by William (Bill) Eade, Director Human Resources
Organizing a team can be a daunting task. Dealing with various personalities and work styles makes keeping the workplace engaging and productive an uphill battle. Research has repeatedly demonstrated that fostering a sense of comradery through team-building activities is a great way to boost productivity any make coming to work more enjoyable.
To get started on the journey to building a cohesive experience in the workplace, it is important to understand what makes the best teams function. This is done by identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the team on an individual level as well as the team as a whole. One of the main reasons teams fail to thrive is that management doesn’t take the time to understand workplace dynamics. For example, there may be personal or work-related conflicts among one or more team members and some team members might feel more comfortable working alone and will, therefore, shy away from others. Employees with longer tenure with the company may be set in their ways, making them resistant to change.
The purpose of team-building is to address these hidden (or not so hidden!) issues to build a stronger workforce from the inside. Communication is the foundation of all relationships, so it makes sense to prioritize team-building as a way to improve the interaction between employees. By choosing targeted team-building activities, management professionals must initiate the process in innovative ways that have proven to be effective in similar organizational settings.
How Can Companies Build Strong Teams?
In organizations with highly functional teams, it often looks like the synergy comes easily. However, strong teams do not just happen; they are the result of a continued commitment to improving processes, building morale, and reducing turnover. Canadian companies that are known as the best places to work have mastered team-building because they understand the results that come from happy and productive team members. That energy from the team translates into results in the workplace.
During team-building activities, employees will be presented with various challenges and observing their responses will be critical to success or failure. These activities foster teamwork, improve efficiency, and encourage critical thinking. When asking the team members for their feedback on how effective they thought the team building exercise was, be sure to include questions that directly address their perception of how useful the exercise was at accomplishing these goals.
Being aware of common team-building issues is important and will help activity organizers during the planning process. Common issues that occur during team-building activities include:
Shyness or embarrassment: Naturally, some team members will be less comfortable with interacting with others in a group setting. Many people shy away from attention so be sure to create an atmosphere in which the employee feels safe in venturing an opinion. The team-building leader is primarily responsible for creating a relaxed, friendly, and non-judgmental atmosphere. This can be done in a number of ways including smiling, being an attentive listener, and validating the employee’s response.
Confusion: This is especially common during initial team-building outings or exercises because team members may be unsure of who is supposed to be doing what. If team members have varying levels of responsibility in the typical work setting, more confusion may set in during these activities and power struggles may transfer over. Alternately, team members who are already comfortable with each other may use the team-building time to socialize, negating the purpose of the activity. Assign a group leader to keep tabs and answer questions to avoid confusion.
The most common issues in team-building can be remedied with effective monitoring, goal setting, and feedback. Establish objectives before activities get started and reiterate their importance during the process if necessary.
Follow up after team-building excises is imperative, not only to gauge how employees feel overall but also to assess the effectiveness of the team-building activity. Ask open-ended questions that encourage team members to candidly share their thoughts about the experience. Team-building follow-up can include anonymous surveys, suggestion boxes, or individual or group feedback sessions in an informal setting.
Setting Goals for Effective Team Building
Identifying the goals of team-building exercises will predict the ultimate success of the activity. Having specific goals outlined inevitably leads to a better overall experience and communicating the goal will allow members to work together in achieving a favorable outcome.
Team-building exercises can make working toward a common goal a fun and engaging process.
Recognizing Employee Contributions
After team-building exercises conclude, employee feedback is helpful. Each team member has the opportunity to express their likes and dislikes of the process and to share how they accomplished their goals. Successful outcomes build momentum and inspire other team members to do their best – both inside and outside of the workplace. These success stories also help bonds from between team members, which is vital for future team-building activities as well as day-to-day interactions in the workplace.
Not only should team members feel comfortable sharing their successes, but management and organizers should also acknowledge these victories. Celebrating success after team-building reinforces the importance of a job well done and serves as motivation to work harder.
Recognition lets employees know that their efforts do not go unnoticed and, in many cases, encourages other employees to put forth more effort. Make recognition a part of the overall team-building plan, and be sure to celebrate sooner rather than later. All recognition should be public, even if it is a small meeting among team members to congratulate them on a job well done.
Team Building Activities
There are many different types of team-building activities. Some of the more popular ones are:
This is an indoor activity of climbing rock faces. These events take place in buildings that are specially constructed with “fake” vertical rock walls. Not only does it provide invigorating physical activity, it also requires mental focus. Indoor rock-climbing facilities are all equipped with harnesses and other safety gear and have established safety protocols. Strict adherence to those safety procedures will help ensure that your team walks away energized and unharmed.
Escape Room Games
The team members are “locked” inside and room and must work together to achieve the goal of seeking clues and solve puzzles, generally tied to the room’s theme. And they have to do this before time runs out, usually an hour. Once they’ve solved the room’s mysteries, they “escape”.
Having your team donate their time and energies to worthwhile causes is a great bonding experience. Helping to build a Habitat for Humanity house, working for an afternoon at a soup kitchen, cleaning up a local park or other public area in need of a little TLC are just a few of the many rewarding experiences that your team can share.
Wheelchairs for Charity
A unique and rewarding activity where team members build and test wheelchairs for those in need.
Random Acts of Kindness
A fun team-building activity where each member competes to perform the most random acts of kindness.
Attending Sports Events
Going to a baseball game or a basketball game as a group is a fun way to spend an afternoon or an evening with the team members and gets them interacting with one another outside of the usual workplace setting.
This can be combined with a potluck meal that allows your team members to show off their culinary skills.
Small scale team-building exercises can be completed on-site but often a change of scenery is a good idea. Getting out of the office allows team members to have a different perspective and mentally separates them from daily job stressors.
To be sure that you pick an activity that your team members will enjoy and get the benefit of, ask them which activities appeal to them and be open to suggestions.
Using team-building to improve the workplace is a challenging but worthwhile effort that has a big payoff. By recognizing employee efforts and celebrating achievement, management can foster the sense of comradery that builds strong teams and strong companies.
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