Teamwork is impossible if your team members can’t function effectively together, but team building exercises can help. The goal of team building exercises is to help members learn to embrace each other’s differences, rather than focus on dissimilarities that lead to conflict. Exercises also teach teams to work together and use communication to accomplish tasks through collaboration.
What is the Point?
Team-building, despite the common misconception given in television shows, isn't just meaningless activities designed to prevent employees from getting their work done. At least, it shouldn't be if done correctly. Team-building is the basis for successful communication, productivity, and trust - the factors that enable a company to be successful. Team activities should always be on your to do list!
While working next to the same people every day, it's easy to forget the importance of actually getting to know those around you. Building those relationships that dive past the cordial greetings are a crucial part to the well-being of employees as well as the company itself. This can overcome barriers that may occur within teams or bring alignment across the company, no matter its size.
Questions to Ask before Choosing Team-Building Activities
Your first step is to figure out what specific challenges your team faces so you can select activities that focus on overcoming them. Review your team’s strengths and weaknesses using a number of questions to pinpoint the root cause of any issues:
- Is the team divided due to conflicts between certain team members?
- Do the team members need to get to know each other better?
- Are any members harming the group by focusing solely on their own successes?
- Is team progress hindered by poor communication?
- Is team progress hindered by any members’ resistance to change?
- Can your team effectively work together, rather than individually?
- Could team members use a good boost to their morale?
Once you’ve identified areas that could use some work, choose activities that focus on those particular areas. Let's say you have a new team with members that aren't very familiar with one another. You can start each team meeting with conversation cards that allow people to develop more personal relationships to build camaraderie.
Activities that Get You Working Together Out of the Office
Sometimes stepping outside the office is just what a team needs to gain a new outlook and perspective on a project or their coworkers. Members who have trouble working together on work-related projects may benefit from working side-by-side outside of the office. Outdoor activity is a healthy way to encourage team bonding, and let's face it, it is much more entertaining than sitting in a boardroom and listening to a lecture on growing closer to your coworkers. Choosing something unique and slightly outside of peoples' comfort zones can encourage them to come together in new ways. Try out some of these activities the next time you're looking to grow your team!
- Geocaching and Scavenger Hunts are similar, and both focus on working together to solve an issue (or win the game). Divide your team into small, equal-sized groups who will compete against each other. For the scavenger hunt, send the groups out with a list of items to find. For geocaching, make sure the list includes GPS coordinates that indicate where each item is located. Whoever makes it back first with the most items within the allotted time period wins. Friendly competition and having a shared goal are effective factors in uniting a group of people. Additionally, these activities can be done pretty much anywhere so you don't have to travel far from the office to experience the fun of the outdoors.
- Ropes Courses help team members work on communication skills as well as their ability to give and receive help and support. They also provide insight into how different members perceive and react to challenges and risks. Research local activity centers to discuss logistics like group sizes and different course levels. Just remember to accommodate all levels of physical ability with your team members. Nothing says trust like following another's footsteps across terrifying heights!
- Other Outdoor Activities provide the same benefits as rope courses, just in different settings. Depending on the fitness and activity levels of your team members, you could try activities that range from sailing and white water rafting to rope climbing and bicycling. Ask for ideas from your staff to see what interests them and then compare that to what is possible for the company. It is important that employees enjoy the activity that is taking place and have a say in what is scheduled so that they aren't forced into an activity they would rather not participate in. Forcing someone to partake in an activity they don't like may actually have the opposite effect you desire.
Activities that Build Morale
If your team could use a morale boost, organize enjoyable activities that build confidence, enthusiasm, and discipline:
- Volunteering helps team members feel better about themselves by doing good for others, whether it’s with a monthly or quarterly half-day off work to volunteer at the local animal shelter or holiday soup kitchen.
- Sports Activities let team members work together for a big win. Try and find sports that are entertaining and safe for the whole team like kickball or flag football. Physical activity is a fun and healthy way to bring people closer together.
Activities that Build Communication
Communication is important in any company. It drives ideas, cohesion, productivity, and keeps people happy and striving to do their best in their individual roles. If disrupted, it could be bad news for the company or organization.
If communication is a core problem, embark on activities that help members speak and listen more effectively.
- Active Listening shows how miscommunication can rapidly arise when people aren’t listening to each other. You’re going to illustrate this point by ensuring that your team is not listening to you during a presentation. First put together a long document full of coherent yet mind-numbing jargon that sounds like it talks about some kind of business goal. Include a few sentences in the mix that have absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the document but provide other random information, like the price of gas in Northern California or the price of tea in China. Gather your team for a meeting, reading them the entire document in a monotone voice. Then ask everyone to write down what they think you talked about. Quiz them on any of the random info to see if they picked anything up at all or tuned you out entirely.
- Blind Drawing works on communication and shows how different people can have different interpretations of the same thing. Pair up team members. Give one person a common object. They will attempt to describe this object, like an elephant for example, verbally using only shapes and phrases like "above" and "to the left of." The second person is not allowed to know what this object is, and they cannot talk to the person describing the object. With these limitations, they must draw the object they think is being described.
- Survival Scenario emphasizes communication and compromise. Tell your team their plane crashed in the ocean near a desert island, and the lifeboat only has room for all team members plus eight items. Have the team figure out which eight items are necessary. Once everyone has agreed on the eight items, have them reflect on the communication and reasoning styles of their coworkers. Do some people take longer to come to a decision, while others are able to quickly consolidate their list? What benchmark did people use to come to their decision?
Activities to Get to Know Each Other
Help team members relate better by getting to know each other. Build more personal relationships with light-hearted get-to-know-you activities:
- Show and Tell lets each team member bring in an item or present a topic to the rest of the group. Make it a group event over lunch, or dedicate one day a week to a different person, who then chooses the next person in the show and tell lineup.
- Find the Common Thread encourages members to find similarities between them, from food to hobbies, music to cultural backgrounds. Break your team into groups before your regular staff meeting. Have each group find a commonality amongst themselves, like a favorite food or genre of music.
- Penny for Your Thoughts is a fast and easy pre-meeting ice-breaker. Gather a batch of pennies, ensuring all the dates are within each team member’s lifespan. Put the jar in the middle of the table before a meeting, randomly choosing a penny and then asking each member to relate an important event that happened on that date.
Sometimes relaxed and laid-back gatherings outside of the office are the best way to bond as a team. Recently, our office had a "Family Day" where employees and their families and friends were invited to a fun day at the ballpark. This allowed people to get a deeper look into the lives of their coworkers and bond in a non-work setting. It is important to have activities that let people relax and be themselves. Not every activity has to be restricted to those involving competitive tasks or strict learning guidelines.
Things to Remember
When planning and budgeting for these activities, keep in mind that team-building is a vital part to keeping a company running smoothly. This means that although you don't have to go out and spend half the company's revenue on them, don't skimp either. As Forbes says, team-building is not a splurge - it's an investment. You will get out what you put into it, so show your staff how much their relationships and well-being mean to the company.
Make sure that the exercises you plan instill values that will last longer than a day or even a week. The relationships and respect between coworkers formed should be something that lasts and is carried over into the day-to-day operations. Team-building isn't meant to be temporary.
Whether your team is climbing mountains or volunteering to walk homeless dogs, team building exercises can go a long way toward boosting morale, communication skills, mutual respect, and successful collaboration.
Birkman's group reporting options are great for team building activities and to learn the similarities and differences of members on the team. Gaining a perspective into where each individual fits into the group and what strengths they bring to the table is a great way to improve teamwork and collaboration. Other ways to heighten social intelligence and grow camaraderie include Birkman Buzz Cards and Birkman at Work Toolkits, memorable and impactful ways to drive communication and team bonding.
A proud Aggie, Ashley is a rising junior studying business management as Texas A&M University. She brings her creativity, organization skills, and hard work ethic to Birkman as a business development intern. Outside of the office, you can catch Ashley exploring coffee shops, traveling, or spending time outdoors with friends and family.