Most team building happens naturally as we navigate challenges and overcome obstacles with our colleagues in the workplace. However, the strongest company cultures also do a bit extra to keep teams unified and focused on the bigger picture.
This is where team-building exercises and activities can come into play and make a big difference in key areas like communication, cohesion, and a culture of positivity and success.
When companies take initiative to bring people together and strengthen these connections, everyone benefits.
When companies take initiative to bring people together and strengthen these connections, everyone benefits. Here’s what business leaders are doing nowadays in terms of team-building programs that actually work.
The Value of Team Building
In a successful company, nothing is done haphazardly or without purpose. Knowing the value of team building is a good place to begin.
“If the organization doesn’t invest resources in the development of the team, it will be more difficult to convince the team that their task really is relevant,” said Pat Macmillan, Managing Partner atTriaxia Partners. “If a person does not trust another, they will not be vulnerable and transparent and the possibility of misunderstanding and misinterpretation increases.”
There must also be a “why” behind any business initiative, and team building is no different. Every activity should be done with a goal, and a practical outcome.
“You never want to organize activities just to kill time or distract your staff from the most important tasks on the agenda,” said Maegan Griffin, Founder, CEO and Nurse Practitioner atSkin Pharm. “Each initiative needs a clear purpose and an intended result, so map out those objectives beforehand and avoid spinning your wheels. Maybe you want to build trust between two disconnected departments, or teach a new technology to your employees. The best team building activities accomplish something specific in the process while making it fun.”
Measuring the KPIs of a team-building program isn’t always intuitive, so there must be a way to track progress, as well.
“It’s no coincidence that the strongest company cultures are also the most productive and resilient to setbacks,” said Benjamin Meskin, President ofCabrella. “Any investment in company culture is worthwhile, in this sense. You’re putting resources towards something intangible, so it’s hard to measure in real terms, but the ROI is undeniable when you follow through with team-building practices. Expect to see less turnover, a more engaged workforce, fewer interpersonal disputes, and a company culture of transparency and trust. Those things can’t be bought with a piece of software or a holiday cash bonus, that much is clear.”
The most natural way to build team chemistry is through solving problems. That’s why brainstorming sessions are so universally popular.
“You’re likely already doing some form of team building in your daily routine at your company – we just call it brainstorming or ‘hack days’ in the tech space” said Michel Mosse, Co-Founder and Head of Revenue atHoist. “These are dedicated sessions that facilitate outside-the-box thinking and get people to speak their mind in a group setting. It’s a powerful practice because team members break out of their shell and are able to express the full range of their personalities that may usually be boxed up. You end up with a more animated and energized group of people, which is always good for culture and communication.”
Not all teams are self-motivated, so it helps to give them prompts or objectives to reach for when collaborating and generating ideas.
“The most effective team-building exercises are those that encourage creativity and promote a sense of collaboration among employees,” said Brett Sohns, Founder ofLifeGoal Investments. “When people bounce ideas off one another and test out different perspectives on problems, they often reach conclusions that couldn’t be formed by just one person at a desk. To structure your team-building game plan, think about how you can find business solutions in the process. You end up strengthening team bonds and discovering valuable ideas along the way.”
Smart CEOs don’t limit team building to small groups of people. The more connections across the organization, the better.
“Any company or firm can benefit from cross-department team building and sharing perspectives on big-picture objectives,” said John Berry, CEO and Managing Partner atBerry Law. “For instance, our lawyers may have incredibly valuable advice for our marketing and business development people, or vice versa. Our tech team might have something to share with the execs and partners that we totally overlooked before. By team building and brainstorming, you open up the floor for breakthroughs and discoveries that would have otherwise been kept in the dark.”
The Great Outdoors
Getting outside is one of the best ways to foster a positive group dynamic with coworkers. Simply stepping beyond the confines of the office builds trust and rapport between people.
“You don’t even need to go far to get the benefits of an outdoor experience for your team,” said Heather Pulier, CEO ofOutset Financial. “Simply spending the afternoon at a park or a nature preserve is a powerful way to hit the reset button and help people chill out from the high-pressure work environment. Everyone is able to unwind a bit and let their guard down. You can facilitate some activities in the meantime, but most of the benefits come from just being there.”
It doesn’t hurt to get the blood flowing, either! Physical exertion (not too much) combined with sun and a cool breeze is the perfect recipe for positive team-building experiences.
“We find that outdoor activities are the most effective for team building, since people are naturally more relaxed and laid back in this setting,” said Tim Harris, CEO and Head of Coaching atHarris Real Estate University. “Bring a picnic lunch to a nice outdoor space in the city, or do a low-key hike on a walking trail. The level of physical activity should be moderate and doable for everyone. If you want to offer something more challenging like a sports league or a 5K run, those are also fantastic options. Nothing should be mandatory, but the opportunity should be there for those who want it.”
Some team-building sessions are meant to be pure fun, while others are more cerebral in their structure and goals.
“Indoor activities, because of where they’re conducted, typically have a very different character than outdoor activities,” said Esther Cohen, Marketing Manager atWorkamajig. “You’ll usually conduct these activities during regular office hours or at most, a weekend. If you’re at a team retreat, your activities will largely be outdoors, not within the confines of some conference room. Because of this, indoor activities tend to be more serious. The aim is the same - to improve communication, trust and collaboration skills - but they have a decidedly formal tilt.”
With the office experience being a bit different these days, companies need to facilitate activities that are engaging, while not necessarily face to face.
“Now that so much of our business is conducted online, we need team-building activities that translate into the digital space,” said Adam Shlomi, Founder ofSoFlo Tutors. “This can be anything from trivia or virtual board games to poker or fantasy sports. The activity itself should encourage communication between people who may not be part of our typical inner circles or daily chat groups. It may not be as effective as real in-person connection, but we do see the benefits for the community aspect of the company and everyone getting along.”
Consistency and Momentum
A lack of consistency never leads anywhere, whether it’s sales, marketing, or team building. A company must take these programs seriously and stay the course to see the benefits.
“It’s natural for employees to be hesitant about team building activities at first, since they may be perceived as corny or outdated by some people,” said Jesse Richardson, CEO ofThe Brothers Apothecary. “You need to work through that initial awkwardness and get everyone comfortable with these activities to see the benefits. The compounding effects of consistency are very powerful in every aspect of business, including these team-building exercises that may seem unusual. When people start opening up and enjoying the dynamic, that’s when you see results in terms of culture and productivity.”
Too much team building can feel forced and counterproductive, while skipping sessions will lead to a loss of momentum. It’s better to do one activity a week over the course of a year, rather than several sessions a week for a month.
“Just doing one or two team-building activities is not going to move the dial in a positive way for your staff,” said Tirzah Shirai, CEO ofBlink Bar. “In fact, it may just make people annoyed and distracted. The key here is to stick with a program for several weeks or months and really focus on getting people engaged. That consistency will get people in the flow of doing activities as a group and allow them to set aside any hesitation. Before long, it’s just a part of the company culture and it will feel weird not to do those activities. This is how you build something unique and special within your business that team members want to maintain over time.”
Team building can be fun, productive, and have massive upsides for company culture. Implement a basic program today and build from there – the results are worth the effort.