Given my Jamaican blood, people are always surprised to learn that my company has been conducting winter retreats integrating facilitated team building with outdoor fun for over 12 years. Likely, it is my aversion to the cold that impelled me to design winter team building that keeps groups warm and safe. Based on my experience, here are some tips:
- Select a venue where outdoor activity areas aren't far from meeting facilities. Shelter should be nearby. (Winter event venue suggestions.)
- On participant profiles, include questions about physical challenges, winter activities people enjoy, and who hates winter. (Accommodation for physical challenges must be built into your plan. See point 12.)
- Ensure that every team has some members who are enthusiastic about winter activities.
- Provide a briefing sheet with a packing list including:
- waterproof winter boots (otherwise, some attendees are guaranteed to only bring running shoes)
- running shoes for indoors so that feet don't get overheated
- 2 pairs of long johns (thermal underwear)
- merino wool socks to keep feet warm and dry (several pairs)....feet will sweat and get wet in cotton socks
- wool or fleece turtleneck pull-overs (2 - 3)
- warm mittens or gloves (2 pairs)
- 2 plastic bags, one for wet clothing and the other for 2 extra pairs of merino wool socks plus extra mittens, pullover, and long johns
- hand and foot warmer packs
- a warm hat
- a face mask and neck warmer (if dog sledding)
- a very warm winter jacket with hood
- Gore-Tex or waterproof ski pants to wear over jeans
There is more but these are the basics.
- On your briefing sheet and at the beginning of team building, provide full instructions about staying warm by layering clothing. If the head and feet are warm and dry, people are more likely to stay warm.
- Build buffer zones into agendas as groups often encounter winter driving delays upon arrival.
- Never fool around with safety. Engage an outdoor survival expert who is a certified first aider to facilitate the outdoor activities. Hire an assistant to go for help in case of emergencies.
- Keep participants moving with snowshoeing, broomball, dogsledding, hockey, ice sculpting, igloo or quinzhee building, firestarter contests, or GPS challenges.
- Schedule outdoor activities after breakfast, before lunch or snacks, or at the end of the day to minimize delays due to changing into and out of winter clothing.
- Give most of the instructions indoors to reduce the time people just stand around (getting cold).
- Balance the agenda. Keep outdoor activity periods short. (Winter scavenger hunt routes should incorporate indoor and outdoor activities.)
- For the first activities (or if there are physical challenges), have at least one indoor role per team (e.g. mission control, score keeping, picking up social media clues, decorating challenge, short snack or hot chocolate cooking challenge, etc.). This gives team members who hate winter a chance to warm up to the concept. They always do.
- Give participants time to remove extra layers, wet socks, and boots whenever they come indoors.
- To reduce the risk of hypothermia, never serve ANY alcohol until all of the day's outdoor activities are completed.
- Include at least one campfire and an outdoor cooking challenge (e.g. s'mores, bannock) to provide warmth . Provide transportation and comfortable seating for participants with physical challenges .
Photo Credits: Winter team building retreats, Executive Oasis International