A New Forest location that specialises in family activities and corporate “away days”, New Forest Activities believes that team building is the ideal way to break down barriers in new working environments.

Based on the picturesque Beaulieu River, the business was set up by university friends Sam Sutton and Rich Pearsall, with the mission of making it easy for people to enjoy time on the water. It has seen a spike in interest as COVID restrictions are eased, and a huge growth in interest in team building from remote workers looking to spend time with their colleagues in a new environment.

Now, with the UK’s businesses slowly coming back to the office and with a growing sense “normality” returning, we caught up with the team at New Forest Activities to get their take on team building in 2021/2022.

Where did the business idea come from?

Sam Sutton: New Forest Activities came from a shared passion for kayaking, first discovered at a degree course in the Lake District. Rich and I wanted to make paddlesports – canoeing and kayaking – accessible and there were limited options at the time.Rich Pearsall: We were the first company to offer family or individual taster or guided tour experiences. The only other choices at the time were day-long skills courses or as a group. We wanted a unique backdrop, and so we found a SSSI, nature reserve and private river in the New Forest called Beaulieu River.

Who runs it?

Rich: Sam and I run the company together. We founded in 2003 as Liquid Logistics, and then in 2010 New Forest Activities became official. We employ 14 people all-year round, including apprentices. This rises to 20-plus during the summer.Who is your typical client?

Sam: Our customers are derived from multiple sectors – but they usually come together for Team Building exercises. We’ve had everyone from Google and LinkedIn, down to teams from small, local hotels.Rich: The clients are usually led by a business owner or team leader and 20-30 of their people. These groups are often sales teams or managers who are spread out geographically and don’t get a lot of face-to-face time.

Why do they come – and what do they want barring the fun and games part?

Rich: What we offer is all about building stronger personal bonds and improvement to company culture. We can engender an environment where the work persona or mask drops off and the “real” person shows up.Sam: Business owners also use us to improve the motivation or morale of their team and sometimes as a reward for success of new business wins. During the pandemic, communication has been a challenge, so New Forest Activities is perfect for breaking down barriers and creating open channels, now that restrictions are being lifted.

What is the secret of building a great team?

Rich: Openness and honesty. Teams must be open to debate – ideas can come from anywhere.Sam: A great team must have absolute clarity about the business and individuals need to be sure of how best they can contribute to the ultimate goal. Some companies are solely focused on results, and the bottom line is obviously important, accountability over behaviour is also vital.

Where should forward-thinking businesses start?

Rich: Progressive firms need to have a clear purpose and establish strong values and culture – and they must live and breathe these. These values should also be shared with clients and the wider market – they’re not just an internal matter.

Are there practical steps they can take day-to-day as well as on a dedicated away day?

Sam:  Absolutely; everyday should be focused on building better relationships, establishing trust and helping people to improve in their jobs. Away days with us are a chance to put this knowledge and relationships to the test in a fresh environment.What are the biggest myths/misconceptions around team building?

Rich: Team building is an overused term which can mean many different things to different people as a result. Much of team building is in fact simply corporate entertainment.Sam: Proper team building should have a clear business objective  and impact and then measurable outcomes.  This is very rarely the case and businesses should expect more from their providers as there is the potential of significant ROI if it’s done right. We use a systematic approach to team building in our business, which has been especially useful through COVID and beyond.

What is your company culture and how do you build/foster one?

Sam: At New Forest Activities we foster an environment where individuals can learn and then apply that knowledge. We have quarterly team train days, with coaching sessions in between.What’s your best tip to motivate and/or reward staff members?

Rich: Even operational staff should understand the business numbers and how their role impacts them.  Rewards are then based on these metrics. For example, if we get X result, then you will get Y. You can see how close or far away we are from X and you know how to close the gap.If you knew one thing at the start of your business journey that you know now it would be?

Sam: Build your business around clear roles, as opposed to individual team members.