The short answer is they can be. But it depends on what team building events you employ.
You may have heard of the big team building experiences where the whole team treks out to the woods for a few days of camping, rafting, climbing, or whatever. If you have an experienced team that are friends, or at least very friendly with each other, along with the money and time, this might be a fun team building event.
There are also games and events your team can do together. They can be fun and enlightening. I would be cautious though about games that pit team members against each other. They can have the opposite of the desired result. And please, don’t do trust falls. They are silly and your workman’s comp carrier will thank you.
The problem is, even though these types of events might be helpful they can also be costly, time consuming, and are usually a one-and-done type activity. Team building needs to be an on-going process; something leaders think about regularly.
What’s the Reason?
So, when are team building events most effective? First, be clear about what these events are meant to accomplish. The purpose of a team building event is to build team synergy and provide ways for team members to learn about and become more comfortable interacting with each other.
A common strategy is an offsite event. An off-site can be a good team building opportunity as they remove the team from the stresses of the office, although with cell phones it’s much harder to disconnect from office responsibilities even for a short time. So, be creative. There are many chances for team building right there in the office. One word of caution. Whatever you decide to do, do it on company time. Team building events held outside normal work hours become “mandatory fun,” and may well have the opposite effect. Also, be careful about activities that seem contrived or make-work. They will not be received well.
Try These Ideas
Here are some ideas that I’ve found work well.
Team, or even company-wide events. I’ve been in several organizations that enjoyed having a picnic every summer. Designed to be family affairs, they were usually complete with a bouncy castle for the kids (please be sure to stake it down securely) and a dunking booth. One of the advantages to this activity is that it’s planned and implemented by the team itself. As the leader, you don’t have to do much but provide oversite to ensure nothing is planned that would have a bad effect on the team. One particular organization really liked the dunking booth and all leaders had the opportunity to sit in the booth and get wet. A little disconcerting at first, but you’ll get used to it. Although these events can have positive results, don’t expect them to be the only team building event you employ.
Review of company or team mission and goals. One of the critical aspects of creating a motivational environment for your team is making sure everyone knows the mission and goals and how each member contributes to them. It’s good to review this occasionally, and when that review is conducted in an informal atmosphere, it becomes a very effective team building event as members learn more about each other and how they contribute to team success.
Similarly, do you need to inform the team of some new procedures or some bit of new whiz bang tech? Make it a discussion, not a briefing.
How about the next after action review? You do after action reviews, right? The review needs to be an honest discussion about what went right and what went wrong. But, it doesn’t have to be an uncomfortable blame session. As the leader, start out by telling the team what you thought went well, then mention something you could have done better. That will help start an open discussion. Approaching the review in this way helps team members get a better feel for each other and how everyone thinks and approaches problems. It also offers the opportunity for team members to help each other with ideas which goes a long way toward building a more cohesive team.
Friday afternoon chats. This is simple. Just get the team together on Friday afternoon to just chat. No agenda, just relax together. Caution, you must be on the alert for topics such as politics and religion that will sour the mood.
Focus on team communication. One of the best team building events is learning how team members communicate, how that differs among the individual members, and how to use that knowledge to avoid conflict. The Daedalus Group uses a great tool called The My HardWired™ Leadership Styles Assessment. We have found this an extremely effective method to help teams understand how to work together more effectively.
Note that although these ideas work best in-person, they can be somewhat effective in a virtual environment. However, you will have much more success if you can bring the team together in-person at least once or twice a year.
Team building is an on-going process and there are many normal activities that can become valuable team building events. Be creative and don’t miss opportunities. No matter what you choose to do, team building events should be fun. That doesn’t mean all your events will be uproariously exciting, but they should be comfortable for the team members. Remember the reason for having them in the first place: to build team synergy and provide ways for team members to become more comfortable interacting with each other.
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