This blog has been updated with new information and industry trends.
Every business makes at least a token effort toward team building. We’re going to show you how to make it work (really!)
Maybe team building is something to check off your employee engagement plan, maybe you’ve noticed a dip in morale, or maybe you’re just wondering if it’s a best practice for a healthy workforce.
Whatever your motivation, corporate team building probably elicits images of trust falls, human knots and secluded retreats — you might be skeptical. If you ask your team to put on blindfolds and solve puzzles, some of them are going to be skeptical too. And with good reason. If it’s hard to see how retreats and games lead to a stronger workforce, that’s because most of the time they don’t.
There is nothing wrong with planning fun activities that help people see each other in a different light and allow them to connect in a different setting. But the reality is, for many of these activities, the connection to improved workplace collaboration just isn’t there.
Events like these may get people to feel closer for a little while; shared emotions can bond people. Those bonds, though, do not hold up under the day-to-day pressures of an organization focused on delivering results. - Carlos Valdes-Dapenar, Harvard Business Review
Why team-building fails
It is possible to develop team-building activities that are safe, fun and effective, but first you have to know what to avoid. The wrong team-building strategy will not only fail to improve teamwork, it can also harm morale. Here are some team-building pitfalls that can sabotage your employee engagement efforts and make things worse at work.
- Team building activities that are embarrassing or patronizing
Not everyone is fit enough to play softball, not everyone is outgoing enough to perform a skit and very few people really want their struggle to be the center of attention.
Encouraging a team member to step outside their comfort zone can be a positive and rewarding experience, if done thoughtfully. But, putting someone in the vulnerable position of facing a fear in front of their colleagues is likely to backfire.
So, while physical challenges and performance activities are great fun for some employees and you don’t have to avoid them all together, making these things a mandatory part of an employee engagement strategy is much more likely to foster resentment than unity.
- Team building activities that only serve to strengthen existing social circles
If you survey any office and ask the best part of their job, a great majority are going to say it’s the people they work with. Workplace friendships are a strong indicator of high employee engagement and contribute meaningfully to job satisfaction. It makes sense to foster and encourage these relationships by offering environments in which they can grow.
However, If your goal is to encourage employees to form new bonds, welcome new colleagues or work better with other departments, unstructured social events are not the answer. Given the opportunity, people will naturally gravitate toward socializing and teaming with their existing friends. In this scenario, nothing changes about the company teamwork dynamics and, if there is already a problem with groups working in “silos,” the divides will only deepen.
- Team building activities that have nothing to do with the job
The biggest stumbling block to creating effective team-building activities is a lack of relevance. Even if everyone is having a great time working with new colleagues to solve an escape room, there is no evidence those skills translate into improved workplace interactions.
Group problem-solving might seem like it would have an obvious relevance to day-to-day work activities, but out-of-context lessons are extremely difficult to translate into practical usage.
Paintball and rafting may constitute effective team training if you’re a soldier or a stuntman – but not if you’re an engineer or accountant and work in an office. - Grete Wolden, Gemini Research News
Effective team building ideas
To start thinking about how to avoid pitfalls and start building a better team, let’s talk about what we’re actually trying to accomplish. Aside from socialization and getting some time away from the daily grind, team-building activities are aimed at enhancing communication and collaboration at work. This could mean more efficient meetings, improved problem solving or better interdepartmental collaboration.
Better teamwork will involve improving the daily interactions that employees engage in when working together to carry out their jobs. In fact, successful sales reps are 10x more likely to use collaborative words like "us" and "we". That sort of mentality starts within your organization, and that’s why the most effective team-building activities are the ones that involve real, or at least realistic, work tasks.
If you structure your team-building around the things your team should be doing anyway, there’s no need to draw artificial connections to unrelated games and events. Employees have been working together to solve real issues and can simply carry on. Here are 4 ways you can incorporate team-building strategies into the workday.
- Build non-conventional teams to tackle issues
One of the best ways to build a new bond with a colleague is to work through a problem together. For example, if you are deploying an employee engagement strategy, put together interdepartmental teams to help roll it out. This gives people the opportunity to work closely with those outside their usual teams, hone new skills and accomplish something meaningful together.
- Facilitate knowledge sharing
Employees will be more likely to seek each other’s help if they know the skills and knowledge everyone has to offer. You can start a company blog, schedule regular lunch and learns or even help teams make spotlight videos to share company-wide. Allowing employees to share their workplace passions will help open new avenues of collaboration and foster greater appreciation for each other.
- Schedule actual teamwork training
Learning to work as a team doesn’t have to be an abstraction (if you trust your co-workers to catch you when you fall off a table, shouldn’t you trust them at work?), but it also doesn’t have to come solely from within. Bringing in specialists to conduct teamwork workshops can have a very positive outcome as long as the activities are relevant.
A skilled teamwork trainer will provide enlightening information, useful strategies and the opportunity to practice putting it all to use.
- Apply team-building methodologies to real-world tasks
There may be some aspects of classic team building activities that are appealing to you and your team. You don’t have to abandon those completely. Going off site for a working session can be the change of pace everyone needs to have a breakthrough on a tough problem. Problem-solving games can be incorporated into brainstorming sessions to enhance creative energies.
With skilled facilitation, activities that are a little unusual and disruptive can help your team get out of a rut and learn to adapt their working style to new challenges.
A final word on team building
If the puzzle-solving, hand-holding image of corporate team building has you feeling cynical, it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, those types of team building activities do little to deliver meaningful results and may even cause more harm than good. That doesn’t mean you have to cancel your potluck or give up on your scavenger hunt. Just make it voluntary and be realistic in your expectations.
To really build a better team, focus on strategies that facilitate collaboration in employees’ everyday interactions. Every team, department and business is different and faces unique challenges. Providing work-relevant team-building activities for your employees will empower them to face those challenges together.
If you still have questions about your team building strategy, or need help customizing a program for your team, then contact the experts at GO2 Partners today. See how we can take your business to the next level.