The Evolution of Team-Building: From Trust Falls to Company Cookoffs

John Hernstat, director of sales and marketing at Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort and Spa, has helped to coordinate countless meetings and events and make unforgettable experiences for his clients. Here, he shares some of the team-building trends he’s seen over the years.

With more than 25 years working in the meetings and events industry, I’ve seen many trends come and go, but one thing that remains constant is the importance of team-building to drive bonds and connections. Throughout the past quarter century, team-building has evolved from trust falls and obstacle courses to more thoughtful, mindful, and experiential activities that showcase the local culture of the destination. Below are the most important, and what I consider to be the most lasting, trends I’ve noticed through the years.

Corporate Social Responsibility Is Now Company Culture

Although corporate social responsibility (CSR) has been a part of meetings for a while, it has now become an interwoven piece of the fabric of any company meeting. Instead of a single breakout session to plant trees or build a bike, meeting planners are expanding CSR elements into the everyday programming. I’ve seen groups work together to prepare extra meals at a welcome reception, which are then donated to a local food bank; enjoy “puppy breaks,” where guests can play with dogs to benefit a local animal shelter; and make comprehensive plans to minimize the group’s carbon footprint with everything from no-waste programs to composting.

When in Doubt, Incorporate Food

Based on my experience, the most popular and impactful type of team-building activities today involve food. Iron Chef-style competitions and team cookoffs are my personal favorite because they not only allow for a friendly and fun competition, but they can also showcase the local flavor and culture of the destination. For example, at Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort and Spa, we provide everything from chili cookoffs and salsa showdowns, which incorporate delicious local ingredients, to margarita pour-off competitions that feature one of San Antonio’s most popular beverages.

Utilizing the Destination

Another major shift I’ve noticed is the necessity of infusing the local destination into every aspect of a meeting. With team-building activities in particular, planners have the opportunity to build out an experience showing off the destination that they thoughtfully selected for their attendees. For example, based on our resort’s location, we’ve seen groups take part in distinctly Texas activities with everything from armadillo races and rodeo Olympics to local beer tasting from popular Texas-based breweries.

Getting Outside to Build Bonds

More events are being held outdoors and in unconventional spaces, and this is also ringing true for team-building. For example, I’ve noticed that groups are hitting the golf course but, surprisingly, not always for the purpose of enjoying a round of golf. Planners are utilizing the space for unique activities such as Frisbee golf, all-sport golf, and even glow-in-the-dark putt-putt, all of which are fun and interactive for every attendee, even non-golfers.

The Importance of Wellness and Safety

As we all know, wellness continues to be one of the most important elements of any event. I’ve seen a major uptick in the popularity of relaxation days and pop-up spa experiences, or even group exercise and meditation classes.

One thing I find interesting is that with the growing trend of health and wellness, groups are straying away from more adrenaline-inducing team-building and instead opting for safe and inclusive options. For example, I remember the days when a team outing had the potential of ending with a trip to urgent care with one slip off an obstacle course. For obvious reasons, that is less common these days, and planners are taking more steps to ensure fun and interactive experiences while being safe for every skill and activity level.

Timeless Tips for Building Bonds

My biggest tip for meeting planners is to remember the overarching goal of creating an unforgettable experience that will forge lasting connections and bonds.

With that in mind, I recommend keeping it simple.  It’s not necessary to go above and beyond in stressing the minor details, because at the end of the day, what matters most is for attendees to have fun together. For example, you do not need the most expensive celebrity chef to judge your cooking competition; the most important part will be getting attendees to let loose, relax, and truly enjoy each other’s company.


Featured Venues & Destinations

Written by Featured Venues & Destinations