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What are the pros and cons when it comes to deciding when to hold a team building event: should I schedule this during or outside of working hours?

Assume that the company activities and the event type (e.g. floating on a raft through the city canals, 2-day city-trip, paintball or carting session, building spaghetti bridges) allow scheduling during working hours (that would e.g. exclude a dinner).

In my country (The Netherlands) it's done both ways (or alternatively, the event overlaps both time periods), but maybe it's different in other cultures? (That makes the question broader but the answers applicable elsewhere.)

Edit based on Julia's answer: attendance is not compulsory (wouldn't that be a contradictio in terminis with 'team building event' anyway?)

Edited to add Assume that here are no individual costs and that the employees don't get paid when it's out of office hours (the question already has more variables than I initially thought).

  • Good question! Currently your question seems a bit too broad. Can you clarify what team building event you want to do(sports, casual drinking). Also asking for cultural differences seems like a question aside from your real question. – Kevin Jun 11 '14 at 7:37
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    "wouldn't that be a contradictio in terminis with 'team building event' anyway?" You'd think so but at least one past employer disagrees. :) – Julia Hayward Jun 11 '14 at 9:56
  • Part of being a good team member is showing up. – user8365 Jun 11 '14 at 14:53
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    One option to compensate people for activities like this performed out of office hours is to offer the equivalent time to be taken as holiday/PTO at a future time of the employees' choice. – Matt Jun 11 '14 at 22:54
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The biggest con by a long way: if attendance is compulsory, or there will be pressure put on employees to attend, or there is even a perception that there will be any sort of repercussions for those who choose not to attend - even just being perceived negatively as "not a team player" - then absolutely do not do it out of office time. What people do in time outside work is none of the company's business. People have important commitments to family, friends and social groups. Some need that time to be adequately rested and de-stressed for their work. Some will not want to take part in activities that aren't part of their job or find them awkward or embarrassing. Forcing them to do so in their own time will not build the team, it will breed resentment.

  • Though it is good advice, this does not answer OP's question. – Kevin Jun 11 '14 at 9:30
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    @Ajaxkevi Really? "should I schedule this during or outside of working hours?" - here's a reason to do it during working hours. – Julia Hayward Jun 11 '14 at 9:55
  • OP had not stated if his event was compulsory (now he has), your entire answer is based on that. Though it's still good advice to keep in mind. – Kevin Jun 11 '14 at 12:36
  • @Julia Sorry for updating my question after your (useful) remark ;-) – user8036 Jun 13 '14 at 13:30
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    Team building events are always compulsory, even when they're not. Employees may not be formally compelled to attend but there will still be a price to pay if they don't. – Jørgen Fogh Jul 31 '14 at 13:40
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It depends on what you want to achieve.

If it's an actual team building event where the purpose is to get your team to function better together, then you want everyone there. That means attendance should be compulsory, which in turn means it should be in work time.

If you are using 'team building event' as a euphemism for giving your employees something fun to do, then schedule it whenever you want and make attendance voluntary. But be aware that many people don't consider having to spend more time 'doing work stuff' to be much of a reward, no matter how much fun the activity is.

If you don't make it compulsory, then people will cry off. Someone will have a family commitment, or plans for the weekend, or whatever: unless you make it so awesome everyone truly wants to come.

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    This. And if you take the "something fun to do" option, then you should call it "something fun to do" in all communications about it, not "team-building event". The notion that it builds the team might be how you justify the cost in the budget, but if you put it that way to the team then as JeffO points out in a comment, you're pressuring them to attend because a good team-member wants to join in with building the team. You'd be passive-aggressively making it nominally optional but with strings attached to not attending. – Steve Jessop Jun 21 '14 at 18:21
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    Oh yeah, and check with finance for any tax implications of "something fun to do" paid for by the company. There might be limits on how much you can spend, or what you can spend it on, before it's a benefit in kind. – Steve Jessop Jun 21 '14 at 18:24
  • @SteveJessop Your second comment, i.e. the tax implications, actually answers your first comment, i.e. why people call them 'team building events' and not 'fun things to do'. – DJClayworth Jul 30 '14 at 13:14
  • Hmm. OK, but in that case if you are using 'team building event' as a euphemism for 'giving your employees something fun to do' then you're committing tax fraud ;-) At least here in the UK, knowingly slapping a euphemistic label on something is not sufficient to re-categorise it for tax purposes. So I'd still want to be in touch with finance, and if they said "you have to make it seem semi-compulsory even though it's not in work hours" then I'd not be best pleased. – Steve Jessop Jul 30 '14 at 14:30
  • @SteveJessop Yes, probably. And inviting spouses would strengthen the tax people's case, which is why it doesn't happen that often. – DJClayworth Jul 30 '14 at 15:26
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I recommend against scheduling activities during people's spare time. A lot of people really despise team building events let alone an event held outside of normal work hours, which may interfere with their personal lives.

Even though an event is "not mandatory" there may still be social pressures to attend.

The exception would be a smaller close-knit company of people who consider each other friends to the extent they would all enjoy each other's company socially. A minimum of office politics caring over to the event would be desirable as well.

  • Off-hours team building events could be incentivized with meals, prizes, or access to some recreational activity. People may not like company parties, but it could be worse if you make them pay for their meal. – user8365 Jun 11 '14 at 14:56
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I think this is about personal feeling. If you do want to attend, do, if you don't, then don't. If you refuse a team building event in work hours, for example if you think it is stupid, speak with your boss, tell him you rather wouldn't attend, and you are willing to work in that time.

One question is: are you willing to spend time with your collegues outside working hours? I heard complains from spouses about their darlings overdoing their team building and they are neglecting their personal life.
One point is sure:

  • Don't let your workplace to cover your freetime against your will. If you want to spend the time with your friends, family, then obviously choose them over your collegues. You are working for money, for providing funding for your life, you are not living for a purpose of work. Dare to say "no" to attendance if you have something else to do.

My personal opinion which I try to keep on the ground:

  • Keep the off-work time team building in rational boundaries. Few times a year, it is ok. Even better, if you like your collegues and they are willing to make spontanously a talking session, go out with them for example once a month to drink a beer/wine/water and talk, you might get new friends or fresh, important information. But family and personal life should be the first in priority.
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As it is non-compulsory team building event. Opting for overlapping times seems appropriate.

If it overlaps people who enjoy spending time with their co-workers outside of working hours get to spend time together in a (I assume) fun event. While the co-workers who do not want to meet up with co-workers after workinghours get to choose wether they want to continue working or they can choice to join along (and potentially stay longer if they enjoy) for the time being and leave afterwards.

maybe a third option is to send, the one's who do not wish to join, home, but this may look badly on those people

On business events everyone will have an opinion about the event, you cannot keep everyone happy, because everyone think different about the definition of work. For instance, one does it to socialize and another does it mainly to earn money.

If you choose for overlapping times you give people various options and the one's who have obligations after working hours but do want to join, can get their fair bit of team-building, while still being able to attend their obligations.

My current company for instance organises some boat trips with clients and there will be drinks at the office about an hour before 'closing time', you can choice to attend those drinks and additionally the boat trips, but we don't have to and everyone is fine with it if you don't.

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I think these activities get taken seriously when management shows it is important and that usually involves investing money. It can come in the form of doing it on company time. Paying for activity/training fees, food, travel, etc.

You could do both. An ideal situation for some people can be to do it off-site with some sort of lodging arrangements. It can be easier to get out of family/personal matters if you have to "be away for business." It's easier to focus without any office or personal distractions. When drinking is involved, it can be in a controlled environment, so no one is driving afterwards.

A survey among the team members could be misleading. There will be those that do not want to do it at all and will just make an excuse whether you do it during business hours or afterwards. It's common to send people away for training, visiting remote offices, sales calls, conventions, so why not a team building session? Now you just have to make sure you do something worthwhile.

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