In theory, team-building activities promote healthy personal and professional relationships. In fact, results vary tremendously. Team-building exercises can help employees function more productively, but these exercises work best when goals are clear and transparent. Employees must also be motivated to participate. Activities should produce trust, not mayhem and conflict. Team-building exercises really do work when introduced in the right setting, at the right time, to the right people.
Before scheduling a team-building exercise, planners should conduct a survey, focus group or interviews and get feedback about what type of activities would help participants bond. Team-building exercises that fail typically do so because of poor planning. Events that don’t address the true problems that a team faces won’t produce the desired results and may, in fact, have the opposite effect. For example, determine if interpersonal conflicts plague the team, poor communication exists, team morale is low or some people resist change. In many cases, team members may simply need a chance to get together, have lunch and get an opportunity to learn more about each other.
Establishing a competition, such as a race or softball game, between teams can build desired energy, enthusiasm and camaraderie. However, if employees lack the physical ability to play the game, the benefits diminish. No one likes to be embarrassed. Additionally, tempers that flare in the office may flame even more in potentially heated battles. Instead of competitive sports exercises, conduct activities that promote cooperation, such as a scavenger hunt that requires creativity and ingenuity, if these are the skills you need to improve in the workplace.
Childish games, such as drawing or acting, may distract and annoy employees. Resentment doesn’t help improve communication, collaboration or productivity. If issues occur between a few team members, deal with the issue privately rather than engaging the entire team. Setting up realistic scenarios based on scenarios that apply to the whole workforce can make team-building more relevant and productive.
An annual team-building event works well only if you follow the meeting up with ongoing support. Don’t let the energy and enthusiasm built up at an offsite location dissipate once you return to your work environment. For example, at the team-building event, establish committees that can continue to meet after the meeting ends. Activities throughout the year may include running a book club, volunteering in the community or attending seminars to learn new skills and knowledge. Schedule events well in advance so participants have time to make arrangements for travel, childcare or other family responsibilities. If people can't concentrate on the team-building activity, the exercise becomes much less effective.
Tara Duggan is a Project Management Professional (PMP) specializing in knowledge management and instructional design. For over 25 years she has developed quality training materials for a variety of products and services supporting such companies as Digital Equipment Corporation, Compaq and HP. Her freelance work is published on various websites.