The Fetch Blog

Curated reads and events for professionals

Team building and ROI: is it really worth the investment? — September 21, 2015

Team building and ROI: is it really worth the investment?

As renown educator, management consultant, and author Peter Druker succinctly said: “What gets measured gets managed.”

Corporations are currently faced with a challenging question that has long affected education: what is the best way build a collaborative environment, with measurable values and effects of engagement? In education, this pertains to learning, progress and qualifications  — while in business, this translates specifically to productivity, morale and business output. 

The big difference between the two sectors is that in education, costs are ‘built in’ to salaries and interventions which directly aim for those same progression outcomes — whereas businesses are required to specifically invest capital and/or profit into team-building activities and events, with hope that the investment will be returned.

Though both sectors can qualify the success of team-building efforts in anecdotal ways (“remember the time when…?”), businesses are fast moving into the realm where, like educators, it’s essential to quantify the success of team building efforts in a way that translates into key business performance metrics. This not only enables business managers to recognize what works and what doesn’t, but also reveals opportunities for more effective management in the future.

Measuring tools

Measuring the ROI of team building tactics

Translating team-building endeavors into quantifiable measures can include a plethora of possibilities and methods, but all need a starting point: a baseline prior to implementing a calendar or schedule of team-building activities. For yours, consider looking at:

  • Absentee rates
  • Productivity rates
  • Rates of overtime take-up
  • Daily/weekly/monthly profit
  • Time-and-motion studies can also help identify exactly how time is used by management and a team. This is particularly useful when putting together an overview of the frequency, productivity and purpose of meetings, along with punctuality in relation to staff breaks, pace of work, number of customer complaints, and even staff grievances.

As no two companies will be influenced by the exact same factors and actions, there will be different baseline areas for various types of companies. These examples prove that there are plenty of options to be identified and used, depending on a team, business focus and need.

Building in the bonding

The next action is to introduce newly selected team-building activities. When choosing an exercise, remember that the key aim of team-building activities is to increase productivity — and the main vehicle by which team building events aim to do this is by bonding disparate teams.

It’s worth remembering that such events are about collaboration and not competition, which can often be detrimental to overarching business goals. Be thoughtful in offering creative exercises and activities which include ‘lone’ workers, invite collaboration, and help to define team members’ roles.

Activities should also bring out individuals’ strengths, before empowering staff to take these qualities back into the workplace. Using the services of a team events company to facilitate this can seem expensive depending on the number of people and type of activities involved, but once measuring tools have been defined, measuring and managing the outcome can only be beneficial. It’s reasonable to expect an increase in company knowledge about a team, performance, productivity, and prospects.

Giving teammates a voice

ROI on teambuilding

A great team-building activity that often costs less but can still give valuable, measured outcomes is to gather and directly ask the team about various aspects of the company. A session like this can include (but certainly isn’t restricted to) Q&A with teammates on a broad range of topics. Here are a few ideas:

  • Work environment: consider asking about desired improvements, problem areas, or even health and safety concerns
  • Office hierarchy or management systems: is everyone comfortable where they are? Are there line-management clashes which result in some staff feeling de-valued? Are some staff feeling ‘stuck’ and overlooked?
  • Wages and working conditions: although this should come into appraisal or performance management procedures, this is by no means a given with some companies, so staff really should be offered the chance to have their say. This can be a relatively easy fix if the funds are there and will be invaluable in returned loyalty and productivity.
  • Schedules: is the company struggling with poor scheduling which means death-by-meeting Thursdays for some staff, or no time for creative thinking for others? Those that are subject to the schedules will know exactly what’s working, or not, so ask them! After, factor their responses into the development of new processes and systems – and measure those outcomes.

How to manage the measuring

Finally, it’s time to re-measure your outcomes. It’s important to recognize that investing in your team in this way, particularly if it’s something your company hasn’t done before, can take time to get right. While improvements may be seen quickly (and that’s great!), there’s no guarantee that there will be an immediately or obvious return on any investment of time or money spent –- in reality, efforts may be something which gradually drip-feed over a span of months or years after action.

The important thing is to retain the focus, as this will also encourage staff engagement – don’t let them think your efforts were a one-off attempt, as that doesn’t encourage loyalty!

The best is yet to come; the ROI of teambuilding

If the measures show no improvement, try switching tactics with different team events or activities which closely complement your business goals. Be sure to reflect on both the managing side of measurement as well as acknowledging to your staff that they, as well as your company, are worth your investment.

About our writer // Alex Murray is the community coordinator for Team Tactics, based in London. 

Coffee talk: Cap Watkins, VP of design at BuzzFeed — July 27, 2015

Coffee talk: Cap Watkins, VP of design at BuzzFeed

Cap Watkins has an impressive professional background. Before joining the BuzzFeed team as VP of Design, he held roles at Etsy and Amazon, helping create user experiences that people still love today. Cap is also a keynote speaker at this year’s upcoming Web Directions Conference where he’ll talk about building a design-driven culture.

Today, Cap tells us what he loves (and fears) about his current role, what he looks for when hiring designers, and exactly how BuzzFeed creates such addictive media experiences.

How did you get to where you are today?

I wonder this a lot, honestly. I think a lot of it has to do with being able to identify roles that will push me to learn more and then, at the same time, not being afraid to go all in, even if I super mess up. When I moved on from startup life in San Francisco to Amazon in Seattle, that was pretty scary: it was a big company with lots of bureaucracy to navigate (compared to a five-person startup). When I moved from Amazon to Etsy, being a first-time manager was incredibly frightening and challenging (not to mention figuring out New York). And now, as VP of Design at BuzzFeed, having a more nebulous role with influence over the organization definitely keeps me in a consistent state of “holy crap, am I doing this right?”

I think if your current job isn’t challenging you or freaking you out (at least a little), you should look for a new gig. Fear = growth. It also means that you’ll be conscientious about the job you’re doing, which actually puts you in a better position to succeed. Embrace the fear.

Finally, and I can’t stress this enough, identify people who are way smarter than you and engage with them regularly. At Amazon, I met Aaron Donsbach — and it was immediately obvious that he was the best designer on the entire team. We weren’t sitting in proximity to one another, but every day I made sure to sit down at his desk and just talk with him about what he was working on and ask for help with what I was working on. Eventually, we became pretty close and he became my manager. He taught me so, so much about design and how to think more deeply, as well as how to successfully navigate design discussions with the executive team. We’re still in touch to this day, and I still think of him as the best mentor I’ve ever had. He really shaped who I am now.

What’s a ‘typical’ day as the VP of Design at BuzzFeed like? What has been your biggest challenge in the role so far?

I’m sure this is no surprise, but “typical” isn’t a word I’d use anymore for my day-to-day. I could be recruiting folks to work for us, or meeting with the Design Directors in Editorial, or giving feedback on some Product Design work in Basecamp, or discussing organizational issues with the rest of our Tech Leadership team or even prototyping a new idea I have.

What I really love and fear about the role I’m in now is just how flexible and fungible it is. It’s really up to me to make it whatever I want it to be.

No one is stopping me from doing stuff and, in most of the cases, I’m enabled to do more. For instance, I thought it might be a good idea to do a Hack Week, so I suggested it. It’s been a couple of months and we’re just now finishing up our very first Hack Week. It’s kind of insane and great.

I’d also say this is the biggest challenge so far. BuzzFeed is a gigantic place with a ton of different versions of what “design” means. I’m trying to tie as much of it together as possible, but it’s nebulous and requires a bit of patience and long-term strategic thinking. It’s a process, and you have to look back and take stock of what you’ve accomplished every so often. Otherwise, it’s easy to get discouraged.

You’ve helped shape some incredible media experiences at companies like Etsy and Amazon. How often do you draw on previous experiences and learnings in your current role?

All the time. At Amazon, I learned a lot about systems-thinking and deep UX processes. Etsy was a crash course in using both quantitative and qualitative data as part of the product process. I think about these things all the time at BuzzFeed, and advocate as much as I can for us to adopt the learnings from those previous experiences. Obviously, holistic UX thinking and using data to drive work is valuable regardless of what company you’re at.

A lot of folks ask me what it’s like going from a couple e-commerce companies to a media company, but the truth is that the differences aren’t that big when you abstract them out. We still need to ship good products that measurably improve the user experience. And whether that’s for an online store or a publication, the methodologies are the same.

BuzzFeed is one of the most engaging and addictive media experiences out there. Which critical components are required to keep a visitor’s attention?

Good content. That’s it. We could design the most beautiful and usable experience in the world, but if the content isn’t great, our work doesn’t matter.

Our editorial staff is the real engine that drives BuzzFeed and it’s up to the product team to support our editors in experimenting with new formats and ideas, as well as create a reader experience that set that content up to be as successful as possible.

How do you help build a design-driven culture?

Transparency and collaboration are two primary focuses for us lately. You can’t be design-driven if design is secret alchemy owned entirely by designers. I think that’s a mistake a lot of designers make – they think they need control, when they really need to give it up.

If we can get engineers and product folks to contribute to the design process, and if we can contribute to the product roadmap and code, then whoa, now everyone is a designer/engineer/product person.

What, if any, intentional process do you use to hire designers at Buzzfeed?

We have a pretty straightforward recruiting process that starts with sourcing as owned entirely by the design managers. I love our recruiters to pieces, but I discovered at Etsy that our hit-rate was way higher if we owned sourcing and driving the process as much as possible. Here’s the short version of our process:

  1. A design manager finds/reaches out to a candidate.
  2. First phone screen to talk generally about the candidate’s process, the role and BuzzFeed.
  3. Second screen to walk through a couple projects in detail. Looking for process artifacts and asking questions about what worked/didn’t work.
  4. Interview Loop: meet with a couple designers, a product person, an engineer.
  5. That’s it!

What qualities and skills do you look for?

Critical thinking, collaboration, and curiosity. I find that people who possess all three of those things tend to have the hard skills to get done what we need to get done. We require that all our designers write their own html and css, but that doesn’t mean we require all our candidates to be masters at it. We do an html/css live-coding session with one of our engineers during the interview loop, regardless of the candidate’s skill level. The engineer who runs the session is obviously looking at the candidate’s current skill set, but more importantly their ability to learn. We’ve seen these sessions turn into basically the engineer teaching the designer how to write their very first html and css – and then we hire the designer. The enthusiasm and curiosity are critical.

What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in design and media experience over the last year? Over the last five years?

In design, I feel like I’m seeing more and more people call themselves “designers” while only focusing on making things look good. I think Dribbble and Behance are good things, generally, but their emphasis on visual design has made a lot of young designers think that’s what matters most. I’ve interviewed a lot of folks whose work is beautiful, but falls apart under even the lightest of UX examinations.

My concern with the trend is that I remember our discipline spent years and years convincing our industry that we’re not pixel-pushers, that we should be a part of the entire process. The re-focus on just making things look cool may wind up biting us in the ass at some point (and may already be). It certainly isn’t helping the perception of design, in any case.

What about BuzzFeed do you find most exciting?

The types of content we design for at BuzzFeed are just so varied that I still have trouble wrapping my head around it. When I tell people that the BuzzFeed Videos we make have over a billion views a month, they’re blown away. Or, and I didn’t know this before I started, we have Pulitzer Prize-winning editors on our News staff who lead long-term investigative journalism. And we just built a test kitchen for our Life editors to shoot original recipes and cooking tutorials. It’s a pretty awesome time. Most people think BuzzFeed is all Lists and Quizzes (which we also love!), but it’s so much more than that and you’re really going to hear more and more about those things in the future.

Where can we find you in New York City?

Mostly in Brooklyn (I work in Manhattan, but it’s really not my scene). There are a lot of great restaurants and bars my neighborhood. On a hot summer afternoon I dig hanging out at Gowanus Yacht Club or Swan Dive. For everything food, Frankie’s, Prime Meats, and Buttermilk Channel are my go tos.

Last, how do you like your coffee?

Soy cappuccino all day.

Web Directions is Australia’s longest running digital design, product and engineering conference. Learn more about Cap’s upcoming keynote and register for this year’s event here.

Event preview: Wisdom 2.0 Live Stream — February 23, 2013

Event preview: Wisdom 2.0 Live Stream

Wisdom_2.0Wisdom 2.0 Conference in 2012

My fascination with human beings led me to pursue a career in psychiatry. At medical school I remember holding the brain of a cadaver in my hands and wondering how the multitude of human emotion and thought could be contained within a kilogram of white and grey matter. Recently, I was reminded of this while watching a short film Brain Power by Tiffany Shlain, who states that there are more synaptic connections in a babies brain than connections throughout the entire internet.

Connecting with ourselves, each other and the world, in a meaningful, compassionate way is key to our thriving. So when I discovered the Wisdom 2.0 Conference, a tech-meets mindfulness conference that explores conscious connecting, I knew I had to be there.

At a time where invisible umbilical cords attach us to our smartphones, the question of where the boundaries of self-identity are in a super-connected world becomes fascinating. At a recent Creative Innovation Conference in Melbourne, Ray Kurzweil, controversial American futurist and inventor stated, “The biological you is no more you, than the technological you.” This idea was voiced decades ago in a more Buddhist light by philosopher Alan Watts who suggested “The ‘you’ who you think you are, does not exist”. It’s a paradigm shift, but as technology progresses and becomes embedded in our clothes, our retinas, our blood cells, and our brains, we will inevitably need to make sense of what it means to be human in a world where technology is part of us.

We are still locked into thinking that we are separate from our technology.

My partner tells me I never put my phone down.

In the not too distant future, that might become as ludicrous as telling me off for “always carrying those dam hands around with me”. Has the mobile phone become an appendage that is so inextricably linked to us, it actually is us? Ray Kurzweil recounted a conversation with a Parkinson’s patient who had a computer chip implanted in his brain to help alleviate his movement difficulties. He asked the man whether he considered the chip to be a part of himself. The man was stumped.

Technology and information are developing exponentially, and we need to shift our thinking from linear to exponential to imagine our future possibilities.

With an infinite amount of information at the click of a button, our capacity to focus, discern and pay attention is becoming a survival necessity. As Ray Kurzweil describes we’re living in a time where “a child in Africa with a smartphone, has more access to information than the president of the United States did fifteen years ago”.

If we cultivate wisdom in the area of technology, there’ll be better odds that future technology will be infused with wisdom and support our thriving on the planet. As Kevin Kelly, founding editor of Wired Magazine states “Humans are the reproductive organs of technology”. Therefore, the wiser the human, the wiser the technology. We may be creating technology, but according to Ray Kurzweil, there will be a point in time when technology becomes smarter than its creator – he calls it the singularity. He predicts we will arrive at a point where technology becomes so sophisticated, it enables the creation of smarter-than-human intelligence.

I hope to expand my thinking this week at wisdom 2.0 and hear from some of the world’s leading thinkers about how as a species, we can ensure that we flourish rather than fade away in this age of technology.

Wisdom 2.0 conference will be livestreaming between Feb 21-24 at

About our ambassador // Dr Elise Bialylew is the founder of Mindful in May, a one month mindfulness meditation challenge to support people to learn about the benefits of mindfulness and help raise money to bring clean water to the developing world. Follow @mindfulinmay. Clear mind for you, clean water for others.

Interview: Melbourne Local, Rebecca Costello — December 2, 2011

Interview: Melbourne Local, Rebecca Costello

Name: Rebecca Costello


Twitter handle: @rebeccacostello

Works at: CEO, The Monthly

What was your first job?

My first job was at 13 years of age working Saturday’s and Sunday’s at the Donvale Craft cottage. It was so exciting to me at the time, Guy Pearce was a regular and my first celebrity crush.

What’s the hardest challenge you’ve had to face work-wise?

Initially explaining what The Monthly was (and how often it was published!!!) to media buyers, nationally.

The Monthly’s in-depth essays have a great impact on society, highlighting the issue to a readership of the publication. Has there been a situation that demonstrates this most to you?

Robert Manne’s in-depth profile on Julian Assange was a significant contribution to understanding why Julian Assange was, at the time, one of the most powerful people in the world.

What’s your favourite part of the job?

Working with a great group of passionate, dedicated people producing an independent publication that makes a valuable contribution to Australia’s cultural landscape.

If there was one issue or idea you would like discussed more, what would it be?

I’m a firm believer in waxing but there still needs to be a greater understanding and adjustment of cultural attitudes towards women in this country.

As the year draws to a close, what in your opinion are the three most significant issues of 2011?

  • The worlds population grew to seven billion and there is still a massive question mark about environmental sustainability
  • The European debt crisis has highlighted inequality, poverty, corruption and greed across the globe
  • The depressing lack of quality political debate in Australia

What’s next?

For me, a holiday is what’s next on my agenda!

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