Team Building: The Ultimate Guide to Activities, Strategies, and Skill Development

 

Few ideas have generated as much intrigue among business owners, managers, and HR professionals as team building has in recent years. While it may sound like an excuse to goof off at work, team building activities and exercises are designed to improve employee relationships, increase productivity, and develop a unified, positive company culture.

Team building isn’t inherently complicated, but you do have to put in time and effort to ensure it’s actually effective for your employees and your business. From deciding what goals you have, to selecting the right activity, to taking a certain strategic approach to getting everyone engaged, you can quickly get overwhelmed if you’re unfamiliar with the nuances.

This guide will explain everything you need to know about team building. It will cover the benefits, the challenges you might face, the different strategies you can use for team building activities, and different ideas for activities and exercises you can organize for your employees. Here’s what you need to know to build your teams more effectively:

 

What is Team Building?

 

Team building is defined as the “ability to identify and motivate individual employees to form a team that stays together, works together, and achieves together.” Team building is more than just “teamwork” or “working together.” Team building is, essentially, the act of bringing those employees together and encouraging them to work as one cohesive unit, while still valuing individual contributions and strengths.

This unity plays a vital role in the modern workplace. Not only does it help employees bond with each other, it helps develop a meaningful company culture. Team building helps show employees that you care about their wellbeing and their success in the workplace. Team building is a legitimate way to bring employees together, help positively impact performance and productivity, and make the workplace a more enjoyable place to be.

Team building is more than just forced bonding between coworkers or icebreaker games. It’s activities chosen to make employees work together and specifically designed to foster collaboration and problem solving between team members. For instance, an escape room is the perfect activity for effective team building because, not only is it fun and enjoyable, it requires teams to strategically work together to solve a puzzle.

Team Bonding: What’s the Difference?

Although they are similar, “team bonding” doesn’t refer to the same thing as “team building” and the terms aren’t interchangeable. Team bonding is more focused on building trust and developing the relationships between team members. A team-building activity might also allow for team bonding, but team bonding activities don’t often promote team building. Team bonding activities are a fun way for teams to spend time together and get to know each other; there usually isn’t a problem-solving or teamwork element involved. Examples of team bonding include bowling, karaoke, or hiking — really, any activity that people can do together that doesn’t require them to work together as a team.

Team bonding is still important for creating productive teams and cultivating a strong company culture. Further, most effective team-building exercises will also provide an opportunity for team bonding. When selecting a team building or team bonding activity, however, it’s important to be aware of the differences between these two terms so you can choose an activity that aligns with your goals.

When Should You Do Team Building Activities?

The simplest answer is: you should do team building activities as often as your team and your business needs them. This need can vary greatly between organizations, and even between different teams within the same organization.

However, there are a few situations in which most organizations would benefit from team building, regardless of how often they’re typically scheduled:

After Hiring a New Team Member

If you hire a new employee, bring a current employee onto a new/different team, or make any sort of changes to your team, you should consider planning a team-building exercise. This can serve as a way to welcome new hires or new team members, introduce them to their new coworkers, and provide the chance for everyone to get to know each other. Not only that, a fun team-building activity can help them get a sense of your organization, your values, and what they can expect during their time as your employee.

After Hiring a New Manager

Similarly, you may want to plan a team-building activity if you bring a new manager or supervisor onto the team, particularly if this person is new to your business. Team building is a great way for managers and their teams to get to know each other and begin developing a professional relationship. It’s still important even if the team’s new manager has already worked for your business — such as if a manager transfers from another department or an internal employee is promoted — as it can also help to establish this employee in their new role.

After Merging Departments

Team building is almost always a necessity after merging two teams, departments, or even entire companies. Mergers, especially large-scale ones, can be a difficult time for employees, and it’s important to ensure everyone feels welcome and included. Team building after a merger can help people get to know each other as team members and work to establish the newer, larger group as a united group.

After a Difficult Project

If you have an especially difficult week, month, or quarter, team building may be just what your team needs. Whatever the cause, it can help lift subdued spirits, release tension after a stressful project, and help employees move beyond that stressful or unpleasant time. Team building after a difficult project or event can also serve as a sort of reset for employees and help them re-focus and ready themselves to work on their next project.

Why Is Team Building Important?

Team building is important largely because of its positive impact on the workplace. It may seem like a silly trend or feel like a waste of time, as team building does not produce immediate results and its impact can be difficult to measure or quantify. For these reasons, it is fairly subjective, and its impact and effectiveness can vary greatly between teams and organizations.

For instance, one study found that team building was only slightly effective in terms of improving a team’s performance, and, in some cases, team building even marginally decreased performance. Another study, though, determined that team building had a moderate, positive effect on all team outcomes. It simply depends on how you define and measure success, as well as what outcomes you want to see.

To make team building effective, you have to have to have a clear vision and purpose. You shouldn’t plan a team-building exercise for the sake of doing so or because you think you’re supposed to. If your goals are unclear, team building may end up being a fruitless endeavor. But if you take team building seriously, treat it as an important part of your work, and have a purpose in doing so, it can be an investment well worth making.

Benefits of Team Building

When done with purpose and intent, team building can provide many benefits both to your employees and your business, including (though certainly not limited to):

  • Improves Communication: Communication is one of the most common issues in the workplace, and poor communication can lead to stress, delays in work, and employee conflicts. Improving communication between team members can not only put those problems to rest, but can have a positive impact on their work. Team building works to improve communication by allowing teams to interact outside of their work, get to know each other, and learn how their coworkers communicate.
  • Identifies Strengths: Team building allows you to identify the various strengths and weaknesses of your team. When doing daily or typical tasks at work, it can be difficult to determine the full range of an employee’s abilities. When put in a new environment outside the scope of their typical responsibilities, your employees have a chance to utilize other skills. You can get a better understanding of your employees’ strong points and put them on projects or assignments that are well-suited to their strengths.
  • Build Trust: It can be difficult to get to know people at work, even if you work together frequently, because you always have to remain professional and focus on the task at hand. When doing a team-building activity, though, employees have a chance to loosen up, be more casual, and talk about things other than work. They can get to know each other in a new context and subsequently strengthen their trust in their coworkers.
  • Boosts Morale: Team building is fun, engaging, and at times, silly. This can help create a positive atmosphere for your employees. Team members can bond over amusing experiences and jokes and then carry those same feelings back to work. You can also look for ways to capture that uplifting atmosphere to make your workplace more enjoyable.
  • Enhances Performance: When your employees have to work together during a team-building activity, they can learn how to improve collaboration on projects in the workplace. Having a better understanding of their coworkers can make it easier to work with them more quickly and more effectively, resulting in higher-quality work.

Any well-planned activity can have this impact for your team, but certain exercises can compound these benefits and make team building even more productive. Think about what you would like to get out of team building, then choose the activity that will best help you meet that goal; careful and strategic planning will allow you to get as much out of team building as possible.

The Importance of Team Building for Small Businesses

While any organization can benefit from team building, it can be especially important for small businesses. In a larger business, team-building exercises cannot include every employee at once; they usually have to break down into smaller groups or departments to benefit from team building. This can still be impactful for both the teams and the organization as a whole, but differs greatly from team building in a small business.

Many small businesses have the advantage of being able to gather all of their employees together, even from different departments or teams, for team building activities. Of course, your ability to do this depends on the size of your business, but small businesses can still plan team-building exercises for the entire organization more easily than a company with thousands of employees.

If you have the ability to team build with every one of your employees, it can benefit every aspect of your organization and help each person work together for the greater good of your business. The benefits are limited to a single team but can impact the entire organization. Team building, then, can be highly effective for the success of small businesses.

Team Building Challenges

Though it can be crucial to improving an organization, team building still presents several challenges that, unless overcome, can seriously hinder success. When people work together, there’s bound to be issues or conflicts of some kind. Generally, these challenges stem from a much larger problem that needs to be addressed before the team building issue can be resolved.

However, if you are aware of the potential challenges you might face when team building, you will be in a much better position to solve them. Some of the most common problems you’ll encounter with team building include:

Issues with Leadership

Issues with leadership will generally trickle down to employees, which could affect their overall performance and have a negative impact on team building outcomes. Lack of leadership, an overbearing leader, unclear boundaries, and a lack of vision are all problems related to leadership, and they can all hinder effective team building. Your team building efforts will not be nearly as effective if there are problems of any kind with company leadership.

Team Member Relationships

Team building activities outside the workplace can be a perfect context for confronting, intervening with, and resolve relationship issues in a low-stakes environment. Personality conflicts, undefined roles or duties, and insufficient information or feedback are all examples of different types of relationship problems. Whether there are individual team members who don’t get along, one person who doesn’t work well with the team, or anyone who clashes with leadership, relationship issues can pose a significant barrier to having a team collaborate in the workplace. Making the most of a team-building activity can help your organization confront these tensions without exacerbating them if you plan ahead and set the right expectations for all participants.

Unclear Processes

Unclear processes and procedures can also impede your team building efforts. If your goals, objectives, and desired outcomes are not clearly communicated to each of your team members, they cannot work effectively as individuals, let alone as a team. Again, you have to have a clear idea of what you hope to get out of a team-building exercise for it to be productive.

Virtual Workspaces

Remote work and virtual workspaces have led to some great advantages in business, but they have also created new challenges for teams. Employees who work remotely may feel disconnected from their teammates or have difficulties communicating with online tools. Further, incorporating remote employees into team-building exercises can be tricky, especially if you wanted to do something outside of the office.

Team Building Strategies

The way you approach a team-building activity can have a huge impact on its outcome. Different team building strategies will affect what activity you do, how you plan and run it, and what your team will take away from it. These different strategies can be used independently or in conjunction with each other to get the results you want. The strategy you choose all depends on the needs of your team and project.

Each of these approaches was originally detailed in “Handbook of Human Factors and Ergonomics Methods” by psychologist Eduardo Salas. He outlines four main approaches and incorporates elements of both passive and active team building. Passive team building involves changing different business practices or management initiatives to improve teams in the workplace, while active team building requires you to make a determined effort to build up your team.

For instance, prioritizing better communication across the company is an example of passive team building; improved communication between employees will naturally build up your teams. Planning a corporate team-building activity is an example of an active approach, as you are purposefully and intentionally building up your team. Utilizing both passive and active strategies when taking these four approaches to team building can make your efforts all the more productive.

Goal Setting

The first team building approach focuses on setting goals, both for individual team members as well as the team as a whole. These goals should be measurable and attainable, otherwise, this strategy won’t work. Team members should be involved with the goal-setting process (or you risk setting unrealistic goals they can’t meet), and should help you determine how to achieve them.

Goal setting gives each team member a clear sense of purpose and specifies their exact role in the larger project or exercise. This can help employees stay motivated and engaged in their work, as they have clear expectations to work toward. Further, this allows you to assess your individual employees’ performances in the group, providing you the perfect opportunity to identify areas of strength and ways in which they can improve.

Role Clarification

Salas’ second approach to team building is role clarification, a strategy that identifies the specific responsibilities and roles of each team member. Rather than focusing on outcomes like goal setting, role clarification reduces vagueness and miscommunication between team members and works to align employees’ strengths with their actual responsibilities.

Role clarification can be an effective team building strategy for a simple reason: if your employees know exactly what they need to do, it’s easier for them to actually do it. In addition, employees can truly embrace their roles, develop and hone their skills, and pass that knowledge on to other team members in the future.

Problem-Solving

A problem-solving approach promotes effective teamwork between all members of a team by helping them develop useful skills and think creatively to address any issues that may arise during a project. Essentially, team building with a problem-solving strategy looks not at what work team members are doing, but how they are working together to complete the task at hand.

This approach fosters collaboration between team members and encourages them to ask for help from each other when needed. It also works to build trust between team members, as they must rely on each other for help when working on a project before turning to management or non-team members.

Interpersonal Relationships

The fourth approach to team building focuses on improving and developing interpersonal relationships. How team members relate to and interact with one another has a huge effect on their performance, both as individuals and as a team. If team members cannot communicate, don’t get along well, or don’t support each other, the quality of their work will suffer.

When team members trust and support each other, the efficiency and quality of their work will increase. They don’t have to become best friends, but team members do need to respect each other and work together. Team building activities that incorporate aspects of team bonding are likely best-suited to this approach.

Team Building Activities

Once you have chosen a team building approach, you must select a specific activity that will help you meet your goals. There are many different exercises to try and tactics to use, so it’s important to determine what type of activity you’re interested in and what resources you have available for it. While you may want to go on a team outing, for example, your budget may not allow for any out-of-office activities.

Here are several popular team building activities for every occasion:

Team Building Icebreakers

Icebreaker games are a great way for people to get to know each other. These activities are best-suited for situations in which you’ve brought a new member on board or one has changed existing teams, but icebreaker games can also be a fun way for established teams to learn more about each other. You could even do an icebreaker game to kick off a meeting or break up a slow afternoon. Best of all, these ice breaker games are fairly simple, and you can do them at any time and in any place.

  • 10 Things in Common: Split your team members into pairs or small groups and give everyone a piece of paper. Each group has to find ten things they all have in common with each other, excluding obvious things, such as body parts or working for the same company. Once everyone has found their ten commonalities, each group shares them with the rest of the team.
  • Two Truths and a Lie: This game can be done in either one large group or several smaller ones. While standing or sitting in a circle, each person makes three statements about themselves, two of which are true and one that is false. The other members then have to guess which statement is the lie. Make sure that everyone keeps things work appropriate.
  • Five of Anything: Divide employees into pairs or small groups, give them a piece of paper and ask them to discuss either their most or least favorite things in a certain category. For example, you could ask about their least favorite movies or their favorite bands. Each person records their five things, and once all groups have finished, they can share their results with everyone else.
  • One Question: Divide employees into pairs or small groups. Pretend that you and your team are in charge of hiring a new employee, but you can only ask them one question during the interview process to see if they are the right choice. Each pair or group has to come up with the single question they would ask this candidate; once they have decided, they must share their question and why they picked that particular one. You can be as creative or as realistic as you want, as long as conversations are work-appropriate.
  • Speed Meeting: This game is modeled on the concept of “speed dating.” Assign each of your employees a number, either one or two, and have all the ones and twos sit down, facing each other. They then have two minutes to talk and get to know each other. At the end of those two minutes, all of the number two employees rotate and spend two minutes talking with the next number one. Continue rotating until each number one has met each number two.
Team Building At Work

You don’t have to go on a corporate retreat to do effective team-building exercises; you can easily do it in the workplace. Some of these activities can be done fairly quickly and may be a fun way to start off a meeting, but you will need to set aside some time for others. Some fun team-building exercises you can do at work include the following:

  • Blind Drawing: Divide your employees into pairs and have them sit back to back. Give one of them a picture of an object or a word. Without stating what the thing is or using words directly related to it, the first employee describes the picture to the second one, who must draw it based on this verbal description.
  • Game of Possibilities: Split your employees into small groups and give a random object to one person in each group. One at a time, someone must go in front of the group and act out a different way they can use that item while the rest of the group has to guess what they’re doing. Each use must be unique from the ones before it.
  • Pencil Drop: Break your employees up into pairs, and give each pair a pencil, an empty water bottle, and some strings. Tie one end of two pieces of string to the eraser-end of the pencil, and each of the other ends of the string around the waists of two team members with their backs facing each other. Place the water bottle on the floor between them. They must then lower the pencil into the water bottle without using their hands. For extra fun, make this a race to see which pair is the fastest.
  • The “Suddenly” Story: You can either do this as one large group or divide your employees into smaller groups. Have everyone sit down in a circle and designate one person to start telling the story. They say three sentences of the story and end with the word “suddenly,” which is when the next person says three sentences. This continues until each person in the group has had a turn or until you have filled the time allotted for the activity.
  • Take-an-Employee-to-Work Day: Schedule a day for your employees to visit other departments so they can learn about what their coworkers on different teams do. Split the day in half, so your employee shows someone else around in the morning and then shadows that person in the afternoon, or designate two separate days so each employee has a chance to be both the “shower” and the “viewer.”
Team Building Activities Outside of Work

Sometimes, doing something out of the ordinary is the best way to facilitate team building. Getting out of the office can make it much easier for employees to get to bond because it’s not part of their usual routine and they can be more casual than in the workplace. Here are a few popular activities that get everyone out of the office:

  • Scavenger Hunt: Split your employees up into large teams or small groups and send them on a scavenger hunt. You can either organize one yourself or look at different apps and websites that have premade ones. Make it into a competition, and give a prize to whichever team completes the scavenger hunt the fastest.
  • Escape Rooms: Gather your team together and take an afternoon to go do an escape room together. Escape rooms are the perfect team-building activity because they naturally promote communication and teamwork. They’re becoming increasingly popular, and whether you’re based in Nashville, Houston, or Chicago, you’re sure to find a fun room nearby.
  • Mystery Dinner Coordinate with other organizational leaders and managers to arrange a mystery dinner for your team members. Create groups of people from different departments, and simply tell them where and when you’ll be meeting to eat. Managers can either host employees at their homes or cover the cost of a meal at a restaurant. Everyone will be in for a fun surprise and can spend the evening getting to know people they may not work with on a regular basis.
  • Playing Tourist: Pick a popular tourist spot in your area and take a day to play tourist with your team. Not only is this a fun way to see your city in a new way, but your employees will also have a chance to loosen up and get to know each other outside of the office.
  • Capture the Flag: Organize a game of capture the flag for your team. You can either split your employees into two groups or play against a team from another department in your organization. Be sure to make a trophy or give a prize to the winning team!
Leadership Team Building Activities

You can also use team building activities to gauge and develop your employees’ leadership skills. Certain exercises will display them more than others. If you’re looking for new leadership in your organization, consider doing one of the following activities:</p.

  • Minefield: Get your team together and blindfold one person. Then, create an obstacle course for them to navigate with the help of their team members. The employees who aren’t blindfolded must guide their team member through the obstacle course using only the words “left,” “right,” “forward,” and “backwards.” Each employee can have a turn, and you can either do this inside or outdoors.
  • The Race of the Leaders: Write a list of ten to twenty statements related to leadership qualities on a piece of paper. Gather your team members together and have them stand next to each other in a line. Read each statement aloud and have your employees step forward if they believe it applies to them — but they must be able to explain why it’s applicable.
  • Leaders You Love: Divide your team members into groups and ask them to discuss different historical leaders that they admire. Employees should also explain why they admire that leader. Once the smaller groups have had a chance to talk about it, have everyone come together at the end for a larger discussion.
  • Desert Island: Put your team into groups and have them pretend that they are stranded on a desert island. Ask them to pick five items they can use to survive and rank them in order of importance. They must come to a consensus not only about the items they choose, but also the order they put them in.
  • Pass the Hoop: Gather your team in a circle and have them hold hands. One person in the circle has a hula hoop around their arm. They must try to step through the hula hoop and pass it on to the person next to them without breaking the circle. The game ends once each person has successfully stepped through the hula hoop.

 

Team Building games for Remote Workers

Your policy with any remote workers should not be “out of sight, out of mind.” They should be included in team-building exercises whenever possible. Remote workers may not be able to do some of the in-person activities you have planned, but there are many team building activities you can do specifically for them:

  • Online Trivia: On your public work messaging platform, host a team- or company-wide trivia game. Pick a theme, and ask questions related to it, such as trivia about your organization or the employees. The first person to respond with the correct answer wins! If you choose to give out prizes to the winners, be sure they are prizes you can also send to remote employees.
  • Desk Photo Challenge: Ask all employees to take a photo of their desk from above and submit it to you either via email or through your messaging platform. Keep each photo anonymous and have your team vote on the nicest-looking and most-organized desk.
  • Team Meal: It can be difficult to get remote employees to join team or company meals, but try to organize a meal where remote employees can join with their own food on a conference call or video chat. Eating together can help people bond, even if you’re eating breakfast in-office and your remote employees are having dinner.
  • Company Bake-Off: Encourage everyone to share photos of their favorite meal or sweet treat. They can be representative of employees’ culture or country, or simply a meal they enjoy making and eating. This can either be an opportunity for teammates to bond over the delicious-looking food, or you can make it a competition and have people vote on their favorites.
  • Virtual Coworking Create a video conference that is open to all of your employees and encourage your remote employees to join and “work together.” Though this isn’t a game or activity, it is meant to simulate working next to each other in the same office and help remote employees feel more connected to their teammates.

Team building isn’t all fun and games — though that’s definitely a part of it — but it is a necessary component of enhancing your employees’ performance and improving the company culture of your organization. Do right by your employees, put a deliberate effort into team building, and make your company a more enjoyable place to work.

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