There are some old stereotypes that go along with the concept of team-building exercises. Think the old “trust fall” technique, when people blindly tip over backward like a newly cut tree, trusting that the colleagues behind them will catch and support them before they hit the ground.
Such actions may be deemed as clichéd, but there is value in the root of the idea. Team-building exercises can provide a boost to a business by clarifying goals and improving working relationships.
Here’s how Brian Scudamore describes team-building benefits in a story for Forbes: “It builds trust, mitigates conflict, encourages communication, and increases collaboration. Effective team building means more engaged employees, which is good for company culture and boosting the bottom line.”
Sure, some employees may groan at the notion of such an exercise. But the good things that can come from it can outweigh that negativity.
Here’s a look at some tips and techniques for business leaders looking to set up a team-building exercise.
Get input on the format
Presenting an already-planned and highly structured training exercise may be the way to go for some businesses. A different method may be more interesting to all involved: Include the staff in the planning. In a Forbes Coaches Council piece, Sheri Nasim recommends bringing employees in on the brainstorming process.
“People are ‘down’ on what they’re not ‘up’ on,” Nasim says. “Research a variety of programs that you feel the team would gain the most from. Narrow them down to three; then get the team to weigh in. When they can participate in the input, they’re more likely to get excited about the output.”
Internal vs. external guidance
A crucial part of team building is deciding who will actually lead the proceedings. If it’s the CEO or another leader in the company, it could feel like a regular meeting — nothing special. Employees may be less willing to speak up and share their opinions in that scenario.
Susan M. Heathfield explores this in a story for The Balance, noting that internal managers and human resources representatives may be able to direct the exercise. Or it may require bringing in an expert from outside of the business. Heathfield writes that external facilitators often work with employees to customize the structure of the exercise, and these tailor-made presentations can be more effective.
“These sessions can include ice breakers, discussion topics, games, cooperative assignments, and group brainstorming,” she says. “The role of the external facilitator in these events is to help you reach your goals. Make sure the event is integrated into your everyday work so the results continue following the event. If you want to have an effective team that produces the outcomes needed by your organization, you have to pay attention to both process and team building.”
Business values and efficiency
Staff morale is a primary reason to arrange a team-building event. But these exercises can also provide opportunities to re-emphasize the overall values and objectives of the business. As Brad Smith writes in a story for CEO.com, this kind of experience can help to develop “a service community within the organizational culture, one dedicated to optimal performance.” And that can lead to overall improvements in efficiency, he says.
“Coaching and otherwise facilitating teams to this level of achievement adds value to your organization, particularly as it relates to engagement with corporate strategies and goals,” he says. “The team’s goals and the company’s goals are aligned, enhancing the communication between different levels of the firm. Teams are more inclined to achieve stated objectives. Employees’ perception of personal and team value improves, boosting their confidence in their ability to complete their responsibilities within the team.”
Get out of the office
Setting up a team-building exercise in the business’ conference room may not feel out of the ordinary for employees. It could be considered a staff meeting with a twist, but hardly a morale-boosting experience. That may lead to a lack of interest, which defeats the team-building purpose. In Scudamore’s Forbes piece, he explains that team building can include fun outings without a detailed structure.
“Activities that overtly aim to draw in leadership lessons or practical takeaways are less powerful,” he says. “Spending time together, sharing an experience or working towards a common goal allows bonding to happen more organically and far more effectively.”
An example: Scudamore took his staff to a country music concert.
“There was no explicit lesson about leadership or communication as we spent the night drinking beer and practicing our two-step,” he says. “But the experience brought everyone closer together, and in the end we learned that there’s no better way to understand someone than to walk a mile in his cowboy boots.”
A more reserved CEO could have a hard time suddenly showing a jolt of energy in announcing a team-building exercise. An artificial attitude won’t serve anyone well in this scenario. Genuine enthusiasm, on the other hand, can be a benefit. In the Forbes Coaches Council piece, executive coach Jody Michael explores this idea.
“Be excited about it!” she writes. “When leaders are genuinely passionate about — and excited for — a team-building activity, the mood is contagious. Leaders can also help build excitement by sharing their own team-building experiences, including the great impact they have had on their own development.”
This is an area that frequently needs improvement in business — daily communication with peers, clients and supervisors. A team-building exercise is a good time to highlight the importance of good communication, and allow the staff members to examine their own personal communication skills. Jacqueline Whitmore includes this as a way to “build a more cohesive team” in a story for Entrepreneur.
“There are many professional activities that allow employees to get to know each other personally,” she explains. “Teach your team about themselves and each other through tools that improve interpersonal communication. Ask an expert in workplace personalities to facilitate a talk about how to communicate more effectively. The DISC personality profile assessment, for example, can reveal why you communicate the way you do and how you can communicate with others more effectively.”
Don’t let the good vibes go away
Hopefully, a team-building exercise will leave the leadership and staff with a brighter outlook on their roles and the business itself. Short-lived positivity doesn’t do much good in the long run. As Scudamore writes, “Keep that positive energy going at the office.”
“Most team-building falls flat because it’s a one-time activity — done and then forgotten,” he says. “It’s key to find ways to keep the excitement going. The challenge is creating opportunities for people to connect and interact in meaningful ways, outside of regular meetings or presentations.”