Imagine you and your co-workers receive a mysterious package indicating that a “situation” is afoot. A note leads you to a designated meeting place, where “agents” rush in and reveal grainy footage of your boss being abducted at gunpoint.
Your mission? Break into teams, track down your missing manager and bring the assailants to justice.
WHAT NOT TO DO
• Irregularity: Many managers plan team-building exercises once or twice a year, with no regular follow-up. Rather than scheduling events sporadically, incorporate team building into corporate culture, with activities planned monthly or even weekly.
“If you were a marathon runner, would you train just a few times a year for your next race?” author Elizabeth Eyre asked. “Of course not … because only through regular, continuous training and exercise would you have a chance at winning.”
•Athletics: While soccer and softball might appeal to sportier employees, not everyone is a born athlete — and many folks don’t want to have to pretend.
Also, employees may have physical limitations that preclude rigorous activities, so save the trampoline for your own backyard barbecue.
“A sporting event or physical activity where a few people will excel while others look on or do poorly is the opposite of an effective session,” Gary Kramer, founding partner of Workplace Interactive Team Building Seminars, said. “In my opinion, any event that doesn’t make everyone feel equal doesn’t work.”
• Free liquor: Just don’t.
Sound like a task better suited for police than a group of middle managers?
Not if Chad Hardy, owner of local strategic team-building firm Adventure Games, is behind the charade.
“Our Spy-Game is very theatrical but really helps teams come together to build morale and interpersonal communication skills in a fun and refreshing way,” said Hardy, who founded Adventure Games in 2005 and has grown it into a national company with clients that include Facebook, Coca-Cola, Johnson & Johnson and Telemundo.
Savvy supervisors and business owners recognize the value of team-building activities, be it an afternoon playing putt-putt, a morning scaling a rock-climbing wall, an overnight retreat with a treasure hunt, obstacle course and marshmallow-roasting contest … or an afternoon spent hunting down your kidnapped CEO.
“A group of people who understand each other will work more harmoniously and therefore more efficiently,” said Gary Kramer, founding partner of WITS (Workplace Interactive Team Building Seminars), which has offices in New York, Los Angeles, San Diego and Las Vegas and works with clients such as Nike, American Express, ESPN, Home Depot and GE. “A team event can get people to see each other in a more human way and understand that they have more similarities than differences.”
Team-building activities can be a powerful way to unite a group of workers, cultivate their strengths and tackle their weaknesses. But whether you plan to gather in the company conference room to play trust games with string, ping pong balls and a blindfold, or enlist professionals such as Kramer and his crew of comedians, actors and improv performers, there are a few factors to consider.
Define your purpose
Whatever your industry, your team likely faces challenges. Identifying those challenges is job No. 1, Elizabeth Eyre writes in “Team-Building Exercises: Planning Activities that Actually Work.”
Supervisors should ask:
• Are conflicts among team members creating distractions?
• Do team members need to get to know one another better?
• Does poor communication hinder progress?
• Do employees need to learn to work together better?
• Is resistance to change thwarting development of the group?
• Is a morale boost needed?
Addressing such questions can help you plan activities, exercises and events that will have an impact.
Assess previous attempts
How did that morning on the rock-climbing wall or those barrel-sack races in the parking lot affect the team?
The event might have been fun, but Eyre suggests assessing whether there was tangible conflict resolution.
“What happened when your team members returned to the office?” she asked. “Did they go back to their usual behavior — perhaps arguing over small assignments or refusing to cooperate … or did (they) actually use any of the lessons they learned?”
If you plan an activity with no real goal in mind, you will waste time and lose the team’s respect.
Pick your poison
There are three main types of team-building activities, according to Doug Staneart, founder of the Leader’s Institute, which teaches team building.
• Small-group, shared-experience team activities: Best for groups smaller than 20, these events allow your staff to have fun and bond. Think bowling or barbecuing.
• Classroom team building: These exercises are best for achieving specific goals. A facilitator can help make the event livelier.
“Since participants learn faster when they are having fun, a group can get fantastic results and feel like … it was time well spent,” Staneart said.
• Big-group, shared-experience events: These are much more challenging to pull off, so “this is where you really want to invest in a professional team-building company,” especially if your reputation is on the line, Staneart suggests.
Office games to overnighters
Countless team-building games can be played in the office and require nothing but employees’ time and participation, and maybe a few props. Many are devised to accomplish certain objectives, such as building trust, easing conflict, increasing collaboration and improving communication.
For details, search the Internet for “Salt and Pepper,” “Take What You Need,” “Human Knot,” “Circle of Questions,” “Silence!” or “Mine Field.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum are corporate getaways. Among their benefits:
• Employees can interact in a low-pressure environment
• It’s a way to reward employees and show appreciation for their work
• Employees can bond, which helps them work to achieve common goals
• It’s an opportunity for managers to observe employees’ behavior and team rapport.
Bring in the pros
Consider hiring a professional facilitator to run a session or plan an activity. Having an expert lead the way takes management out of the equation and can allow the event to be less message-heavy.
“The best way to turn your staff off is to crowbar a message into a fun event,” Kramer said. “We don’t want it to feel like an after-school special.”