Advocating on behalf of corporate team-building programs is not a controversial position. Team-building itself is accepted as a best practice by a majority of executives, management experts, and HR professionals.
Some go farther. “Team building is the most important investment you can make for your people,” writes Forbes contributor Brian Scudamore. “It builds trust, mitigates conflict, encourages communication, and increases collaboration.” And the Houston Chronicle has a nice rundown of the benefits of team-building, in case you’re counting.
The corporate world is less united when it comes to what constitutes successful team-building. What does a worthwhile team-building day, excursion, or retreat look like?
Your mileage may vary, but these seven components are all pretty important. How many does your standard team-building event have?
- Fresh Air
Two words: Get outside.
Weather permitting, outdoor team-building exercises tend to be livelier, more creative, less restrictive. It’s much harder to form (or maintain) cliques when everyone is in everyone else’s line of sight.
- Reasonable Exertion
Not everyone is an Olympic athlete. No matter how “active” or “outdoorsy” or plain “youthful” your office culture purports to be, truly inclusive team-building exercises take into account less active team members’ preferences.
It’s entirely possible to meet in the middle. Low-impact outdoor activities like lawn games, nature walks, and short kayaking trips please active and sedentary types alike.
“Kayaking is a great compromise for team-building event organizers,” says Manitoba-based kayaking enthusiast Lori Janeson. “A short excursion along a lakeshore offers opportunities for wildlife viewing and fresh air without requiring undue exertion.”
- Natural Start and End Points
Happy hours are fun, but they’re also kind of vague. Participants, show up, sip their drinks, mingle — and, when enough time has passed, awkwardly make their excuses and slip away.
Avoid team-building exercises that follow this “format.” Create and distribute a schedule in advance. Nod to employees’ personal needs with optional activities before and after the main event.
- New Scenery
Memorable team-building excursions take team members out of their comfort zones. Don’t go to the same park or bowling alley at which you’ve held your last five events. Drive a little farther, if you have to, to find somewhere unfamiliar.
- Something to Learn
Team-building exercises should be educational without being pedantic. No, you don’t have to visit the local science museum or spend a day listening to lectures, but your event should incorporate some sort of pedagogy. Historical parks and nature centers work well.
- Something to Build On
Meetings generally end with some discussion of “next steps.” Why should team-building exercises be any different?
End your event with a structured debriefing that reviews what your team accomplished and sets goals for the coming days and weeks. What can you all do as team members to build on the connections made today? It sounds corny, but it could make all the difference for your organization’s momentum.
Your team-building events should not feel like chores. Poll your group after each event and use the results to make future excursions better. Remember, you’re all in this together — that’s kind of the point.