroad. Using this expertise, she encourages teams to use their imagination to work together and design and make their own fashion collections.

Horrocks says the event helps develop leadership and organisational skills, while encouraging participants to let their creative juices flow. "Our team-building days bring out the creative side in both men and women. Either companies give us themes or we come up with them. We then create a mood board, which lists everything that a topic evokes. So, for example, a "masked ball" theme would evoke words such as fantasy, seduction, temptation and decadence."

Participants are given a box of fabrics and a box of stationery and then design and model their outfits, aided by professional lighting and music. All teams then compete to be "designer of the year".

"It's a great way to inspire creativity and for staff to meet people working in different parts of the organisation," Horrocks says.

Even the wackiest motivational activities can achieve some tangible benefits. Simply being seen to invest in training like this can help improve an employer's image among the workforce. If events are seen as being fun and a staff perk, they help make staff feel valued, which could, in turn, improve staff retention. If reducing staff turnover saves money, this alone could see such activities bring a good return on investment.

Whether such events do improve specific skills in the workforce, such as communication, leadership and creativity, in the long term is debatable. But if the activities are taken at face value and seen as a bit of fun, the worst they can do is boost morale - an area where there is always room for improvement.

How to maximise the return on investment in motivational training

  • Identify what outcomes you are seeking from the activity
  • Use a company that understands your business and your culture and has the necessary skills and expertise.
  • Make sure the content is appropriate for the delegates and will benefit the individual, the team and the organisation
  • If you decide to go fot the wacky stuff, make sure there's a point to it, or if it's "just a joyy", make sure that's the best way to spend your money
  • If you can, use the session to solve a business challenge - as a team
  • Make sure people undertand the learnings
  • Ensure that uncomplicated action plans result

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Jacobs Media Group is honoured to be the recipient of the 2020 Queen's Award for Enterprise.

The highest official awards for UK businesses since being established by royal warrant in 1965. Read more.

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