Updated 29 September 2020
Team building has earned a bit of a bad reputation over the years, conjuring up images of embarrassing role plays and corny ice-breaker challenges.
But the reason it’s still around is that, when done in the right way, it can help foster cohesion among employees, increase output and create a harmonious working environment.
Team building has come a long way since the days of office blindfold games, and there are now entire companies and event coordinators dedicated to creating team building days that people actually enjoy.
Team building is the act of taking employees out of the corporate setting to spend time together in a relaxed and fun way.
Some corporations take their departments on full-day activities or even vacations, spending a weekend at a lakeside lodge or a hired beach-front venue with organized activities and group mealtimes.
You can hire an events company to set up a team-building exercise as elaborately as you want.
World-leading companies like Facebook and Uber actually use their team-building exercises as part of their offer package to attract the best talent in the world.
They have even been known to hire out entire islands to host team bonding events.
However, team building activities don’t have to be extravagant.
It can be just as effective to share a team lunch in the boardroom or have a barbeque in the local park.
Ask everyone to bring a dish and you have a collective mealtime opportunity that encourages people to work together to prepare, cook and enjoy the food, rather than eating alone in the staff cafeteria.
On a day to day basis, employees must accept their colleagues’ quirks, work alongside different personalities and behaviors, and tolerate strong views and opinions that might differ from their own.
This situation can create tension that can be challenging to resolve.
Along with the demands of the job itself, this tension can result in an unhappy workforce which, as every good manager knows, can have catastrophic effects on productivity.
Encouraging team bonding is a strategic business approach that is considered essential for high performing businesses.
Every member of a working team is important, and making sure that people are happy at work is crucial for getting the best out of every individual employee.
Not only do individuals need to be encouraged to meet their potential, the team as a whole needs to be nurtured; after all, a team is greater than the sum of its parts.
If we put business strategy to one side, team bonding has obvious benefits on a much simpler level.
When members of a team feel connected and appreciate one another, friendships are built, respect is fostered and the workplace can become a genuinely enjoyable place to be.
Everybody benefits from a cohesive team.
Communication is a key component of many team bonding exercises. Team members can sometimes fail to realize how much their communication skills can affect their working relationships.
Activities might include a challenge where one employee is blindfolded, and their partner gives directions.
On the flip side, an activity that must be completed in silence removes the verbal communication that we can overly rely on and highlights how impactful visual clues and body language can be.
Many staff members value the opportunity to have time away from the office to take part in fun activities with their colleagues; all while getting paid.
This demonstrates a willingness from their employer to invest time and money into their development and that they really care about creating a happy team.
This can be very motivating and often results in increased effort and output from staff.
Improved relationships with colleagues, including building trust and confidence in one another, are also very motivating for an employee.
Workplace morale can be a difficult thing to maintain. Changes in structures and processes, disruptive team members, and personality clashes can all contribute to low morale that then affects output.
Taking teams out of the working environment and encouraging them to connect on a personal level bolsters colleague relationships.
The activities themselves can be designed to expose low morale, allowing management to rectify issues.
All good team-building exercises are designed with teamwork in mind.
Having employees pull together and depend on each other to complete a fun challenge can build transferable skills that can be taken back to the office.
The camaraderie involved in a group win, or the laughs generated by a spectacular fail (when the ‘build a raft’ challenge goes wrong, the results can be quite comical), provide shared experiences that naturally encourage people to feel like part of a team.
As well as forging new relationships and making new introductions during team building activities, there is also a deeper level of bonding happening.
Existing friends can deepen their friendship when sharing experiences and spending time away from work or family commitments.
Informal conversations going on around the organized activity can bring people closer as they discover they share the same hobby or both have children the same age.
Many layers of bonding can happen when people have the opportunity to spend time together away from their usual routine.
Including trust-building activities in a team-building exercise can help show people that they can rely on their colleagues and that their colleagues can depend on them in return.
Any blindfolded task is a lesson in trust, as having one of the major senses taken away can make a person feel very vulnerable.
Employees learn a lot about themselves and each other when they are being relied on by colleagues or are in a situation that requires total reliance on someone else.
Participating in silly or funny activities can help to build up a person’s confidence.
With workplace pressures taken away and no serious consequences involved, people are encouraged to take more risks and trust in their abilities.
When people realize that they can make mistakes in a relaxed environment without judgment from their colleagues, they can transfer this to the workplace, where they will feel less self-conscious and more willing to speak up.
Well-developed relationships also help people feel secure enough to make suggestions and take the initiative confidently.
Team building exercises can be shaped to reflect the needs of any particular group. If management identifies a gap in skills or an apparent lack in any area, they can focus activities on developing their team in these areas.
Planning team building events with a clear idea of the problem and the desired results can help organizations tangibly evaluate outcomes.
As the needs of the group change over time, the nature of the team-building exercises can also change accordingly.
The setup of many team building activities depends on the teams organizing themselves into various roles needed to fulfill the task.
As the team formulates a plan, there are often people who come to the forefront as natural leaders. They coordinate the group, ensure everyone has a role and, depending on their level of leadership skills, sometimes manage the group so that everyone gets an equal say.
Observing the employees who take these roles can be very illuminating.
Some have a natural ability to get the best out of their colleagues, acting fairly and quickly earning the respect of their colleagues.
Others may have the desire to lead the group but are lacking in the necessary skills, unintentionally creating conflict or resistance in the group.
Management observing these group dynamics can purposely look out for good leadership qualities and decide to nurture these candidates for progression to leadership roles within the workplace.
Guiding an employee who already has some natural ability and, more importantly, the respect of their colleagues, is a significant advantage when building a strong management team.
Team building exercises often orchestrate situations in which every person involved has equal responsibility for the outcome.
People who may be naturally shy at work, or those who sometimes avoid taking on responsibilities, are forced to take ownership of their role in the activity.
The desired outcome is that the individual learns the pride and respect that comes from fulfilling their responsibilities well and can take this work ethic back to the office.
The best team building activities from a business point of view are those designed to develop or reveal certain skills in the team members involved.
A senior member of the team or management can work closely with the event organizers to create an exercise that results in the desired outcomes to move that team forward.
The best activities from a participant’s point of view, however, are those that are genuinely fun without being too corny.
Finding the ones that satisfy both parties is the aim.
The specific activities chosen will depend on factors such as participant numbers, whether the team is staying in-house or using another venue, and the budget available.
Here are a few team building ideas that span a range of tastes and budgets:
Focusing on a creative activity can really inspire and focus participants.
Playing any sport involves lessons in teamwork, allowing other people to shine, winning and losing with grace, and pushing yourself for the sake of the team.
Building a structure that can be tested, like a raft or a bridge, adds an element of humor to this activity. It’s also a perfect test of who takes on which role in the team.
Split your team into pairs and allow each pair 10 minutes to tell each other as much information about themselves as they can. Then quiz them on how much they know about each other.
Keep questions light and fun; for example, their favorite color or whether they have any pets.
This is an entertaining option that you can keep light and short, or go all-in with fancy dress costumes and actors.
Teams must figure out ‘whodunnit’ using skills of observation, deduction, logic and communication.
The most important part of a team-building activity is that all team members want to be involved and get as much out of the experience as possible.
Anything too corny that has participants cringing with embarrassment will have the opposite effect, and the next time someone suggests a team building day, there won’t be many takers.
It’s best to avoid anything too risky or outlandish – it’s unfair to put an employee under pressure to do something that genuinely terrifies them.
Likewise, anything that involves extreme physical exertion is unsuitable for most workplaces. Not every member of the team will have the level of fitness required, and it may cause embarrassment or humiliation if they can’t join in.
If the team building activity involves food or drink, be sure to consider any dietary requirements and lifestyle preferences. A non-drinker isn’t going to enjoy a cocktail making class, and a vegan won’t appreciate cooking up steaks on a barbeque.
Team building activities can be hugely beneficial to both the organization and the employees involved.
They might be presented as light-hearted fun, but structured team-building exercises can reveal a lot about individuals and how they work within a team.
From a management perspective, these activities can have the immediate effect of increasing employee satisfaction and therefore improving productivity.
They can also help leaders make informed decisions about who needs further development and who shines as leaders in their own right.
This kind of insight can be particularly useful when trying to identify employees who are ready to move up the ladder and take on additional responsibilities.
Team building events don’t need to be elaborate or expensive to be effective. A game of basketball or a team picnic in the local park can give a boost to morale and encourage healthy relationships.
These low-key, low-cost activities can provide many immediate benefits and can be interspersed with more adventurous, organized events that happen less frequently.
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