Thinking about planning a team-building event for your team? Stop right there!
Before you go any further, ask yourself if it’s really needed, and if so, why. Too often, team-building events are scheduled without real thought into how they’ll help produce better results or – when used to address problems – are used as a substitute for more meaningful intervention. And moreover, lots of employees find team-building events pretty miserable. (Wondering why? Read these stories of horrifying real-life team-building events submitted by readers.)
But wait, you say! How will I build team cohesion and morale without our annual retreat in the woods where we sleep on the ground and do blindfolded trust falls? The answer is about how you run your team day-to-day, not just in special “team-building” moments:
1. Prioritize communication, cooperation, and morale year-round, not just for the duration of a team-building event. Managers sometimes decide team-building is what’s needed in response to deep-rooted, problematic team dynamics, but that’s rarely the right fix – and proceeding as if it is can be highly alienating to staff members who want to see real solutions to serious systemic issues.
2. Look for opportunities for team members to collaborate in the course of day-to-day business. If you know that Leah is working on a project that’s new to her but which Bob has experience in, suggest they talk. If you know that Bob is struggling with a seriously tough piece of a project, suggest convening a working group to help brainstorm solutions. As the manager, you’re the hub at the center of the wheel, which makes you well-suited to spotting opportunities where collaboration would be useful. (Keep in mind, though, that you don’t want to force it. If people get the sense that they’re being told to collaborate or work in teams just for the principle of it rather than because it will truly serve the work, they’re likely to be annoyed.)
3. Create opportunities for team members to get a better understanding of what each do. If you have people who work fairly independently, you might find that people don’t know what others do, and possibly don’t appreciate the value that work brings. Look for ways to combat that, like asking a different person each month to use 15 minutes of a staff minute to talk about an aspect of their work, or seeing if staff members would be interested in holding “lunch and learns” where they teach a skill to colleagues.
4. Give people meaningful input into the work of the team. People are more likely to feel like part of a real team if they have a chance to give input and talk over challenges, and if they see that their input is both welcome and truly considered. In fact, many team-building exercises are based around solving artificial problems as a group (like building a card tower or untangling a human knot); it’s far more effective to instead involve your group in grappling with real challenges as part of the normal course of business.
5. Look for ways to bring your team together in informal, relaxed settings – but make it optional. If out-of-town employees are in the office for a few days, suggest a group lunch or dinner. Offer free bagels in the kitchen every Monday morning. Encourage people to stop by the conference room for wine and sodas every Friday afternoon. Just keep it optional (or you’ll instantly kill the good feelings for some people).
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