Want To Connect? Team Building Does *Not* Have To Suck!

Written By Liz Hunt

Published February 2, 2021

2 women smile and laugh while sawing a piece of wood during a team building activity as colleagues admire their handiwork

Are you or your team feeling disconnected or uninspired while working from home during the pandemic? You’re not alone. According to PWC1 and Gartner2, over the past year people have been struggling more than ever before to meaningfully connect with their colleagues. As a result, the majority of us have been reporting increased rates of loneliness and stress as well as decreased engagement and productivity.

Why does team building have a bad reputation?

One of the best ways to strengthen relationships in the workplace is team building. If that makes you groan or want to call in sick, then (again) you’re not alone. Unfortunately, more often than not, companies’ team building activities suck in some way or another. Maybe you feel an event is annoying or a waste of time, or worse yet maybe you or some of your colleagues feel deeply uncomfortable with or are unable to fully participate in one or more activities? Now that we’re all feeling Zoom fatigue and many of us are working longer hours, virtual team building can arguably be even more agonising [BBC 20213]. If you and your colleagues don’t enjoy and value a team building event and its activities, then it isn’t worth your team’s time or your company’s money (and the wrong team building activity might even negatively affect morale or engagement).

Why is team building so critical?

Team building is one of the most important investments you can make for your employees [Indeed 20204]. It’s about bonding as a team — it improves communication, increases collaboration, encourages creativity, motivates employees, and boosts productivity [Forbes 20205]. When done right, it can promote a positive work culture and create a sense of oneness and psychological safety within the team [Zoho 20206]. By providing an environment in which employees can laugh, open up, and support one another, you give colleagues the opportunity to build genuine friendships in the workplace [Slack 20207]. While work friendships boost morale and our overall well-being, they also play a critical role in enhancing team effectiveness [Forbes 20208]. Team building is a fantastic and easy way to boost your employees’ happiness, retention, and engagement [Thrive Global 20209].

In Nulab’s August 2019 survey10, people felt that team bonding activities had a positive impact on their

  • relationships with colleagues (96.3%),
  • collaboration (95.5%),
  • open dialogue (94.5%),
  • workplace satisfaction (94.4%),
  • employee-employer relationships (94.2%),
  • workplace stress (89.8%), and
  • productivity (76.2%).

Two thirds of their respondents also suggested that team bonding exercises improved creativity, which can help promote better problem-solving and general workplace efficiency.

“Now is the time, as you reimagine the post-pandemic organization, to pay careful attention to the effect of your choices on organizational norms and culture. Focus on the ties that bind your people together.” [McKinsey 202011] “We’ve long known that the key to driving sustainable long-term performance is to place an equal emphasis on how the organization makes money (performance) and how leaders run the place (health). Companies that do so outperform their peers threefold. More recently, we’ve found that leaders can capture even more value when they go one step further and focus on performance and health at both the organization and individual levels.” [McKinsey 202112]

How can team building be more enjoyable and effective?

  1. Accessible & Inclusive Activities
    One of the easiest ways to ensure your team will enjoy a team building experience is to make it accessible and inclusive for all your colleagues. Physical activities like outdoor hikes or sports can exclude people with injuries or disabilities. Events organized around food or drinks can be challenging for people with dietary restrictions or pursuing sobriety. Activities like improv and karaoke can intimidate people who tend to be more introverted. All-day events can pose logistical complications for people who are caregivers. Online alternatives can fail for people who have connectivity issues or different levels of equipment. You know your team best. When brainstorming team building ideas, think of every person on your team then whether or not they’d be able to fully participate and whether or not they’d be likely to enjoy themselves.
  2. Shared Physical Experiences
    We humans are incredibly social beings. If a single point of commonality, like sharing small bits of personal trivia during an icebreaker, can spark a friendship [Forbes 20208], then it makes sense that longer activities in which colleagues work together toward a shared goal (or perhaps help each other overcome hardships) have even greater potential for forging deep bonds. For this reason, the most effective team building tends to be shared physical experiences. Something special happens when you spend time together in-person outside of your normal environment, especially when you’re doing something tactile or kinesthetic. However, when in-person experiences aren’t feasible, the challenge is to somehow simulate the tactile physical experience of a team-building day trip from the comfort of your home offices [BBC 20213].
  3. Giving Back
    A way to infuse your in-person and virtual team building with meaning and impact is to do something that incorporates acts of goodness whether that’s being kind, donating to charity, or volunteering. During gift-giving behaviors, humans secrete “feel good” chemicals in our brains, such as serotonin (a mood-mediating chemical), dopamine (a feel-good chemical), and oxytocin (a compassion and bonding chemical) [Cleveland Clinic 202013]. By developing and fostering a culture of giving back, businesses can not only build a strong sense of community, they can also become more attractive for younger generations of employees [Young Entrepreneur Council 201914].

Strong relationships and trust among colleagues, along with a shared sense of purpose, are integral to your and your team’s health, happiness, performance, and success (whether working at the office or remotely from home). A consistent cadence of inclusive and impactful team building activities can not only alleviate loneliness and stress, but also foster feelings of connection, inspiration, and engagement amongst your colleagues.

Are you convinced, but not sure which type of team building to choose? Check out the Comparison of Team Building Activities.

Would you like to learn how Smith Assembly’s workshops could help you achieve your objectives? Please contact us. We’d love to talk with you!