Team building activities do not have to be tiring, painful, and expensive. You can run simple team-building activities that improve team competencies and drive results. You can pick team-building activities that will require collaboration to achieve team goals.
Let team members compete together against standards, not with each other. Simple team-building activities may help you build teamwork.
Let’s define some terms first so we can have a shared understanding of the words we use. I often encourage people who talk about team-building and teamwork whose understanding is so different.
What is Team-Building?
Team building is a collective term for all the activities intended to develop cohesive and harmonious relationships among team members. Team building also refers to developmental interventions that include training, games, activities, and other experiences sponsored by organizations to build teams.
What are team-building activities?
Team-building activities are games and exercises designed to help a team collaborate to achieve a shared goal and be motivated to perform at their best. Team building activities may also help develop specific team competencies and teamwork skills.
What is teamwork?
Teamwork consists of skills and attitudes that make individuals work together to achieve a common goal. Teamwork happens when members recognize the role of each other, communicate effectively, anticipate and meet each other’s demands, make decisions together, commit to each other, trust and inspire confidence, and engage in participative leadership.
There, let’s proceed to why we have to pick the right team-building games.
Solve Common Team Problems
We use team-building activities to help us solve team problems. Team-building games and exercises do not build teams. But when we effectively use them, we create shared experiences to jumpstart discussion on issues and to collaboratively find solutions. Effective team games may stimulate creativity. The shared experiences make it easy for members to open up and speak.
Money, time, and energy are wasted on team-building activities that do not serve a purpose. Some expensive team games provide the worst experiences to many underachieving teams.
I have encountered managers who, after purchasing team-building activities, contacted me to help them put meaning and inspiration into each purchased package.
What was the common problem of these managers?
They failed to identify the objectives of their team-building efforts. They are like headless chickens who wanted to keep on moving, and they were moving everywhere but went nowhere.
Make no mistake. I am not putting down anyone. I know that it is difficult to lead a team. Many KPIs do not include effective team leadership too. It is easy to ignore building a team when you have to pay more attention to figures than people.
Make Team Building Activities Work
I teach managers how to conduct positive team building. Positive team building improves your team’s effectiveness.
Use games and exercises to help you process problem-solving and learning. The tips that follow are simple, but I promise that when you keep them in mind, you will become more effective.
1. Begin with the end in mind.
To begin with, the end in mind means you think first about your big goals. Your big goals may include an increase in revenue, improvement in customer service, improvement in productivity, improvement in performance, or being the best in your industry. Team building initiatives serve not only your learning objectives.
I met a company president who said that his objective is Profit First, People First. I heard others say People First, Profit Second. But his objective is clear to me.
Start with a clear endpoint in mind. What specifically do you want your team to learn and accomplish?
Think well. You need to build your team according to your team’s purpose.
Set goals your team can achieve. Aim for change that is both relevant and immediately doable. Think of an attitude, skills, or processes your team can apply after your team-building activities.
Team building experiences are interventions among many interventions that your team must undertake to improve performance.
There are many building blocks to team building and you cannot build them by playing games and participating in various team-building activities.
You don’t build teams in a day.
2. Objectives first, then the exercises.
A team-building objective refers to your desired result if you conduct your team-building initiative right. It is specific and clear. It can be measured. It may include specific behaviors (lead measure) and the impact (lag measure).
Improving team accountability is an aim. But it is not specific. It does not also say what impact you want to see when people have team accountability.
Therefore, avoid motherhood statements when writing objectives.
Many facilitators tweak their favorite games to customize their team-building workshops. While I admit that this can really be done by experts, you will be more effective by keeping your eyes on your objectives.
Find exercises that match your objectives.
Search for guidebooks and field books on team building. Search for team building games on Youtube and websites. Pick the activities that will achieve your objectives.
Combine some activities to meet your objectives. Proper sequencing of the activities will also help your team make sense of all the activities.
When your purpose is compelling and clear, you will also find it easy to “create” your own games and activities.
Many of the games that I have used are “improved versions” of what I found in many team-building books.
Sometimes, popular games produce the worst team-building exercises. Flip them over to serve your objectives.
3. Focus on building cooperation, communication, and collaboration – not just competition.
Most team games do not build teams because the purpose of team games is to find the strongest. Team sports are team games. One must one, and all the other teams must lose. Yes, we expect the winning teams to have teamwork.
But sometimes, they can win without teamwork. Tug o war, sack races, amazing races, and obstacle courses are examples of team games. The strongest are likely to win. And the weak ones are losers.
Team building games, on the other hand, are a teaching tool. You make people play team-building games to learn about collaboration, cooperation, open and honest communication, and participative leadership. The objectives are win-win and learning.
Do you see the importance of picking simple, but effective team-building games to build teamwork?
Compete against a challenge, not against each other. Your employees belong to only one team even if you have many departments.
Competition can be a good thing. It can excite, energize, and challenge people when the team has a common enemy. However, do not assume that competition is best for everyone. It can deflate and discourage.
Competition can defeat the purpose of your team-building workshop. You do not want an intramural.
Many dysfunctional teams have trust issues. They tend to complain about “cheating” and “dishonesty” of other teams.
Unfortunately, many team-building exercises are run like college intramural.
To ensure that you have a healthy dose of competition, choose team-building activities that will not make them compete against each other.
Let them compete against the clock.
Let them hurdle difficult challenges and let them realize that they can learn from each other.
Let them feel the need for each other; let them realize that all of them can win by working together.
Remember, Positive Team Building exercises begin with the end in mind.