We've all heard those stories about work teams heading out to the wilderness to perform team-building activities involving bungee cords and rock-climbing walls. But do these gimmicks actually help teams communicate better?
The truth is, while results vary, team-building events can help co-workers better understand one another and learn to be more effective at working together. Team-building exercises allow management and staff to forget about deadlines and corporate structure and focus on socializing informally. These exercises can also help employees work on more serious issues, such as learning problem-solving techniques and improving communication skills. This all helps them to build trust, which goes a long way toward achieving better communication.
What Not to Do
All that being said, sometimes the best efforts to connect a team fail. These tend to be the events planned by executives who don't understand the team climate. For example, if there are personal conflicts on a team, inviting them to play paintball may only serve to increase hostility and competition rather than eliminate those feelings. It's important to take into consideration how the team interacts currently and plan non-competitive activities that break through existing issues. If co-workers rarely speak to one another, focus on communication exercises. If trust is an issue, focus on activities designed to increase trust among team members.
Activities that everyone hates will also not go far in building trust. Childish activities like sing-alongs and rope climbing may distract employees from their work relationships, but if they resent having to be there, they won't open up to improving the lines of communication.
Also, one-size-fits-all solutions do little to target your team's specific issues. While starting with existing exercises is fine, customize them to fit your team's needs. And creating activities to deal with a specific behavior issue is overkill. If you have a situation between two co-workers, handle it directly rather than spreading your desire for everyone to get along to the entire team.
Lastly, part of successful team building comes from a continuous focus. Planning one annual event does little for the group's long-term success. A corporate culture integrating regular team-building exercises and allowing employees to connect and learn to trust each other will far better serve the group and organization than a big annual event.
When creating team-building events or exercises, be sure to take these factors into consideration:
- What's the overall team climate (is it hostile? Indifferent?)?
- How much will management be involved (support from management helps reinforce the team building)?
- How long will it take (will workers resent being away from their families overnight?)?
- What's the goal?
Where to Team Build
You don't need to schedule a weekend retreat complete with a trapeze to get the job done. You can set up a series of events in your office during hours that an entire team can stop work.
Focus on events that will zero in on the goals you set for the effort. Consider bringing in a consultant to analyze the team you want to help and recommend the best course for creating better engagement among co-workers.
Team building, if thought through carefully, can help your team become better at communicating and interacting. Take into consideration the team's specific needs when planning a program.
Lindsay Olson is a founding partner and public relations recruiter with Paradigm Staffing and Hoojobs.com, a niche job board for public relations, communications, and social media jobs. She blogs at LindsayOlson.com, where she discusses recruiting and job search issues.