Make sure your team-building event has a purpose.
You've probably been involved in a team-building exercise at some point. Perhaps it was a weekend retreat, or an afternoon at the climbing gym learning to rely on one another, or a day on the golf course getting to know everyone.
But, whether or not you and your colleagues enjoyed the experience, what happened when your team members returned to the office? Did they go back to their usual behavior – perhaps arguing over small assignments, or refusing to cooperate with each other? The 'day of fun' may have been a nice break from business, but did your colleagues actually use any of the lessons that they learned once they were back in the workplace?
Too often, managers plan an activity with no real thought or goal in mind. This tends to be a waste of time – and managers risk losing the team's respect when they plan an exercise that doesn't actually help those involved.
Team-building exercises can be a powerful way to unite a group, develop strengths, and address weaknesses – but only if the exercises are planned and carried out strategically. In other words, there has to be a real purpose behind your decision to do the exercise – for example, improving the team's problem-solving or creativity skills – rather than because you felt like giving your people a nice day out of the office.
This article shows you what to consider when planning a team event, and we offer a variety of exercises to address different issues that teams commonly face.
The most important step when planning a team-building exercise comes at the very beginning: you must start by figuring out what challenges your team faces. Only then can you choose exercises that will be effective in helping them work through these issues.
Spend time thinking about your team's current strengths and weaknesses. Ask yourself these questions to identify the root of any problems:
If you'd like to test how well you and your team work together, try our Team Effectiveness Assessment. Once you've identified the causes of your team's issues, you can plan exercises that will address these problems. This will help your team to derive real benefit from the event – and feel that it was worth their while.
There are literally hundreds of team-building exercises that address a wide range of issues. We've separated just a few basic, straightforward examples into sections that focus on the most common challenges for teams.
If you'd like to learn more about team building, read our Bite-Sized Training session on Team Building.
Here are some basic exercises you could try, if you're faced with issues of communication, stereotyping, or trust in your team.
If you were a marathon runner, would you train just a few times a year for your next race? Of course not. You would run almost every day. Why? Because only through regular, continuous training and exercise would you have a chance at winning.
Team building works on the same principle. Most managers plan one or two events per year, and that's it. There's rarely any regular 'training' or follow-up, and this can hold back the group's long-term success.
Effective team building needs to happen continuously if you want your group to be successful. It needs to be part of the corporate culture.
If you lead a group, aim to incorporate team-building exercises into your weekly or monthly routine. This will help everyone address their different issues, and it will give them a chance to have fun, and learn to trust one another – more than just once or twice a year.
Finally, make sure that your team-building exercises aren't competitive. Think about it – competition tends to make one person or team work against another. This probably isn't a good way to build team spirit and unity. More likely, it's a way to divide a group.
Many companies use sports for team-building activities. Yes, baseball and soccer can be fun, and some people will enjoy it. But these activities can do far more harm than good if they focus just on competing, and they can really de-motivate people who are not particularly good at these sports. Plan an event that makes people truly depend on others to succeed, and stay away from competition and 'winning.'
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