How to Conquer the Team Building Stigma (And Why You Need To)

When you think team building, what springs to mind? Embarrassing games? Trust falls? Facilitators who break into songs and cheers? It’s almost embarrassing to think that company leaders believe these activities could promote teamwork.

If this is your idea of team building, let me apologize. I’ll be the first to admit that these exercises happen every day at well-intentioned business organizations. But you should realize that trust falls and company cheers don’t (and shouldn’t) make up a complete approach to team building.

Far from it, actually.

The Team Building Stigma

Team building gets a bad rap for several reasons. It’s boring. It’s a waste of time. You can’t measure its effectiveness. 

This might be why only 18% of employees agree that bonding opportunities actually improve their work life. Skepticism aside, team building is one of the biggest investments you’ll ever make for your people.

Staff members need time to get to learn about each other. They need to build trust and learn to collaborate. Their success depends on it—which also means your success depends on it.

Here’s where many companies fail: Instead of focusing on specific goals for team building, they only know that team building is important and then rely on every stereotypical activity and expect it to work. This is exactly where that team building stigma comes from.

Everyone has their own image of team building in their heads, and it’s not always pretty. Overcoming the stigma is the hard part. But once you do, you’ll be positioned to fully reap its benefits rather than hoping for the best.

Don’t Force Team Building

Many organizations make participation mandatory because they think they’ll get the biggest benefit from it, but that’s not entirely true. When you force engagement, you’re going to have outliers who are going through the motions without gaining anything. They’re there because they have to be. And that does nothing for your team-building goals.

Taking the “participation optional” approach means you’re working with people who want to be there. They care about improving their team skills. Plus, if they see the benefit, they can influence those who didn’t join in—maybe even make them want to participate next time.

Get to Know Your Team First

It helps to understand your team members before you plan an event. What are they passionate about? What do they fear? What are their goals? What charities do they support? Are there any work issues going on that need to be addressed? Use this information to make the event more tailored to what’s meaningful to your staff.

Make Your Event Feel Less Like Work

Team activities should not feel like a day at the office. Take your event outside, around town, or even out of town. It doesn’t even need to be called a team building event! Be creative. Volunteer for a few hours at a local charity. Set up a grown-up treasure hunt in a local park. 

The less it feels like work, the stronger your team can grow organically.

Team building is crucial to your organization’s success. You could have two, 20 or 200 employees, but you still need them to work together to help you achieve your entrepreneurial aspirations. You’ll never move forward unless everyone is pushing from the same side.

Once you conquer the stigma and recognize the value of team building, you’ll wonder why anyone ever wasted their time with the loathsome trust fall.

Written for the Entrepreneurs’ Organization by Rob Jackson, the owner of Magnovo, which delivers team building solutions anywhere in the United States.

Read more on team dynamics from the Octane blog. 

Categories: Company Culture general Human Resources Inspirational


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