English poet John Donne said, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent.” More than 350 years later, his words still hold true.

It takes more than one focused employee to have a successful company. Each individual must be committed to a group effort for a company to work and work well. And there's nothing like teambuilding to instill the importance of working together.

The concept of teamwork is not something to be taken lightly in corporate America. Turnover costs are estimated at $140 billion annually, and turnover rates are 17.5 percent less at work sites where employees feel supported by their organizations, says Theresa Cherry, director of sales and marketing for Naples, Fla.-based Odyssey Experiences, a nationwide training, teambuilding, and leadership adventure company.

Winning teams are goal-oriented and successful because everyone concentrates on specific objectives. These concepts can be taught and reinforced through teambuilding activities.

Mind Over Matter

There was a time when teambuilding events were held for one reason: to have fun. That is no longer the case. Nowadays, teambuilding activities must show a return on investment.

“Teambuilding is very much about building an integrated network of people. It's about breaking down barriers to have folks work together more effectively across boundaries, whether between marketing and manufacturing, a health-care division and pet products, or Asia and the Americas,” says Dick Eaton, founder and chief energizing officer for Medford, Mass.-based Leapfrog Innovations, a teambuilding and leadership development company.

Unfortunately, the word “teambuilding” is often used loosely. Some planners will allocate a few hours for beach Olympics or a bowling tournament, all in the name of teambuilding, but those are really more of a social activity.

“Recreational programs create such a shallow level of teambuilding that by the time the group gets back to the office, most of the skills garnered disappear,” explains Cherry. “A true teambuilding program is built around teaching points like trust, communication, reliance, and all the components that make a group a team. At the same time, the program has to ensure that employees buy in and lay the right foundation to integrate new behaviors to be carried back to the workplace.”

“Teambuilding is a continuous process,” says Tim Buividas of the Lisle, Ill.-based Corporate Learning Institute. “We are seeing many more intact teams requesting strategic teambuilding as a means to help teams cope with our new ‘normal’ work environment of multitasking, heavier workloads, and stress in the workplace.”

A successful training activity must emphasize problem-solving that requires the entire group — not just two people — to work together. In theory, what happens in the exercise usually mirrors what happens in the office.

To ensure that the ideal teambuilding program is created for your group, you have to honestly assess the group's physical prowess, the average age, the number of people, the breakdown of men and women, and any physical limitations, including whether anyone is pregnant or overweight. It is also imperative that you clearly state your business objective. Common issues are communication, trust, and reliance.

Here are two teambuilding case studies that show how a combination of social interaction, experiential learning, and fun can reap many rewards.

You're Hired!

PricewaterhouseCoopers, the international firm that provides industry-focused assurance, tax, and advisory services, had a meeting this January at Walt Disney World that was called People Connected Around the World. About 850 staff members in the Transactions Services group attended; more than 300 of them are based outside the United States. But the success of the event showed that any size meeting, broken into smaller teams, would benefit from the teambuilding exercise.

This group interacts regularly by telephone and e-mail but only meets face-to-face every year and a half. That's why a teambuilding activity is so beneficial, explains Florham Park, N.J.-based Barbara Jean Cummins, CMP, CMM, PwC Meeting and Event Services.

After a general session, the challenge was laid out. Reminiscent of Donald Trump's show “The Apprentice,” a PwC partner acting as CEO of a global company outlined the unexpected downturn the company had taken. The audience was called upon to help this fictitious company.

The group broke into 35 teams of 24 people, evenly mixed based on demographics and rank within the company. Each team was appointed a Disney Institute staffer and received a packet of background information. They then went to EPCOT's World Showcase.

EPCOT's international pavilions and their products brought the game to life. In Germany, teams learned about the company's winery and wine distribution division as well as its beer stein division; in France, they learned about a perfumery; and in the U.K., they learned about subsidiary Twinings Tea.

EPCOT also helped to reinforce cultural differences that need to be addressed in a multicultural company. For instance, if the team members did not present a business card before addressing the executive in the Japanese pavilion, he became offended and did not give them a clue. If they got to the Mexican pavilion between one and two o'clock, no one was there, because they were on siesta.

If teams got stuck trying to figure out the clues and get from country to country within EPCOT, they could contact the CFO, another PwC exec, by cell phone or Blackberry for help.

Teams had to return to the World ShowPlace Pavilion at 5 p.m. to turn in their results and work on a wrap-up sheet that had 15 areas to be addressed, including acquisition opportunities pursued and cultural issues encountered, as well as financial questions and notes from the Disney staff member on the number of clues collected and the time the report was returned.

After a dinner that included a presentation by Richard Holbrooke, former ambassador to the United Nations, and a dessert party at EPCOT overlooking a laser and fireworks show, a team of PwC executives graded the reports.

Back at the Walt Disney World Hilton, hotel staff slipped messages under the doors of 10 teams, inviting them to meet the CEO in “The Boardroom” for breakfast. After breakfast, the 10 team captains went on stage with the CEO and two PwC management team members. Seven teams were eliminated after a few comments about their performance. The three finalists were questioned further. While awaiting the final decision, the audience watched a video of the highlights of the previous day's event at EPCOT.

With much anticipation, the winning team was “hired” by the company. Each team member received an iPod.

“This was an exceptional teambuilding activity focused on information relevant to PricewaterhouseCoopers,” says Cummins. “We were overwhelmed with the results of this program. I've never seen borders come down so quickly, and everyone was completely engaged in the program. How can we ever go back to beach Olympics or making your own boat after this?”

Such an experiential learning activity takes a great deal of careful collaboration. PwC provided the business case study, the technical content, and support, and the Disney Institute helped to clarify goals and objectives, develop a customized program, and provided the staff to implement the program.

The Disney Institute often showcases philosophies and strategies that have made Disney a success in its training programs. The institute's completely redesigned Web site, www.disneyinstitute.com, includes a business tool called “Starting Point” that will help users to better understand where the most help is needed within their company.

It's a Jungle Out There

Milwaukee-based HellermannTyton, a world leader in providing systems and solutions for networking, routing, identifying, and managing wire, cable, and components, held its annual global marketing meeting in Naples, Fla., last year when the group of 60 senior global executives was “transported” to the middle of a South American jungle. It was achieved by using Odyssey Experiences, a company specializing in teambuilding, located at the NGALA private reserve, which is also home to giraffes, leopards, chimpanzees, and crocodiles.

“You would never think we were still in Naples, but we were,” says Terry Tuttle, vice president of marketing for HellermannTyton.

The company had turned to Odyssey Experiences to craft a program that would not only help 60 of its senior executives to enhance communication and trust across global boundaries, but also to achieve leadership development goals.

“As an international group, we interact with each other over the phone, via e-mail, and through market-focused and strategy-based meetings, but get together as an entire marketing management group only once a year. There are cultural differences and language barriers that teambuilding helps us to overcome,” says Tuttle.

“Everyone at the event is a corporate leader in his or her respective country and operations. Each exercise required different skills and talents to be highlighted in order to be successful. It was beneficial from a leadership perspective to take a lower profile in some events and a higher profile in others,” says Tuttle. “This is an excellent test of true leadership, which can be applied in the business environment. The teambuilding exercise resulted in camaraderie and a sense of respect and trust that you just don't see by hosting a generic, social event.”

The group had to overcome many pitfalls during its safari-themed program. Each challenge presented leadership and teambuilding imperatives and was designed to give each participant hands-on exercises in communication, time management, detailed planning, resource management, influencing peers, organization, and out-of-the-box thinking.

Coming nose-to-nose with a live Florida alligator during one activity is something many will not soon forget. “This challenge not only put the participants in rare, up-close contact with an alligator, but it also combined the teaching points of attention to detail and pressure performance. Under the watchful eye of our Odyssey Rangers, the team learned how communication processes are affected when unexpected pressures are applied,” explains Cherry.

The success of the experience can be attributed to intense planning, says Tuttle. “As with any business activity, the more you attend to goal setting and execution at the front end, the better your results will be,” she explains. The program followed the theme of the entire meeting: Mission IS Possible.

“Although many were skeptical at first, you could see the teams form and build with each exercise. It was exciting to see the momentum build. By the end, everyone was pumped up. We established camaraderie as a group that is essential to getting business goals accomplished throughout the year. We achieved a closeness with others we didn't know that well as we worked together to accomplish a goal that will help with business activities throughout the year,” says Tuttle.

Let's Get Physical?

Surging in popularity are teambuilding activities that focus on social interaction rather than physical challenges. The intent is to get groups to relax with each other, interact, and work together to accomplish a specific task.

Ropes courses, which once soared in popularity, still have their place. Participants work their way up a series of obstacles, starting with low course elements (up to 3 feet off the ground), and progressing to high course elements (20 to 85 feet in the air). The perception of risk supposedly catalyzes individuals and groups to expand their comfort zones, solve problems effectively, and overcome fears.

Dick Eaton, founder and chief energizing officer for Medford, Mass.-based Leapfrog Innovations, is biased against ropes courses because of an experience he had as an advertising executive. “I went off-site with a client who was doing a ropes experience. One of the group members was a physically large person who was unable to participate. Despite a strong effort by the facilitator and support from his teammates, this person never fully re-engaged …, and his relationships with the others weakened as a result. I feel ropes courses are past their prime. Insightful clients use programming that is available to every participant regardless of physical orientation, willingness, strength, skill, or size. Good designs challenge them behaviorally and intellectually based on innovation and creativity.”

Today, teambuilding is much more than swinging from a tree, shimmying up a pole, or playing volleyball. It is a well-thought-out process that has goals that must be achieved in order to be successful.