Have you ever been on a “teambuilding day”? Was it fun or couldn’t you work out what it was all about? If it was fun, did it do much for the firm? Is team building possible examined some of the issues with teambuilding events, and this article is about how to make your teambuilding event actually work.Teambuilding at a halloween party

What are you trying to achieve with your teambuilding?

Assuming you want to do more than “just have a jollie”, then what are your objectives? It might be possible to achieve them, even if the outward appearance of the event does appear to be a bit of fun; if you plan it. Do you want the team to

  • operate more efficiently
  • create positive improvements in processes
  • improve client service
  • enjoy working together and feel more motivated (whether you prefer Maslow, Vroom, or other motivation theories)
  • reduce staff turnover. People that are happier working, stay for longer; that’s a direct saving to the bottom line.
  • really understand and “buy into” what you’re trying to do with your firm
  • improve communication in the team: That sounds good, and spending time with colleagues (in a different setting) can change the way people communicate. But why do you want them communicating more?
  • Improve morale: Sounds obvious, but what is the morale problem? Is it all over, caused by one person, due to something you’ve recently done, or something else? Maybe you need to address the cause before your teambuilding session.
  • Learn more about each other. One big benefit is often learning more about each other’s roles and different ways people do the same role. Just going and playing pool together, won’t help that.

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Why do your team not all pull together?

If there is a trust problem, work out what’s behind the issue. What can you start doing, before even talking about “a teambuilding event”? Typical issues might be:Team building: Does it need extreme outdoor events?

  • Understanding each others roles
  • Understanding the skills each other can bring to the team
  • Knowing how the roles fit together
  • Knowing why the roles exist and how they contribute to the team
  • What is the team objective, are they on track, and what might happen in the future to enhance (or interfere with) that progress
  • What issues exist, for your team?

Many of these issues can be worked on before a team event is mentioned.  Productive team meetings may help (e.g. at each meeting giving one person 5 minutes to talk about a specified aspect of their role. Addressing the team objective is important and should be started before any “event”. Completing some of these actions before an event and before it’s even mentioned improves the team, reduce “team building cynicism” and make any event more productive.

Five lessons for better team building events.

Part of the inspiration for this post was listening to an employee talking, with total boredom, about the firm’s partners idea to “drive things forwards” and “generate strong team dynamics”. Even worse, she knew two colleagues were going to avoid going, as they were afraid of / hated the idea of the activity. The plan was to have a team meeting and then all go paint-balling, hoping this would be a good thing – it plainly won’t be! It was also being seen as a few hours skive, and nobody else could see the value.

When planning, ensure:

  1. the activity you plan has general acceptance in the team.
  2. all members see value in the activity, and how it will help in their normal roles. One firm sent a team out for a treasure hunt; the people didn’t want to spent time together, didn’t like each other, argued about what they were doing and afterwards were even more dysfunctional than before.
  3. the concept of working more closely together is one that people aspire to and value. Deal with pre-existing conditions first.
  4. you have a plan to deal with any tensions should they arise.
  5. you ask the team first. Activities generated by the team are more powerful than ones imposed. One firm had an entire team talking with enthusiasm about the idea of raising money for charity together; they were generating this activity themselves, with no push from the partners. Even the planning was creating excitement, improved communication and better awareness of each other. This cost the firm nothing.

What team activity works best?

In one sense the activity really doesn’t matter, it’s done to the team, your objectives and you. I’ve seen teams gel more strongly by doing something as simple as a charity fund raising “bake a cake” for work day, than going abseiling. One group got involved with painting school toilets, and really enjoyed it. Activities can generate a sense of camaraderie and there are benefits to be extracted from that.

If you’re interested in the ideas around some team activity that will also help raise money for charity, you could also get your firm good PR into the bargain.

Your team building event

Team building by forcing them to work harder? Does that work?Having fun and doing something out of the normal environment can be good; but just having a fun event normally gets misunderstood by delegates. They often see it as incongruent with your desire for productivity and cost saving; so incorporate some work into the event.

Start the event with the work context, and then build in something with a direct work benefit. Activities to understand people’s communications styles, look at potential issues the firm faces, or understanding individuals needs may work well here. It should benefit work and have no wrong answers, just better understanding.

Moving into a “game” will now be more effective, especially if it’s possible to link it to the previous exercise (e.g. the team can look for examples of the communication styles discovered) or you link your “game” to the firm’s challenges.

A debrief afterwards is essential if there is to be a work related benefit (e.g. what did the team learn / how it be used in the work place). Keeping these lessons alive (including language from the event and maybe photos etc), stops the event just being “a jolly” and gives you longer lasting benefits from it. How will you build the event and language from it into firm’s psyche afterwards?

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Remember what your event is for.

The primary reason for most events is something like getting people in the team to

  • trust each other more
  • help each other more

Keeping the objective in mind and dealing with pre-existing problems before hand will go a long way to making your event a success.

Written by Jon Baker The 5-50 Coach. I help professionals grow their firms from 5 to 50 employees, sustainably, profitably and still have fun. Have you got your "next step kitbag yet"? It's stuffed with guides, reports & templates helping you grow from 5 to 50 employees Click here for immediate access