Team Building 101

By Mark Shipley, president & chief strategic officer of Smith & Jones and an EO Albany member

Working in a high performance, accountable organization has a certain grind to it. While the creative industry can be fun and fulfilling, it can also be stressful and thankless. Like any other job, there are good days and there are bad days, but amid the high highs and the low lows, it’s important to have some fun to prevent employee burnout.

Over the years, I’ve found that it’s best to insert some fun into regular responsibilities to break up the hum drum of the daily routine. One way we do this is to start every week with a group huddle on Monday mornings. There, we discuss major accomplishments of each department from the week before and recognize one extraordinary employee with the “Best Foot Forward Award.”

Another thing we like to do is fuel our team for success. If members of the team need to stay late to complete a project on time, we’ll fill the kitchen with snacks or order in dinner to show we appreciate the extra time and effort they’re putting in to get it done right.

We also like to celebrate our wins. When we finally push a new website “live,” we’ll bring in a cake with the homepage printed on top to commemorate the labor of love. When we land a new client, we’ll pass around glasses of champagne and toast our team for the hours put into the sales calls that got our foot in the door, and the pitches and presentations that ultimately won the piece of business.

I’ve learned that it’s also important to single out individuals with rewards. Research has shown that money, time off and public praise isn’t what makes employees feel valued. It turns out that they like quiet, personal recognitions of a job well done. I like to call them “random acts of kindness.” This is when we choose an employee and give them a small gift especially chosen for them, such as fishing gear for our outdoorsman or a restaurant gift certificate for our new mom.

It’s important to keep these things up throughout a person’s career, rather than only praising them for their great work when they’re leaving. I like to start things off on the right foot with new employees with a fruit basket waiting for them on their front porch after their first day on the job. It’s little things like these that will truly make an employee feel valued.

In our industry, we rely heavily on one another to get things done. We are a team, but there is also an established chain of command for every project and campaign that leaves our doors. We quickly learn how to work with one another inside of the office, but over the years I’ve also found that it’s helpful for employees to learn about how each other operates outside of work.

Over the years, we’ve hosted many team building activities, but there are a couple of favorites that stand out. One of them was when we went white water rafting on the Hudson River in April. We had to work together to ensure everyone made it safely down the river. Another was when we completed a high ropes course in the Adirondacks. Each team member had to climb to the top of a wobbly, 50-foot telephone pole before jumping off (with a harness, of course) while everyone cheered them on from below.

While it’s fun to occasionally push employees outside of their comfort zones, sometimes, people just want to hang out and relax. That’s why we’ve included some events as simple as a bowling night, a softball game, and most recently, a boys vs girls fundraising competition for breast cancer awareness.

All of the little celebrations and team building activities we plan tie back to our core values. They’re the beliefs and traits that our employees embody and the culture that we’d like to preserve. Once your core values are identified, everything else falls into place and you will have a strong, harmonious team.

Categories: Best Practices Business/Finance Tips Company Culture Human Resources Lessons Learned

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