A Guide to Team Building: Answers to Hard-Hitting Questions
If it takes a village to raise a child, what more with building an entire team? Ask any coach, or manager, or Nick Fury, and you’ll know what we mean. You see, it’s not just about finding and gathering the best people. Building a team is about making these people work together to achieve a common goal. And with people’s different personalities and backgrounds, raising a child seems a lot easier.
That’s why team building was invented. The problem is, it has been misunderstood and misused over time. How many team building trips ended up as personal getaways? Or how many truth-inducing activities that were supposed to build trust turned into kiss-and-tell fiascos that fired up gossip?
Love it or hate it, team building is important. Without it, you don’t have a team. You only have a bunch of people with jobs to do. Team building can actually yield great benefits. It’s just a matter of the right understanding, right preparation, and right approach.
Let’s get real about team building –what it is, what it is not, and answer the questions that are really in our minds, and those that truly matter.
What is team building –really?
For Esther Cohen, team building is “the process by which organizations enable individuals to come together and form a cohesive team.” Cohen points out that a team is a group of people coming together for a common goal. Hence, we can say that team building is an activity that aims to unite a group of people to achieve mutual objectives.
By definition, team building is not that complicated, but here’s where most people get it wrong. Team building can be any activity, as long as it enables a group to work effectively as one. As much as company outings and office parties can be team building activities, so are improving company policies and the deployment of a project management system.
Cohen organizes team building into two categories:
1. Active team building are activities specifically meant to move people to work or bond together and solve certain issues. Examples are icebreakers, games, and other group activities.
2. Passive team building are company practices and actions that also impact the team’s performance and relationships. For instance, culture development, while geared to establish and reinforce corporate identity, can affect how the team functions and relates with one another.
Active team building is a direct approach, while passive team building is indirect. Of course, they are equal in importance and both are necessary to enable teams to work together for a common purpose.
It’s just that many tend to tip towards one approach. Active team building is the only team building known and considered by most people. But, as Susan Heathfield puts it, team building can include the daily interaction that employees engage in when working together to carry out the requirements of their jobs.
On the other hand, one should not dismiss active team building as superficial and unnecessary, especially team leaders. Deep understanding about your team members and discovery of work and relationship issues often result from beyond the daily grind. It is best to have an active and passive approach when it comes to team building, so as to make team building efforts more meaningful, beneficial, and worthwhile.
• Team building is not just games, outings, and parties (active team building). It is any activity that enables people to work together for a common goal.
• Daily office interactions, project management system, and implementation of company policies and culture (passive team building) are also part of team building practices.
• Active and passive approach are equally important for an effective team building.
If team building is such a great idea, why do many employees hate it?
Scavenger hunt under the blazing afternoon sun, embarrassing dance-off challenges, awkward ice breakers… We all have horrible, cringe-worthy team building experiences that either become amusing stories that we mock, or repressed memories we would rather forget.
Team building activities, particularly active ones, can backfire despite their good intentions. Worst case is that it can turn a group of people from not being able to work well together to people actively hating each other.
Here are some reasons team building goes wrong and has acquired a bad reputation over time.
1. Lack of understanding about what team building really is.
Remember, team building can be any activity as long as it leads and encourages smoother and better team performance and relationships. That’s why casual lunch outs and random movies that build rapport among members should be encouraged as part of team building efforts.
It’s hard to appreciate something we don’t understand. That’s why team building facilitators, managers, and employees need to look at team building based on its key purpose, and be able to recognize, practice, and support activities that really mean team building.
2. Lack of careful consideration and planning.
Seriously, who would want to go scavenger hunting under the summer heat?
Most people would search for team building activities that are fun, exciting, and have extra benefits. And that’s completely fine. But in planning an active team building, it’s not just a matter of “what.” Deciding when and where the activity should take place, knowing who the participants are, how to do it, and why do it in the first place are also crucial matters to think about.
For instance, if your team members are mostly parents, maybe a cooking or baking class is a better idea than a karaoke night out that stretches beyond nine, even though karaoke night out sounds more fun.
3. Employees don’t have a clue what the activities are for.
You can make them open up, fall backwards, or climb a rope, but if employees don’t understand what it’s all for, the more likely they will consider team building as a complete waste of time.
It’s better to get employees engaged even before carrying out a team building program. Tell them what’s going on and the issues you’re trying to solve. Ask for their suggestions and how they feel about every activity. When you involve employees from the beginning, it’s more likely they will stick around ‘til the end. Make your team building planning a form of team building in itself.
4. Same old activities over and over again.
Even good team building practices get old and boring, so don’t hesitate to try out new activities or insert a fresh twist to a team favorite.
Team building exercises don’t have to be complicated or costly. There are so many simple DIY team building ideas you can try that require little to no props, or indoor activities that range from fun and easy to stimulating and challenging. Nobody needs to be stuck with cheesy trust falls and mind-numbing ice breakers over and over again.
5. Making team building a mandatory activity.
In the 2013 film The Double, there’s a scene where the protagonist is trying to attend an office party that is mandatory after all, yet his colleague is accusing him of trying to break in. “Why would I break into something that’s mandatory?” he asks. “You know what ‘mandatory’ means? It means nobody wants to be here.”
That pretty much is the sentiment of many employees required to participate in team building functions. Perhaps there’s a use for some mandatory team building practices. But if it’s really something enjoyable and meaningful, then there’s no need to force it to people.
• Even with the best of intentions, team building activities can backfire.
• Planning a team building activity should also be a team effort. It’s important that the people involved know what it is and what it is for. It’s not just a matter of deciding what to do. The time, venue, participants, process, and purpose should be carefully thought out and planned.
• Before imposing any activity to be mandatory, leaders and facilitators should work on making team building exercises engaging and worth it.
Is team building still relevant? Or is it becoming obsolete?
It’s a rare occasion that a group of people just naturally get along. It’s even harder to sustain a harmonious work relationship. In fact, 68% admitted to have been part of a dysfunctional team and only 24% prefer to work in teams based on a study by the University of Phoenix. Until people are re-engineered to agree and work well with everyone, team building will continue to be necessary and its importance will continue to matter.
Importance of Team Building
1. Not all workers get to see and interact with each other. This can be because of differences in schedules, department, or specialization. Team building can create a sense of unity among different work groups within a company. A Stanford study finds that teams with a sense of togetherness can work with each other 48% longer and solve more problems correctly.
2. People are not machines. They will always be social beings. Confining them within the corners of an office cubicle or room will not necessarily yield to greater productivity. The Hawthorne experiment is one of the earliest studies that show how social factors affect job performance and team productivity.
3. It’s difficult to work in a toxic environment. Therefore, maintaining a positive energy in the workplace is key. Using the right team building approach can help in creating and sustaining a pleasant work experience.
4. Collaboration and communication make successful teams. Solomon Masala, a trainer and consultant who has worked with different organizations, refers to research showing 86% of employees and executives cite lack of collaboration and ineffective communication as cause for workplace failures. It’s smart to implement team building practices that improve on those skills.
Even with ineffective teams and employees expressing disappointment over organizational systems, many still doubt the necessity of team building. According to Cohen, this is because the impact of team building is not really easy to validate. Its scope is broad and since it is a continuing process, it seldom creates an immediate result.
Nevertheless, Cohen still believes team building is a valuable investment. Even Brian Scudamore agrees. He says, “Despite its reputation for being, well, lame, team building is the most important investment you can make for your people. 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.” Let’s look at the benefits of team building in more detail.
The Benefits of Team Building
1. It increases employee productivity. Team building is designed to create effective teams, and effective teams that are able to work well as a single unit yield better output. Here are some ways team building develops a winning team that increases work productivity:
By improving communication
By encouraging creativity
By improving collaboration
By fostering trust
By raising morale
By creating rapport
By using positive reinforcement
By encouraging teamwork
2. It encourages employee retention. A study finds that businesses with effective communication are 50% more likely to have fewer employees leaving the company. Furthermore, Heathfield also cited relationships with coworkers as one of the top reasons why employees quit their jobs.
3. It helps create a healthy company culture. Team building can be considered as a solution to mitigate negative and toxic work behaviors. A positive office culture also reinforces the identity and reputation of the company.
4. It also benefits every member. With a great team, the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts. Still, team building doesn’t just bring out the best in teams. When planned and executed properly, it also brings out the best in people. For instance, team building develops a person’s interpersonal relationships and makes one feel more valued.
How to create a team building that doesn’t suck?
Sam Mallikarjunan shares how to come up with a team building program that people don’t (or don’t?) hate. He points out that “planning an effective team building activities are not so much about the specific activity.” As mentioned earlier, before deciding on the kind of activities to implement, one should think about the place and time available, and most importantly the people who are going to participate.
1. Start small. Don’t just jump into complex team building activities that either require too many movements, space, time, or people. Go for simple and familiar activities, so members can easily participate with more confidence.
However, make sure to stay away from ice breakers that people have been doing since third grade. Note that a study from Nulab, a collaboration software provider, shows that ice breakers are the least liked team building activity. Therefore, it’s important to get creative and be resourceful. Choose or create alternative getting-to-know activities that are easy to do, but not tacky and boring.
2. Step it up. When or once members are already familiar with one another and are more comfortable around each other, then it’s high time to push for activities that test creativity or develop the understanding of corporate culture. Just make sure to still align the activities to organizational concerns and needs your company is trying to address.
3. Get outside or go overboard. When team dynamics gets more relaxed and easier, go for outdoor activities or never-before team building exercises. This is a bit tricky, though. For example, while obstacle course racing sounds exciting, non-sporty individuals may feel left out.
4. Make it meaningful. If the team is better off with activities that are not too elaborate or intense because of their personalities and preferences, then volunteer work could be a levelled-up means of team building. Being able to give back to the community outside work can be a heartwarming and remarkable experience.
What are some team building activities to try?
There are four major types of team building activities. Each develops or enhances a particular team skill.
As communication is important for any team, these activities help team members communicate with each other better.
Exercises under this category help team members contribute to solve problems together and make decisions as a team.
These activities aim to improve flexibility, timing, and direction when it comes to handling changes and challenging tasks.
Under this category are activities intended to build a level of trust among team members.
With these categories, it’s easier to pick the team building exercises that suit the needs of every team. Here are some examples of team building activities under each category that Tim Deluca-Smith suggests.
Two Truths and a Lie
Time required: 15-30 minutes
Have each member secretly write two truths about themselves and one lie in a piece of paper.
Let the members have a 10- to 15-minute open conversation just like in a cocktail party. The idea is to convince others that your lie is actually a truth, while also trying to figure out others’ truths and lies.
Gather the members in a circle and one by one have them read the truths and lie each have written.
The group will then vote on which one they think is a lie. You can turn this into a game and divide the participants in two. Award the team points for every correct guess. The opposing team can get a point for every incorrect guess.
This encourages members to take interest in the personalities and quirks of their coworkers. Besides helping them communicate, it also allows them to listen carefully even beyond words.
Time required: 10-15 minutes
Discuss the concept of classifying or “pigeon-holing” someone.
Allow the members to introduce themselves and discuss their likes, dislikes, hobbies, etc.
Reveal to the team that it will be their job to classify or group each member. Make it clear that the classification should not be negative, prejudicial, or discriminatory. Classifications should be like “night owl,” or “morning person.”
This activity encourages coworkers to get to know each other better and enables them to collectively consider the nature of all individuals within the team.
Picture Pieces Game
Time required: 30 minutes
The leader or facilitator chooses a well-known picture or cartoon that is full of detail.
The picture is then cut into as many equal squares as there are participants in the activity.
Each participant will be given a puzzle piece. The leader will provide each one a pencil or a marker and a larger piece of paper (five times bigger than the actual puzzle piece). The members need to enlarge and draw the part of the puzzle they received.
When all have completed their enlargements, they need to assemble their pieces into a giant copy of the original picture on a table.
This problem solving activity will teach participants how to work in a team, and it demonstrates divisionalized ‘departmental’ working, which is the understanding that each person working on their own part contributes to an overall group result.
Sneak a Peek Game
Time required: 10 minutes
The instructor will build a small sculpture with some building blocks and hide it from the group.The participants should then be divided into small teams of four.
Each team should be given enough building material so that they can duplicate the structure created. The instructor should then place the sculpture in an area that is an equal distance from all the groups.
One member from each team can come up at the same time to look at the sculpture for ten seconds and try to memorize it before returning to their team.
After they return to their teams, they have twenty-five seconds to instruct their members about how to build an exact replica of the sculpture.
After one minute of trying to recreate the sculpture, another member from each team can come up for a “sneak a peek” before returning to their team and trying to recreate the sculpture.
The game should be continued in this pattern until one of the team’s successfully duplicates the original sculpture.
This game will teach participants how to problem solve in a group and communicate effectively.
Tag Team Game
Time required: 20-30 minutes
In this exercise, participants are broken up into groups of 4-8 people and instructed to share their individual strengths with their group, and the positive attributes they feel would lend to the success of their group. They are to write these strengths and attributes down on a piece of paper.
After their group discussion, each team will be given one large sheet of paper, writing paper, markers, and a pen. The groups should then be instructed to make the "ultimate team member" by combining each team member’s strengths and positive attributes into one imaginary person. This “person” should also receive a name, have a picture drawn of them, and have their different attributes labelled. The group should also write a story about this person.
At the end of the exercise, each group should share their person with the group and read the accompanying story.
This exercise will help coworkers work around each other’s strengths, and realize that they are capable of having more strengths and positive attributes as a team than they would individually.
The Paper Tower
Time required: 5 minutes
The participants can be divided into groups. Each group is given a single sheet of paper.
The groups need to construct the tallest free-standing structure in just five minutes using no other materials.
After the five minutes and a review of the structures, discuss who planned out their structure, which group ran out of time, and what could be done differently next time.
This planning exercise is very simplistic in its approach, but it teaches participants the importance of planning, timing, and thinking on their feet.
Time required: 20-30 minutes
This trust exercise requires some setting up before it can be executed. It also requires a large, open area such as a room without furniture, or an empty parking lot.
The leader must distribute "mines," which they place haphazardly around the area. These “mines” can be balls, bowling pins, cones, etc.
Members will be paired into teams of two. One team member will be blindfolded and cannot talk and the other can see and talk, but cannot enter the field or touch their blindfolded teammate.
Each blind-folded person needs to walk from one side of the field to the other, avoiding the mines by listening to the verbal instructions of their partners.
Penalties can be put in place for each time a blindfolded person hits a mine.
The real idea behind the game is to get the team members to trust their partner’s directions and to teach them to communicate in a more effective way.
Slice ‘n Dice
Time required: 15 minutes
This trust building exercise should take place outside and preferably, should be done with a large group of 20 or more.
Participants should be instructed to form two equal lines facing each other (creating a corridor) and to put their arms straight out in front of them. Their arms should intersect, overlapping by about a hand with the arms of the people opposite of them.
The person at the end of the corridor will walk down the corridor of arms. In order to let the person pass, the other participants will have to raise and lower their arms.
That person will then join the corridor again and then the next person in line will walk through. This process will continue until everyone has had a turn.
Now that the group is more confident, participants should be instructed to walk quickly, run, or sprint down the corridor, trusting that the other participants will let them pass without making them pause.
For the last turn, the participants making the corridor should be instructed to chop their arms up and down as people run through.
This exercise allows participants to build trust in their teammates while also having fun.
Target all four categories in one fun team activity!
If your team is physically active or needs to get moving as they’re stuck at their desks for quite some time, or if your team is up for a more challenging team building, then obstacle course racing is one of the activities you have to check out.
With obstacle course racing, you can get the benefits of all four team building categories.
It enhances team communication as coworkers need to share their strengths, cheer on or instruct other members in order to complete the course as a team.
It develops problem-solving and decision making as it allows members to find the best way to go through certain obstacles.
It’s not just about physical strength. It requires flexibility and the right strategy. Therefore, reinforcing adaptability and planning.
It promotes trust by letting participants move knowing they got each other’s back.
“It takes a team to finish a race.” That’s what we believe at Pretty Huge Obstacles. Our indoor obstacle training facility is the largest in Southeast Asia. The venue is perfect to accommodate large teams without worrying about the rain, sun, or dirt. We have a team of professional trainers to make sure your experience is safe as you enjoy the facilities.
Office work can be like an obstacle course, too, but if you think your team can handle the real deal, visit our facility at SM Aura Premier, Taguig or go through our website to know more about our obstacle course area and fitness classes.
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