No doubt you’ve been a part of a bad team building event.
Often it’s forced, awkward, disorganized and feels pointless. But it doesn’t have to be that way — science to the rescue!
Using research as a guide, it is possible to design your team building event so that it’s not only effective —it builds trust and gets people engaged — but is actually FUN. Here are five ways you can use research to make your team building more effective.
1) At work, friendship is a good thing.
We‘ve all heard,”You’re only as strong as your weakest link.” So although team members from small teams — i.e. senior management or accounts payable (often a department within a department) — seem to like and know each other, there are others who are likely being left out. What about the new hire? Or the employee who’s been there forever but is keeping his or her head down until retirement?
Nothing gets accomplished without open communication, which is why socializing at work is so important. Recent research shows that setting aside time to get to know your fellow employees bodes well not only for your company’s well-being — but yours as well.
When employees feel like they are friendly with their co-workers, it helps them move their ideas forward faster and with less mistakes. Give employees a chance to become friends, and to know what it looks like to work together in an team building environment, so then they can go back to the office and recreate those same results.
2) Recognize leadership when you see it (even if it's the intern taking the first step off the high ropes course)
Leadership comes in all shapes and sizes: transformational, relational, strategic, even autocratic. Many organizations are looking to groom the next generation of leadership in their organization, and it’s often during team building events that we get the first glimpse of leadership in an employee we otherwise would never have guessed possible.
In the Harvard Business Review’s Research: To Be a Good Leader, Start By Being a Good Follower, authors Kim Peters and Alex Haslam argue that employees first need to understand how to be a team player before they are able to move into leadership:
“In other words, leadership is a process that emerges from a relationship between leaders and followers who are bound together by their understanding that they are members of the same social group. People will be more effective leaders when their behaviors indicate that they are one of us, because they share our values, concerns and experiences, and are doing it for us, by looking to advance the interests of the group rather than own personal interests.”
So find that employee that seems to understand how the group dynamics work. There’s nothing more satisfying than watching an employee who started off as timid and unsure of themselves grow into a confident leader. Everyone needs to start somewhere, so why not during an offsite cooking class or charity project?
3) Organization & consistency is key
“One and done” team building is not enough. If you have no idea what you’re trying to get out of your team building, how can you expect your team members to know? Think about what issues your team is struggling with right now: feeling overwhelmed, a lack of trust, poor communication can all seriously affect team performance. Then plan your team building events to support those goals, asking for help from HR or a consultant if you need to (hey, we’re all busy).
Research shows the team building is an ongoing process. We know that consistency is key to everything from marketing messaging to losing weight. Make sure you have your team building planned out for at least the next six months, everything from small coffee dates with just one or two people, to large holiday parties. Each interaction is an opportunity to reinforce organizational values and show appreciation for your most important asset: your team.
4) Ask people to get out of their comfort zones.
This is why people hate team building: managers asking people to do something they hate and that they’re not ready to do.
Taking risks is a good thing, but you have to set people up for success. Give them room to make mistakes without criticism or humiliation, let them know that the team building event is a safe space and no one will force them to do something that makes them uncomfortable. However, you do expect them to try, and to engage and be a part of the team. Taking risks, even small ones, makes us more courageous, allows us to identify opportunities we hadn’t seen before and enhances creativity.
5) Follow up team building with a conversation.
After the event is over — and we mean RIGHT after it’s over — have a conversation about what went well, and what didn’t. It doesn’t have to be a long, drawn-out facilitation where you give everyone the third degree, but you do need to collect some data on whether what you did was effective or not.
Ask how people felt about the event itself, then separate out the interactions that happened during the event. Did people seem to have fun, with smiling and re-telling of tales? Or did lots of people mysteriously “disappear,” only to be found hiding at the bar? Research shows that in order to create a culture of a “feedback culture,” you need to take small steps and implement it thoughtfully.
Need help with your team building? Our scavenger hunts are built on data and research that helps make your team stronger, more creative and more resilient.
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.