For most businesses, teambuilding is a key part of the standard repertoire of HR development. The idea is to motivate the team and improve relationships between colleagues. Often, however, teambuilding efforts fall short — because they don’t have a real connection to employees’ actual working life, and, as such, don’t meet their needs.
What is the point of teambuilding?
Teambuilding activities are designed to offer a working group the experience of achieving common goals through collaboration and the division of labor. While particular aims vary across companies and situations, typical goals of teambuilding include better working relationships, improved communication, and boosted team spirit. Ideally, the result of teambuilding is an improvement in both employee efficiency and morale. Teambuilding also intends to strengthen relationships between employees and the company.
However, if you ask many firms which teambuilding activities are optimal for their own employees, they don’t really know the answer. Should they do group coaching, where they learn about how dynamics and divisions of roles develop in a team? Or are experience-based events — a day on the high ropes course, a cooking class, river rafting — the ideal way to convince a team of its potential? And what constitutes success? The internet giant Google recently carried out a global study on this subject — with a disappointing result. Study participants revealed that a good team needed trust, communication and team spirit, but indicated nothing about how a working group might actually achieve this.
Teambuilding activities often fall short
In practice, it turns out that many teambuilding activities focus too much on the surface. Fun events, such as sailing, cooking or rafting, create a great mood and can indeed improve relationships within a team for a short period of time. However, back at work, this effect disappears almost immediately. A truly effective event (one whose results endure!) isn’t just about one great day. It’s about helping team members engage with their colleagues, learn about their roles in the group, and work toward common goals.
What should we consider for successful implementation of teambuilding efforts?
A successful teambuilding activity must meet the following conditions:
- Clearly defined goals
The goals of the event should be clear to all team members in advance. Optimally, participants will even be actively involved in the definition of those goals. That way, the focus can be twofold: creating the goals of the team building exercise, but also emphasizing the importance of team collaboration, here as in their work tasks.
- Reflection and integration of the results of the teambuilding in the normal workday.
Teambuilding activities have a lasting result, primarily when their effects are immediately noticeable in the day-to-day. The post-processing of teambuilding works best over the long-term — for example, in the form of regular meetings which address how and in what direction the group’s collaboration has changed. This kind of discussion also helps to identify areas that might need improvement.
- SWOT analysis of individual team members
This kind of analysis — ideally undertaken before the actual start of the teambuilding activity — helps team members to recognize their current strengths, as well as their limits and potential. This serves to help team members get to know each other and understand their current status in the group. After the event, a SWOT analysis is also a great component of the feedback process.
Important: Some issues that arise from a team building event are not a good fit for addressing in a group discussion. Group work can never replace individual face-to-face feedback.
Examples of (digital) teambuilding events
Today’s teambuilding activities are often easy to organize with digital platforms and are particularly exciting for the participants. And the cooperation isn’t too shabby either! Here are three examples of team building events with and without a digital approach:
- Digital Escape Games
Digital escape games are a project developed by the BITOU company, and they develop and implement professional teambuilding concepts. Participants work in small groups and attempt, with digital means, to solve a grave problem and “save the world.” The activity requires skills, such as creativity, communication, and analytical competence. Managers are able to see how their employees act under stress, how they communicate with each other, and which individuals in the group take on particular roles.
- Chain Reaction 4.0 – the Digitization Workshop
Chain Reaction 4.0 is a digitization workshop, whose purpose is to introduce teams to the possibilities of digitization through cross-media applications and digital technology in a playful way. It’s important to the provider (also BITOU) that even critics of digitization feel included. The workshop is customizable to particular themes of different companies; there are modules, for example, for agile work, for cultural change through digital technology, or for the transformation of business in the direction of Industry 4.0. Participating teams are divided into small groups, each of which assumes responsibility for a concrete construction phase of the digital chain reaction. Participants are able to experience changes, how the entire system functions, and the requirements of teamwork at close range. The goals and results of the workshop are discussed as a team, and, as a result of the event, the team is able to take away several concrete measures for the regular workday as well as strategies for dealing with any future changes that affect the company and work life.
- Building prosthetics for landmine victims
The concept for this teambuilding event comes from the US but is also quite popular in Germany. Small groups of participants assemble prostheses for the victims of landmines. There is no competition between the groups here, and German organizers report that participants of these workshops often feel very strongly about it and powerfully connect with one another about how it feels to do something so meaningful that improves the mine victims’ lives in such a big way. This workshop is great for employees who don’t usually take to the “fun” events and contests, because, while they might indeed have fun, this exercise is all about employee harmony and working together. Many participants in this workshop actually completely forget that this is a teambuilding activity at all.
5 Tips for a successful teambuilding event
With these 5 tips, your teambuilding event will be a success for everyone — company and employees alike:
- Define your goals concretely and plan the details of the event with the input of your employees.
- Make sure your team knows each other beforehand – this is especially important for project teams that are newer. This is a great opportunity for SWOT analysis.
- Make sure the rules for cooperation are clearly set out.
- Communication is key!
- Be reliable and fair. Nobody should ever feel like a teambuilding exercise is there to expose their weaknesses.