Between the Great Resignation, the tight labor market and the increase in remote work, team building has never been more important.
Professionally facilitated team-building activities help boost employee engagement, loyalty and retention. And they add some welcome fun to the workplace.
If you have any sort of involvement with corporate team building programs, you already know those things. But here are six surprising points about those exercises you may not be aware of.
1. Team-building Programs Enable Your Organization to do Well by Doing Good
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs combine the common elements of virtually all team building activities—collaboration, communication, leadership and problem solving—with charitable elements that benefit the local community.
For example, programs may involve assembling bicycles or musical instruments to donate to an organization serving underprivileged kids; building wheelchairs for a disabled veterans group; or packing canned and boxed goods for local food banks and soup kitchens.
And these activities are very popular. “CSR activities are a large part of our business, and they’ve gotten even more popular as we head out of the pandemic,” says Scott Flynn, CEO of Best Corporate Events, a nationwide team-building company based in Palm Harbor, Florida.
“Beyond the benefits of all team-building exercises, like improved collaboration and productivity, CSR programs create memorable, emotionally powerful experiences that strengthen employee loyalty. It builds an amazing bond when employees are able to be part of their organization’s efforts to give back to the community.”
2. Team-building Activities Are Best Done Indoors…Except When They’re Not
One element of the team-building experience that employees value is simply getting away from the office for a day. There can be a strong temptation to arrange for activities to be done outdoors—particularly during the springtime in northern states or autumn in the south.
In general, however, it’s best to avoid that temptation and book an indoor venue—at the very least, as a backup. Outdoor activities can too easily be derailed by distractions, ranging from noise, to wind, or a passing rain shower, to other nearby activities.
With an indoor venue, the facilitator has control over the seating arrangement, room temperature, sound system and other environmental factors. This makes it easier to eliminate unwanted distractions and maximize both the impact and enjoyment of the event for participants.
There is one obvious and important exception to this rule, however: scavenger hunts. “High-tech scavenger hunts are a fun and engaging way to explore a new city as well as develop collaboration skills as in other types of team-building activities,” notes Bryan Burns, co-founder and chief operating officer at SmartHunts, which runs corporate scavenger hunts across the U.S.
“They’re a great way to get outdoors and get teams collaborating to compete against each other,” he adds. “And they are also cost effective. With today’s technology, we can deliver an outstanding experience with the facilitator either on-site or coordinating the scavenger hunt remotely.”
3. Team Building Isn’t a One-off Activity
The impetus for arranging a team-building activity is often some type of organizational change: an influx of new employees, a restructuring, or a merger or acquisition. Team building can certainly help employees respond positively to change and begin to build relationships with new co-workers.
But the best, industry-leading, highest performing organizations view team building as a regular, periodic activity. Just as any winning sports team continues to practice throughout their season, high-performing organizations focus on taking leadership skills, collaboration and productivity to ever higher levels.
“A regular cadence of team-building activities builds trust. It’s not just about dealing with problems, but with developing a culture of high performance,” according to Wendy Bryan, founder and principal of Forward Focused Business Advisors, a national business coaching company.
“These organizations view team-building programs as vital in taking every part of their operational performance from bad to good, from good to great, from great to amazing, and from amazing to extraordinary.”
4. Team Building isn’t One-size-fits-all; it’s Customizable to Meet Specific Needs
Every team-building provider offers their own set of “packaged” programs. And often, those games, or escape rooms, or CSR programs, or other activities work just fine for meeting an organization’s needs. They build collaboration and problem-solving skills while giving employees some fun time away from the workplace.
At other times, existing activities may work great with just minor customizations. For example, a business may book a trivia game, but add in some custom questions about company history, policies, new products or other company-related topics.
But then there are times when an organization is looking to build teamwork and collaboration in a specific, challenging situation. It may be a merger or other type of restructuring. Perhaps a popular leader has left the company. Or the enterprise has installed a new software system that will significantly change the way people do their jobs.
“Needs assessment is a crucial part of what we do,” says Roy Charette, managing partner at TeamBuilding Alliance.
“We ask clients questions, like how they would like the teams to be formed; do they want to keep departments together or mix it up? What have they liked about team-building programs they’ve done in the past, and what hasn’t worked so well? Every program involves a mix of collaboration and competition; do they want more of an emphasis on one of those? By really understanding the client’s needs and goals, we can customize programs to match their objectives.”
5. Team Building is a Vital Component of New Employee Onboarding
Most of the process of onboarding new employees is focused on the administrative (e.g., completing a background check, selecting benefits) and technical (providing them with a laptop, company email address and network access) details.
But what about actually making them feel welcomed, like part of the team, excited to be in this new role? That’s where team building comes in. It costs, on average, $11,000 to hire a new employee; yet 35% of companies spend zero dollars on onboarding, which is one reason why 22% of new hires leave within the first six months.
“Many organizations view team building as a foundational step in new employee orientation,” notes Steve Ockerbloom, a corporate team development professional. “The problem is, when there’s a hurry to ‘get things done,’ it’s easy for a hiring manager to look at team building as ‘the fun stuff’ and skip over it.”
“That’s a mistake. Team-building activities are incredibly valuable in building new relationships, developing trust within groups, making new employees feel welcome, fostering engagement, and just getting to know their new coworkers. It’s often the one part of the onboarding experience that employees will really remember and look back on positively, years later.”
Similar onboarding activities are delivered at colleges and universities across the country through orientation programs from providers like Best Collegiate Events.
6. Leadership Development is Helpful for Everyone
Leadership training is too often viewed as something that’s just for new managers and those in mid-management being groomed for senior roles. But it can actually benefit virtually everyone in the organization. By extending leadership training beyond the management ranks, companies can:
- Build bench strength: It’s not always clear where tomorrow’s leaders will come from. When more employees have a grounding in basic management concepts, organizations have greater flexibility. This training can also help identify “diamonds in the rough.”
- Improve retention: When an enterprise invests in its people, those employees feel valued. It sends the message that the company cares about the future possibilities for employees, not just their work output in the here and now. The investment of time and expense by the organization in improving employee skills enhances loyalty.
- Strengthen collaboration: Much of the work done in a modern business is accomplished by employees on teams, working with peers. Leadership training teaches employees how to constructively and effectively influence the actions of others, even without formal authority.
- Help workers effectively “manage up”: Some employees clearly have no ambition beyond being a skilled individual contributor. Still, leadership training has value because when those workers are better able to influence their managers—and understand why their managers may take certain actions or make certain decisions—they can be more productive and engaged in their roles.
Team-building programs help employees improve their communication, collaboration and problem solving skills. That’s always been true.
But these activities have never been more important than they are today. CSR programs combine team building with giving back to the community, which increases employee loyalty at a time when record numbers are quitting.
These events help employees build relationships, collaborate effectively, and stay engaged with their organizations, in a time when more people than ever are working remotely and don’t have daily in-person interactions with coworkers.
And team building exercises are a crucial element in new employee onboarding. They help to build strong connections to coworkers and to the organization, reducing turnover in a tight labor market.
Indoors or out, team building programs can be customized to meet specific business and operational needs. In category-leading organizations, team building is a regular activity, designed to build a culture of high performance and continual improvement.
Tom Pick is a digital marketing consultant who works with large-group team building provider Best Corporate Events to share the company’s insights and knowledge with corporate HR and event planning professionals.