After months of separation, isolation and remote working, web searches for ‘team building’ are reportedly up by 24 per cent.

But while companies use team building to bring people together and help build productive relationships, there seems to be one huge catch… A YouGov poll released earlier this year found that businesses’ ambitions to build more cohesive teams don’t always resonate with their staff. 

In the survey, they found that people find the activities embarrassing or cringeworthy, with many finding the prospect of it dreading, and only 44 per cent of people feeling that they and their team could work together more effectively as a result of the exercise.

This brings us to the question of why companies are still doing team-building exercises. Whilst it’s fair to question and important to scrutinise all business activity, it’s definitely not the time to push team-building to the side. 

Studies show that relationships are hugely beneficial for mental health; 75% of employers rate teamwork and collaboration as “very important”. In addition, teams and groups tend to innovate faster and find better solutions to problems and working in a team positively affects job satisfaction. 

team-building Additionally, stats data also tell us that team building improves communication and productivity and it helps to create a feeling of belonging between team members.

We have learned from experience how beneficial it is to get the team together outside of their regular activities. However, the activity itself is not the focus of team-building exercises. The exercise should be used as a tool to examine both team and individual behaviours.

How to create a successful team-building activity?

Nobody wants to invest time and money in something that won’t help their team and can possibly make them feel uncomfortable. So, how can we ensure that our resources are well used, that the team has a great time, and most importantly, that it will benefit the team in the long run?

To help you build the experience you want for your team, we’ve gathered some tips that we use with every one of our clients:

1. It’s not the exercise; it’s the purpose behind it that matters

A team-building activity is not really about the exercise itself; the relevant part is what you are trying to accomplish with it. 

Before you start planning any activity, take some time to reflect on what it is that you want to achieve. These are some of the questions we always ask ourselves and our clients:

  • What are the main challenges you and your team are facing? 
  • What would great look like? 
  • What do you need/want to take out from the experience?

Asking the right questions will give you the foundation to create a well-thought-out programme for your team-building activities. Without this programme or plan, it will be challenging to take out anything from the activity more than a fun time which for some people won’t even feel fun at all. 

2. Focus! You can’t tackle everything at once

Trying to get the most out of a team-building day, activity, or programme makes sense. Unfortunately, many companies make the mistake of biting off more than they can chew. 

To really maximise the benefits of any activity or programme, you need to start with the foundation. Then you can move on to other challenges along the way. 

Furthermore, long-lasting change takes time. If you really want to make a real impact on your team and business, you need to dig deep and give people enough space and time to reflect, react, test and adapt. 

3. You need to know your audience

Not every exercise works for everyone; before you ask people to jump off a cliff, hold their hands together or build anything, you need to think about who you are working with. 

One of the main questions we ask every client is what their employees are like. The more you know about the group, the easier it will be to create an activity that works for them. 

In addition, you need to make it relevant to them. Every team and company is different, so you need to make sure that whatever you do is truly aligned with them and their challenges. This will also keep people engaged in the activity. 

4. The relevant part is found after the exercise

Even if you create the most amazing activity, you won’t create change unless you reflect on it. This is why for us, the most important part of any team-building activity is the reflection time before and after the exercise. 

team-building Before you ask people to do something they may not want to do, you need to clarify why they are doing it. 

In the same way, after the exercise, you need time to reflect on how people acted during the exercise, how these behaviours impact the individual and the team, and what you can do better in the future. 

As an illustration, we’d like to share some comments we received from one of our away days:

Fantastic stuff! The exercises are pretty simple in nature and even though we solved all of them without a hitch, we still failed over and over again. It’s all about perspective, and this session really highlighted this beautifully.

5. React & Adapt! You need to be able to adapt and change quickly

Sometimes, you can prepare a great programme just to find out after the first session that it didn’t resonate with your audience. But don’t worry, that’s fine, as long as you can reflect on what happened and change the route. 

This is why it is crucial to ask for people’s reflections on the day. Whether you are organising the activity for your team or outsourcing the task, no one can read minds or be right all the time. We all make mistakes, but most people are willing to give a second chance if they feel like they have been heard and taken into consideration. 

6. Create a safe space

Taking people out of their comfort zones is never easy, and working with a team where everyone is different makes it even harder. This is why to create a successful team-building activity; you first need to create a safe space for the team. 

Communicate to people why they are there, what they can and can’t do, and most of all, instil confidence in everyone that this is for their own benefit. 

We know how difficult it is to make a group of people feel comfortable; this is why we love working with teams in the long term. This enables us to build trust among the group and allows them to open up and be vulnerable, which is crucial to real change.

Another part of making people feel safe and comfortable during a team-building activity is to ensure they have the time for it. We all are extremely busy, so taking a half or full day to do anything that is not making your to-do list smaller may seem like a waste of time.  Therefore, be mindful of how much time people have and avoid giving them more than they can handle. Otherwise, they’ll wish they could spend the entire time at their desks working on deadlines.

7. Measure your impact & ask for accountability

We mentioned above that you need information to adapt, but you also need the information to measure your impact. What’s the point of doing anything if you don’t know if it is working? 

Additionally, you need to prepare for accountability. What are the takeaways, and what are people committing to? Two or three hours a month won’t change anyone’s life; the real impact comes from having actionable tools to put in place in their everyday lives. Also, because we all know how much of a challenge is to create or break a habit, you need to have a plan for keeping people accountable. 

The Optimist view…

The above may seem a bit daunting. However, it’s the only way you can benefit from team-building activities instead of being one more of the people who end up dreading a day out with their team. 

At Optimist Performance, we specialise in creating behavioural change programmes for teams and companies. So, if you are wondering what to do for your next team-building event, get in touch and learn more about how we can help make your team-building day a success.