What Is Team Building (And Is It Really That Important)?
Have you ever worked in an office where everyone gets along? The days go by faster, work gets done more efficiently, there's laughter throughout the building, there's a culture of support and "when you win, I win," and goals are met and exceeded. Employees are happy, which is obvious to management, fellow employees, vendors, and customers.
Or perhaps, you've only seen the other side of the coin. Maybe you've worked in an organization where employees step on each other to get ahead, gossip is running rampant, staff is divided into factions that barely ever communicate, projects don't get completed on time, turnover is high, and employees are constantly calling in sick. The bottom line suffers.
Maybe you're working in one of those organizations right now. You may have hired the best talent you have found, but if they haven't yet gelled as a team, you're likely seeing that second scenario playing out. You're anxious, and you don't know how to get them to work together.
It's been suggested that employees benefit from a team building experience. However, since the company's profit has been down recently, you want to make sure that team building is the solution for your employees before you commit time, energy, and money to a program.
Before you determine if team building is right for your organization, you first need to understand what it is and why it is used.
What Is Team Building? [Definition]
Team building is a series of activities or a process that helps a group of people work together better. Team building is a broad term that can include daily activities within the context of work and after-work activities that give employees the opportunity to connect to one another outside of the office. It may even include multiple-day retreats designed to create a long-lasting, cohesive unit that will work together towards a common goal.
What Is the Objective of Team Building?
Now that you understand what team building is, how can it benefit your employees and your organization? A good team building experience can yield several positive outcomes:
Improve Communication Between Employees
Team members’ ability to communicate with one another is at the very foundation of a successful business. Poor communication leads to misunderstandings, resentment, confusion, and unhappy employees. Good communication, on the other hand, will enhance every aspect of the business. Team building can help teach the skills necessary to communicate effectively.
Uncover Interpersonal Issues
Spending 40+ hours a week with someone can lead to problems arising no matter how good your team is. Everyone comes to the table with different experiences, personalities, and biases, which can easily cause a rift.
In a successful workplace culture, those issues are brought up for discussion, dealt with, and solved before they become detrimental to the organization. However, if these issues are not dealt with, they will fester and create a negative environment with financial fallout.
Employees that don't work together well are in no rush to assist one another. They have no desire to go out of their way to help someone else, and if they truly don't get along, there may be an element of spite in their working relationship as well. When this happens, projects don't get done on time (if at all).
When employees work well together, they are more efficient, happier to help one another, and able to band together to get a job done quickly.
Motivate the Troops
Walking into a business every day where you don't like your coworkers, don't trust management, and absolutely hate your job... that's no way for your employees to live.
Team building exercises and programs can motivate your employees by reminding them that they are working towards something bigger than themselves, that they each have a unique (and important) role in the organization, and that they have what it takes to succeed.
When employees work together, they do better, and the organization as a whole does better. Team building exercises will help foster this new culture.
Support Creativity and Problem-Solving
When you work in a silo, it's difficult to find creative solutions to problems. You may be too close to the problem, or you may not have the creative environment to bounce ideas off one another. In an "every man for himself" environment, employees may be afraid to share ideas for fear that someone else will get the credit.
Team building creates a culture where brainstorming is encouraged, and group ideas are celebrated.
What Are Team Building Skills?
In order to improve your team and create a better working environment for your employees, you'll need to identify (and teach) the skills necessary to excel as a unified front. These include:
Communication - Do your employees know the importance of listening, non-verbal communication, clarity, respect, etc.?
Leadership - The more leadership skills a person possesses, the better they'll be at working with a group. Knowing how to make decisions, create goals, positively reinforce, and resolve conflict will improve teamwork.
Motivation - Employees aligned with your mission and motivated to make it happen bring a spirit of positivity, motivation, and inspiration to their coworkers as well.
Problem Solving - As you read earlier, problems can occur in any organization. These may be interpersonal, relating to the industry or market, or even the economic climate. No matter where the issues stem from, being able to approach problems creatively and collaboratively will allow you to move quickly through the storms.
Team Building Examples
Team building can take on many different forms. The important thing is that employees work together on something, and their individual success depends on the success of the team.
A few examples of team building events or activities include:
Catered Lunches in the Office
Make it clear that the goal is for employees to eat together, not escape to their offices to "catch up" on work.
"Happy Hours" After Work
These events don't have to include alcohol, but they do have to provide a space outside of the office (and office hours) where employees can get together for some stress-free conversation and fun.
Getting out into the community as a group and making a real difference for an underserved population can be a great way to bond as a team.
Collaborative (Non-Work Related) Contests
This can include Scavenger Hunts, Battle of the Bands, Game Shows, etc.
No matter what type of team building you decide to incorporate, make sure that everyone has the opportunity to participate, that you take diversity sensitivity into account, and that employees feel both physically and emotionally safe.
Why Is Team Building So Important?
Some businesses like to say that customers are the most important part of their business. While customers are essential to keep a business running, the most fundamental piece of your organization is your employees. Without happy employees, you won't be able to serve customers at all. However, when your employees are working together towards a common goal, you will meet all of your goals and give your customers the treatment that keeps them coming back.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Team Building
While team building activities can make a huge difference in your organization, it's important to know the pros and cons before you begin.
- Employees will be happier, have better self-esteem, and have more respect for one another.
- Problem-solving becomes easier when multiple employees and even departments get involved in the process.
- Goals will be met in less time and with less stress for the team and for management.
- Team building activities can take time away from the office. There are shorter activities that can be done in the office; however, they are less likely to create real change.
- There is a financial commitment that must be made. Depending on the type you choose and the size of your team, this can range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars.
- It may not stick. Your team may be excited to work together during the activity, but their excitement level drops when they are back to their everyday responsibilities. The most successful team building activities are the ones that change the individuals at a core level and then work on them as a team.
How Do You Encourage Team Building?
Your employees may want to work together, but if you don't create a culture of teamwork and encourage them to work as a cohesive group, they won't be able to. There are several ways that you can encourage team building in your organization, including:
- Communicate your mission and core values. If employees don't know what they are working towards and how they are supposed to behave, it is not surprising when they don't succeed.
- Clarify individual roles. Employees need to know exactly where their responsibilities begin and where they end. If they aren't clear about who does what, things fall through the cracks and affect your organization's performance.
- Reward individual and team goals. Whether you are leading a sales department or the entire company, make sure that you reinforce good teamwork in addition to one employee's job well done.
- Keep an open door. If employees feel comfortable coming to you with issues, you'll have the opportunity to squash any that do come up before they get blown out of proportion.
What Is the Purpose of Team Building Exercises?
Employees that are just out for themselves can wreak havoc on a business or organization. This attitude can infect everyone on the team, can lower productivity and profitability, and lower employee satisfaction. If you see any of these negative behaviors in your organization, it may be time to incorporate team building into your budget and your daily culture.
Team Building Ideas and Activities
Now that you've decided that team building is for you and that the pros outweigh the cons, what will you do within your organization?
- Treat them to lunch. This shows appreciation and gives them time to chat with one another. Afraid they'll grab their food and run? Take them out to lunch at a restaurant so they stay and commune.
- Have a volunteer day. Find a cause and an organization that means something to your employees and then bring them together for a day of service. Make sure that you provide some time for a debrief to discuss how they day went. You may even find them brainstorming about more ways to help.
- Scavenger Hunts. Split your employees into smaller teams and then send them off to gather items you've cleverly hid. Reward the winning team with lunch, gift cards, time off, or other incentives.
- Live Performances. Do you have any musical talent among your troops? Split them into teams or "bands" and let them compete for the title of "Best in Office."
- Retreats. Can you spare your employees for 3 days if you know that they will come back as better people, employees, and team members? A structured retreat can help employees uncover their strengths, identify their weaknesses, and work better together.
There are thousands of team building activities that can help your employees bond. Find one that's right for your organization, your budget, and your individual team members.
Team Building Icebreakers
Before you get started teaching skills or having employees work together on a project, allow them to get to know each other in a new way. There are several icebreakers you can use to lighten the mood and get everyone ready.
- The Name Game - Ask employees to share the story of their name (or nickname).
- Favorite Pet - Allow employees to share photos and stories of their favorite furry family members.
- Commercials - Pair up employees for a quick interview and then have them deliver a 30-second commercial for their partner.
- Follow the Leader - If you've got a crowd that needs to loosen up and have fun, start off doing some dance moves that they have to follow. Once the group is moving, pass the "leader" role off to someone else and switch off every 45 seconds or so.
- Two Truths, One Lie - Have employees write down (and then share) 3 real or made-up facts about themselves and allow other team members to guess which one is the lie.
Your employees are your most valuable asset. You've already spent the time and money hiring the right people and giving them the proper job-specific training to help them succeed. Why not invest in helping them work together as a unified front? Your investment will be well worth it when you have happy, productive, profitable employees that stick around for years and enjoy coming to work and reaching a common goal.