4 Best Practices to Make Team Building Less Lame and More Meaningful

Team building gets a bad rap, and often for good reason. Memories of embarrassing group activities (think trust fall) or ones requiring zero effort (yet another mandatory happy hour) have caused employees to pass team building off as a waste of time. But, when done well, team building is an accelerator for business success.

By rethinking team building to be respectful of family schedules and remote employees while creating positive shared experiences that build trust, leaders can create a thriving team culture. The good news is that there are so many easy and affordable ways to achieve this.

Why Team Building?

The purpose of team building is to help employees get to know their colleagues personally and share a positive experience that will then create a better work environment.

How does this go down? When colleagues know each other personally, they trust each other more. When they trust more, they feel emotionally safe at work which enables them to take risks, innovate, share ideas. They can be themselves without worrying about being criticized. Also, when colleagues know each other personally, they can better communicate and collaborate with each other and handle conflicts.

These positive shared experiences are also important because they help shape the overall employee experience and form the backbone for the narrative they tell themselves and others about their life at work. 

The thriving workplace culture that results has numerous benefits to a company, including higher engagement, increased revenue and greater innovation. According the O.C. Tanner 2020 Global Culture Report, thriving workplace cultures are:

  • 13x more likely to have highly engaged employees
  • 7x more likely to have employee innovating
  • 6x more likely to have promoters on the Net Promoter Scale
  • 3x less likely to have employee experiencing burnout
  • 2x more likely to have a increase in revenue

When you look at the stats, companies actually can’t afford to not improve team building activities:

Team Building Best Practices

I’ve planned my fair share of team building activities and have learned a lot of lessons about what works and what doesn’t work along the way. Here are some best practices based on my experiences and research to help you rethink yours:

  • Ditch the corporate lens. For team building to positively impact work, you shouldn’t make it about work. The most successful and impactful team building experiences are ones that don’t feel “corporatey” by overtly trying to tie in leadership lessons or work-related take-aways. Simply spending and enjoying time together creates the best experiences that actually lead to positive outcomes. 
  • Try new things. Positive shared experiences should stretch team members outside of their comfort zones while being fun. Trying something new forces everyone to learn and grow. Doing this together sets the stage for a great bonding experience.
  • Build it into the day-to-day. Team building should not be a one and done, but should be maintained on an ongoing basis. Find ways to incorporate team building and relationship building into the team’s day-to-day work experiences to continue to foster the benefits between larger events.
  • Be inclusive of all schedules and locations. Many employees are busy after school with kids’ activities, family time and hobbies. Team building should respect people’s after work schedules and obligations. Also, don’t ignore team members who work remotely or are part of virtual teams.

Ideas to Shake Up Team Building

You might be thinking that better team building is easier said than done. With a little planning and creativity, you can create new experiences your team will get excited to participate in. Here are some easy ideas:

Learn something new together:

  • Take a class (e.g. learn to juggle, glass blowing, improv)
  • Take a walking tour or food tour of a new neighborhood
  • Visit a museum 

Incorporate relationship building into the day-to-day:

  • Routinely save time in meetings for one person to share about a hobby or family tradition
  • Ask a fun question for everyone to answer in a meeting (e.g. What’s something new you’ve tried recently? What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?)
  • Have fun lunches together – order pizza and break out a board game
  • Encourage colleagues to regularly grab coffee together

Virtual team building ideas

  • Start home show and tell, inviting team members to take each other on a virtual tour of their homes
  • Host a picture sharing coffee break, asking team members to each share a fun or memorable personal picture. Choose themes like best vacation, funny pet pictures or bad hair day.
  • Start a virtual book club
  • Find online team building games. I love QuizBreaker, a game where you have someone answer fun questions and then take time once a week to have the team guess who said it. Visit QuizBreaker.com to check it out.

In the spirit of fostering greater connections at work, I talked all about team building on the Morning Blend, February 14! Check out the segment here.

Let's Connect

Beth Ridley is a former corporate executive turned organizational transformation consultant, speaker and author. Beth combines 25 years of global leadership and management consulting experience with expertise in diversity and inclusion and positive psychology to partner with leaders to transform workplace cultures to better achieve their vision and goals. Beth’s work is featured in national publications and she frequently delivers keynotes and workshops at events around the world. Beth lives with her husband and three children in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

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