As project managers, it’s probably safe to say that we’ve hosted team a building day or two before. Or at least, we’ve participated in one.
Now, I don’t know about you, but a vast majority of the team building days that I’ve been involved in have either been cringey and boring, OR fun – but have not done a single thing to help with our team’s ability to collaborate or work together better when we’re back at the office. At least not in the long term.
Why is this?
Maybe it’s because when it comes to developing a strong purpose for our team building event and then preparing it, we’re trying to wing it?
And although we may have the best of intentions, maybe it’s that we haven’t been given the tools to be able to design and operate our team building using frameworks that guarantee impact and success?
So, as a result, we find that nothing changes when our team is back at work. We find ourselves working back in our siloed old ways.
Now, full disclosure: this issue (around falling back into old habits once back in the office) is not something that one team building day or session can fix. To be truly effective, it needs to be a continual process, embedded in our team and business culture.
This keeps us accountable.
However, by following some simple steps when planning team building activities, we can maximize effectiveness to ensure our teammates are left feeling fulfilled and inspired, not frustrated or icked!
We say, make team building count!
Make it more than a team bonding experience (which is fundamentally different to team building).
Make it strategic and purposeful to overcome challenges and thrive in your workplace.
First, let’s start with the basics…
What is team building?
Regardless of the activity or exercise, team building is a process of turning a group of individual contributing employees into a cohesive team to optimize its effectiveness and performance in the workplace.
Team building allows those of us in charge to understand important dynamics about our team in order to optimise it.
Team building exercises are golden-nugget-opportunities available right at our fingertips to do things like break ice with our colleagues, get to know one another on a personal level, work through challenges, create solutions, and work towards higher performance – together.
It can also help us as managers to:
- Understand the unique perspectives, characteristics and roles of team members.
- Open up dialogue
- Encourage creative thinking, brainstorming and collaboration
- Stimulate higher performance as a mechanised team
- Identify or create shared visions, goals, objectives etc for BAU or projects
When executed properly, the results can be outstanding!
We’ve touched on what can happen when team building doesn’t go to plan. On the flip side, when done well, it can be an incredible business tool.
When one company got its team building formula right, after years of failure, the business grew by 33%. And, for the first time in eight years, they had met financial commitments to their larger corporation.
What was their secret?
To answer this, let’s get onto our tips.
Tip 1: It’s not enough to just ‘want to collaborate’. You must consider individual motives.
This was the sweet spot for Mars, the company mentioned above, whose business grew significantly when they nailed their team building.
Managers found that by tapping into the personal motivations of their staff during team building, they were able to unlock productive teamwork that impacted positively on their bottom line.
Their thinking? Collaboration needs to connect to the individual motives of team members.
This was because it occurred to managers that the team’s “failure to collaborate was, ironically, a function of their excelling at the jobs they were hired to do and of management reinforcing that excellence.
Collaboration, on the other hand, was an idealized but vague goal with no concrete terms or rules…It diluted accountability and offered few tangible rewards.”
To work through this, Mars’s HR department developed a framework to make collaboration during team building clear, specific, and compelling.
To break it down even further, they workshopped two core questions with their team members.
This can be applied to your team too.
The questions were:
- Why is your collaboration essential to achieving business results?
- What work, which specific tasks, would require collaboration to deliver those results?
For Mars, working through this was integral to the development of what became a high performing team.
Try using this framework in your next team building exercise if enhancing collaboration for business optimization is an aim. And if you do, let us know how you go. We’d love to hear your feedback.
Tip 2: It’s not a popularity vote. You must think it through!
Before you set your agenda for the day, take a moment to consider each and every team member. The last thing you want to do is offend or alienate someone.
For example, it may not be appropriate to have drinking alcohol as part of your team building agenda.
What if one of your staff or colleagues is pregnant and this information is undisclosed?
It could easily make them feel uncomfortable and take away from what you’re there to achieve.
Sure, you can’t always please everybody, but there are some basic things to always keep in mind to ensure that no one feels compromised and thus can’t give their best.
We’ve listed some of the top things we keep in mind below:
- Cultural and religious beliefs of team members
- Locality and convenience for all. If it’s not somewhere central, it might be nice to provide transportation.
- Circumstances, like pregnancy or age and physical ability. I.e., a touch football tournament might not be appropriate for a team whose members are predominately over 65!
- Personal commitments. Albeit fun, an overnight camping trip might not work well for a single parent or carer.
Try to be considerate without diluting the intentions and fun factor. Hard, we know!
Tip 3: Set clear and measurable objectives
The power is in the planning.
It’s very important to take time to set objectives for your team building activity.
Now, we’re not suggesting that too many cooks in the kitchen are ever very good, but at the same time – you don’t need to set your team building objectives all alone.
We recommend that you seek advice from your team members or team representatives or management.
This will ensure that although social, your activity is relevant and addresses key issues.
Objectives are also important because they keep us accountable.
They enable us to keep the day on track and give us the means to measure and monitor our success against them. On the day and beyond.
If you’re having trouble coming up with your objectives, have a think about some bigger themes and goals like:
- enhancing collaboration and productivity
- managing change
- resolving conflict
- boosting morale
- developing skills
- improving communications
And then, create your objectives from there.
But truth be told, if you don’t have objectives in mind from the get-go for your team building, perhaps team building isn’t what you’re really looking to do?
And that’s totally ok! But maybe a team bonding session is more appropriate, rather than team building.
Tip 4: Incorporate education and skills shortage into your session
According to MindTools.com, team building is about creating a forum to provide the skills, training and resources that your people need so that they can work in harmony.
Incorporating skills building into team building is highly recommended. It’s great because it speaks to the individual motivations (needed for successful collaboration) mentioned in Tip 1.
Besides, who doesn’t love to learn a new skill!?
In order to incorporate skills development in your next event,y you may want to follow these steps:
- First, consider the unique nature and needs of your team members
- Gain their feedback around what knowledge and skills would benefit them as a group and individuals?
- It may not be possible for your team to be fully upskilled in one day or session but an introduction to the skill may be more realistic. Consider incorporating simulations, which are forms of experiential learning, or gamification – explained below.
Tip 5: Try gamification. It’s fun!
Gamification within the workplace is a relatively new concept. So its definition is still taking shape.
However, according to a whitepaper from Charles Darwin University, Gamification is the use of game elements and game thinking in non-game environments to increase target behaviour and engagement.
In team building, we can use game mechanics to create a fun and educational experience to drive engagement, reflection and understanding of the subject concept/s.
Beyond event-based activities, gamification can be used for things like promotion, employee productivity, behaviour change, loyalty and education. In fact, some popular examples of business gamification we see today include Amazon’s reviews program, LinkedIn’s incentivised profile building, and Foursquare’s badge earning system.
In the training context, gamification is unique because it provides a bridge between theory-based learning and work-based application and provides an opportunity for kinesthetic learning (“learning by doing”).
And according to the statistics, it works.
According to a 2018 survey on gamification at work by TalentLMS, employees felt that gamification made them more productive (87%), more engaged (84%) and happier (82%) at work.
To get you started with some practical ideas for gamification, think treasure hunts, role play and educational video games. Whatever’s most appropriate and realistic for your biz.
You can also take inspiration from shows like The Apprentice and Survivor. Think about how could you adopt their formats to gamify the way that you develop skills or knowledge within your team?
Food for thought!
Well, there you have it, folks!
We hope this helps you to create a more useful experience for your next team building day or function.
We’d love to hear from you
Do you have any stories of team building and how it’s impacted on your business operations?
Comment below if you’d like to share, or if you have any questions for us. We’ll get back to you as soon as we can.
This post is based on an article by our Training and Communication Specialist, Anna Keavney from AITD’s April 2016 Magazine edition.