Proving the ROI on the time and money that you invest into team building can be tricky. Sure, you shared a nice hour or so with your colleagues — but is that really making your department more productive and effective? And how long will the effects of the team building really last?
Regardless of the team building activity you use, it turns out there are scientifically-proven ways to boost the effectiveness and lasting benefits. Apply these methods to your next team building event, and you'll see your ROI increase significantly.
(Of course, we'd love it if WE were your next team building activity — where we automatically build in all of these strategies.)
1. Talk about how failure can actually be a good thing — before the event.
"There's no such thing as failure, only feedback," is a common phrase in today's uber-connected, social media-saturated world. Although failure can feel like one of the worst things to happen to us, it's how we learn and build resilience. So it's worth reinforcing to your team that you understand failure is often part of the process, and you want them to practice at it during this team building activity.
Remind them that Babe Ruth set the record for most career home runs in the same week he set the record for the most career strikeouts. Ruth knew that his success was inextricably tied to his failure.
2. Offer positive incentives in the form of prizes.
Psychologists say this technique encourages an “approach motivational state” — in other words, it enhances motivation. When your team is in an approach mindset, they focus on reaching outcomes that are positive (i.e. the incentives) for gain. To encourage this state, offer prizes for the team that wins the most points, or wins the most votes for their final result — but you can also reward prizes for best effort, or most creative. Scientists know that this mindset works particularly well in creative settings, so this technique may work best in painting or cooking classes, as opposed to the high-ropes course.
3. Get outside.
For our hunting and gathering ancestors, survival was dependent on being close to water, food and our tribe. So plan team building events that take advantage of the great outdoors for maximum effectiveness. Several studies have found that nature has a rejuvenating effect on the brain — sitting indoors with emails and meetings all day takes its toll on your employees' ability to creatively solve problems, so make sure your next team building event has everyone outside, breathing the fresh air.
4. Remind your team of an important project or goal — then tell them to forget about it.
Our subconscious can solve some really tough, complex problems — when we allow it to do it’s best work. But that only happens when our brain completely stops working on those problems and instead gets involved in other, completely unrelated activities. Scientists have found that while conscious attention (thinking) is limited in capacity, our unconscious mind is much better at processing large amounts of information at the same time. Scientists have also found that unconscious thinking is also when we tend to do our most creative thinking. So having fun and completely disconnecting from work may be the best thing your team can do to effectively finish a project!
The next one is one of my favorites:
5. Encourage healthy competition.
Play is the most fun (and effective) when there’s something at stake, which often means competition. Cognitive researchers have found that when we’re competing, we’re better at collaborating and working as a team. Competition requires that your employees use focused communication to work together to overcome challenging tasks. The fact that they’re doing it together motivates them to work harder to clearly understand their strengths and weaknesses, as well as how to best get along with other team members. Knowing that the other teams are also working to reach those the same goals forces teams to be better, more cohesive collaborators. So let the games begin...
6. Let's get physical!
Participating in physical activities can be intimidating for some employees, but the research is very clear: the best way to fire up the brain is to get the body moving. A 2005 study found that treadmill walking for just 30 minutes boosted creative performance — and that boost lasted for more than 2 hours. Exercise also improves memory and other cognitive functions. A 2004 study found that on those days when employees went to the gym at lunch, most of them reported more interaction with colleagues, better time management and that they were better able to meet deadlines. You don't need to run a marathon or climb a mountain together to reap the rewards of physical activity — walking around a city or museum together can do the trick just fine.
Which brings us to the next strategy:
7. Put away the smartphone.
According to the Pew Research Center, 67% of us check our phone for messages, alerts, or calls — even when we don’t notice our phone ringing or vibrating. That takes its toll on our creativity! In fact, some researchers have started calling compulsive phone-checking "the new yawn" — because it’s that contagious. Powering down your phone helps decrease feelings of jealousy and loneliness, and also reduces FOMO (one of millennials' key anxieties). Although our scavenger hunts do require the use smartphones, we do it in a way that doesn’t increase the anxiety of constantly checking to see if you’re measuring up on social media.
8. Schedule smaller, more frequent team building activities over big, annual events.
To boost happiness longevity, science says we need to engage in smaller, more frequent moments of happiness over big but rare moments of happiness. For example, we know that smaller weekend getaways over the course of a year are more effective than one big two-week vacation. This may be the single best way to increase the effective longevity of your team building activities — making sure you don't lose your investment by not consistently scheduling them out over the year.
So now you've got the tools — here's what's next:
Now implement them!
Ready to implement these eight scientifically-backed strategies? We're happy to help. Whether you want to get outside, encourage some healthy competition or get your team's super-charged subconsciouses working, any of these techniques will improve the effectiveness of any team building activity, even trust falls (which we don't recommend)!
Whatever you choose, leave a quick comment below right now. We want to know what strategies you think will work best for your team!
Co-founder Jill Hinton Wolfe is a communicator, entrepreneur and Army veteran who is passionate about the outdoors and designing surprising and unique challenges for all sorts of clients, all over the world.