Anne Thornley-Brown of Toronto-based Executive Oasis International and LinkedIn group “Event Planning & Management – the 1st Group for Event Planners” fame, shared with me how she integrated social media into a team building event during an executive retreat in Egypt for the Saudi Arabian office of a global pharmaceutical company. Her experience is a primer for all business and meeting facilitators.
Her program called Visexecutaries: Seizing Opportunities in our Shifting Corporate Landscape, “looks at how organizations can fine tune their corporate, sales and marketing strategies and tactics in the face of emerging trends,” says Thornley-Brown. Although the client did not request that the program include social media elements, “it’s impossible to discuss marketing and sales without integrating the huge impact of social media,” she says, and initially took the initiative to add social media elements to the program.
The pharmaceutical company client was in the process of merging with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) Saudi Arabia. Thornley-Brown saw her social media exercises as a way to bring the two teams of sales executives together in preparation for the merger. She has executed team building programs in Egypt, Malaysia and the U.S.
Before the meeting, all participants were invited to join LinkedIn and register for the team building program. The event organizer posted detailed information about the program and registration materials on LinkedIn. One of the two companies subsequently requested that Thornley-Brown prepare an additional exercise specifically addressing the use of social media. The exercise that she developed included the following:
Thornley-Brown sent invitations for all participants to join LinkedIn, add her to their network and begin adding their own contacts. She set up a LinkedIn group, invited participants to join and used the group to disseminate news articles and information on how to prepare for the team building program.
Building on the LinkedIn success, Thornley-Brown asked participants to register on Twitter, follow her and each other. She used Twitter for “quick bursts of information, reminders and to let participants know that there was new information in the LinkedIn group,” she explains. As part of the Visexecutaries program, she divided them up into teams, asked them to choose a team name, colors and a dress code for their project and then encouraged them to use LinkedIn and Twitter to communicate ahead of time.
During the retreat she held a one hour information session on LinkedIn and Twitter, showing participants some additional features and an example of the work that one of the attendees had done building his LinkedIn network and customizing it for their industry.
Since the meeting, the LinkedIn group has continued to grow. They share videos, articles and discussion relating to the retreat. Thornley-Brown has invited meeting alumni to the group and encouraged them to network. She has also started a blog to focus on some of the topics from the team building exercise and uses LinkedIn email to notify group members when a new blog post is available.
In introducing a new form of communication and collaboration such as social networking platforms to the team building scenario, Anne Thornley-Brown facilitated the learning by joining the LinkedIn group and Twitter herself and monitoring the “uptake” of retreat participants. Rather than sending attendees an email or a pdf on how to use LinkedIn and Twitter, she helped them onboard and learn how to use the tools first hand. Her experience demonstrated how team building facilitators can interact with a group, before, during and after the meeting. Thornley-Brown also considered the meeting objectives in her social media strategy. A merger between two previous competitors was the perfect setting for the collaborative and non-confrontational platforms of LinkedIn and Twitter. Her post-retreat blog is a brilliant way to keep the conversation going from the meeting and build a larger audience for her team building practice.