Team building exercises can range from simple to outrageous and from highly effective to worthless – it just depends on who is hosting, the budget, and most importantly, the purpose. Yet, team building activities are essential to creating high performance teams.
Team building activities play a pivotal role in building and maintaining high performance teams. You can literally draw a direct line from employee and team performance to overall organizational success. Therefore, one of the most important organizational activities is one that makes team building a priority.
There are a variety of organizational benefits gained by engaging in team building activities, including but not limited to:
- When properly executed, team building activities improve relationships and strengthen the bonds between team members by illustrating the interdependent nature of teams and how working together synergistically is fundamentally important to the achievement of the stated goal or goals
- They also help team members understand the importance of and improve the quality of communication as it is a hallmark of all high performance teams to effectively communicate and coordinate their activities and actions
- They can help improve trust, which is the glue that holds all high performance teams together, and the elements of trust include but are not limited to capability, credibility, and consideration
There are a variety of ways to engage teams in these types of exercises. One school of thought is to present real world problems. This is especially true when the exercise is targeted toward management but can also work well when the exercises are directed at other or all levels. Simulation exercises under the right set of circumstances can also work well.
A couple of my favorite activities focus on improving communication skills within teams.
For the Back-to-Back Drawing exercise, the leader divides the group into pairs and has each pair sit on the floor back to back. One person in each pair is given a picture of a shape and the other person is given a pencil and pad of paper. The people holding the picture are to give verbal instructions to their partners on how to draw the shape without actually telling the partners what the shape is. After they’ve finished, each pair is asked to compare their original shape with the actual drawing and the following questions can be discussed:
- How well did the first person describe the shape?
- How well did the second person interpret the instructions?
- Were there problems with either the sending or receiving parts of the communication process?
Mine Field is a great exercise if there is a large room or outdoor field. A “mine field” is set up using chairs, balls, cones, boxes, or any other object that could potentially be an obstacle and trip someone up. Enough space is left between the objects for someone to walk through. Next, the group is divided into pairs with close attention to who is matched together. This is a perfect opportunity to work on relationships, so it is wise to put together people who have trust issues with each other. One person becomes the “mine walker,” is blindfolded and is not allowed to talk. His or her partner is asked to stay outside the mine field and give verbal directions, helping the “mine walker” avoid the obstacles and reach the other side of the area.
Before beginning, partners spend a few minutes planning how they’ll communicate. The activity leader should make sure there are consequences when people hit an obstacle. For example, perhaps they have to start again from the beginning. This activity can enhance trust, increase ways to verbally communicate and instill a sense of accomplishment for the teams.
Organizations must determine how important it is to tailor the activity to a specific group to avoid resistance and poor participation. This is a logical concern as it is critical to ensure that employees build upon what they have learned when they return to work. One sure fire way to create apathy is to engage in an exercise that is unrelated to their work. Now don’t get me wrong, there can be a place for these types of activities as having employees engage in purely fun activities as a respite from the constant bad news may reduce stress and foster togetherness and engaging in a philanthropic activity can make employees feel good about their company. However, neither translates into helping to solve an immediate or pressing business problem, such as how to streamline a process or readjust to new circumstances.
Finally, it is important to remember to account for different styles and personalities. Whereas one employee may love a certain exercise, another may hate it. It’s important to engage in activities that have different roles to account for personality differences or those that are varied enough to place employees in different roles than those they’re used to, so they can appreciate what other team members are going through. Also, choosing a facilitator who will tailor the program to you is a must. Make sure the person or company you choose to work with will evaluate your organization’s needs and will focus on what you want to accomplish rather than insist on what they think you need.