What links team event success and emotional contagion?

Sue Blight reveals how to inject a can-do atmosphere into team events.

Reading time: 3 minutes 30 seconds

You have probably seen it many times. Everyone is present in body, but you haven’t necessarily got their full attention or commitment.

Running powerful team events can be a game-changer for the business, and every manager aspires to hold team events which deliver committed and ongoing change.

From a board strategy meeting right through to a local ideas group, the aspiration is always that everyone attending offers their full intellectual capability to help solve problems, identify opportunities, and build solutions.

But, hand on heart, how often does this happen? How often do you run high-impact team events which deliver well, but not quite as well as they could? What is it that separates great team events from average ones?

The answer is the need for an atmosphere of commitment – to support each other, to be open and honest, to be supportive, to follow analysis through to solutions. And that type of commitment needs an investment of spirit as well as of mind and body.

Can you achieve this every time you run a team event? Sadly, there is no magic formula because human nature is a tricky thing. However, there are some good ‘rules of thumb’ to maximise the chance of a great atmosphere at any team event, no matter what the level of people attending.

A great starting point is to ask: What would I want to enable me to be committed if I attended a team event? The answer would most likely be summarised as: I would want my concerns and interests to be acknowledged and addressed.

The team event has a remit, of course, which means not everyone’s concerns and interests can be addressed in full. But here are those rules of thumb to get us started:

Ask for people’s individual visions of the future for the area of discussion

Visibly record those visions so people feel that what they ideally want is taken seriously.

When people see that everyone is committed to change, the event takes on a ‘can do, will do’ atmosphere

Even if a senior person is imparting a direction for the business at the team event, the attendees can express their personal vision as well.

State that we cannot do everything and will agree together what the priorities are

A scoring and weighting system to choose priorities helps people feel they have an equal vote. Make it clear that there are some things that the senior staff attending will insist on, and that is their right in the roles they have. But many priorities can be chosen by the group.

Get people involved in discussions about areas which they are not normally involved in

This makes people feel their skills as an intellectual and observant person are valued.

Tell people you want them to be really negative!

This usually raises curiosity, and you can draw a smile or two out of the group. This is obviously the ‘risk analysis’ session, and thinking of ‘problems’ is encouraged.

However, negativity is strictly confined to this session, (in fact I often explain to the group that being negative at this stage is really positive!) and is only useful to identify likely problems or issues. You should then move back to positivity for problem mitigation actions, and all other areas.

From the outset make it clear that the contract together is to change our diaries

Unless our diaries change, promised actions won’t happen. Ask everyone (no matter how senior) to indicate a commitment right from the outset of the team event to change their diaries to accommodate the actions arising at the team event.

When people see that everyone is committed to change, the event takes on a ‘can do, will do’ atmosphere.



These rules of thumb can be summarised as a way to develop ‘emotional contagion’ at the team event. This contagion continues long after the event and ensures ongoing change implementation after the event itself.

Recent neuroscience research has provided an interesting insight into what creates ‘followership’ in teams. Oxytocin is a known chemical in the brain which is released when people feel safe. Given the right conditions, there are opportunities for leaders to infect a positive ‘virus’ throughout the team, behaviourally and intellectually.

If done well, the team will tell others of their experience and unconsciously role-model with their own teams.


About the author

Sue Blight is a senior consultant at Goodfoot


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