Did you know the performance of your star employees might be dependent on their team? A Harvard study found that the highest-performing surgeons only performed at their best when supported by a familiar and trusted team. Ensuring that you have cohesive teams in place then, is more important than ever.

Fortunately, there are several work team building strategies you can apply to keep your employees happy and productive. Team building done well boosts motivation, productivity, and employees’ well-being. If those benefits sound worth cultivating, read on for five tips to building a successful work team.

1. Informal Socializing

Simply allowing time in the day for informal socializing can go a long way in building trust. At MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory, researchers found that the most important predictor of a team’s success was how well teams communicated in informal settings. While communicating effectively on work-related matters is vital to a team’s success, the ability to maintain a casual conversation about other topics indicates that a team gets along well.

You can build opportunities to socialize into the day easily, and without sacrificing productivity. Examples include scheduling breaks at the same time or establishing a communal space to eat lunch.

2. Volunteer for a Good Cause

It’s widely accepted that volunteering benefits the helper as much as those being helped. But volunteering is also helpful for creating social cohesion or a stronger sense of community. An extensive research project on youth volunteerism at De Montfort University found that volunteering increased volunteers’ sense of influence and trust. Trusting your team members and feeling trusted are both important team values, and having a sense of influence simply equates to knowing that your voice will be heard.

Volunteering is even beneficial at the corporate level. In 1994, John Elkington coined the phrase “the triple bottom line” which he used to refer to the three “P"s of a business should consider: Profit, People, and Planet. He argued that in addition to measuring profit, businesses should be concerned about their social and environmental impact. Using volunteer activities for work team building can also contribute to the wider company culture of service and social responsibility.

3. Escape from the Office

Just getting away from the office atmosphere can be a relaxing and necessary change of pace for teams to strengthen relationships. Going on a field trip, so to speak, encourages conversation outside of strictly work-related matters too. For those naysayers who criticize corporate team building games, an activity outside of the office might spark a natural interest.

Team building for work outside of the office can range from a multiple-day retreat to a company lunch. In fact, simply sharing a meal together is one of the five most recommended team building activities by David W. Ballard from the APA Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program. Others include our second tip volunteering and the next tip: physical exercise.

4. Get Active

Providing opportunities for your employees to get active can be much appreciated since just about everyone finds it challenging to stick to a regular exercise routine. But more than the physical benefits, exercise can also help you socially. Exercise relieves stress, reduces worry, and may even help with social anxiety. The physical and mental well-being of team directly influences their productivity.

But it’s important to remember that not everyone will find physical activities enjoyable. Find out what motivates your employees so you aren’t pushing them into very uncomfortable situations. You might find that a volleyball match with coworkers sounds too intimidating for some of your employees, but that many of them enjoy hiking in the area. Companies can also participate in or sponsor bigger events like marathons or walkathons.

Of course, when planning a physical team building activity, make sure you consider everyone’s abilities and allow for low intensity or even non-physical options. The last thing you want to do when attempting a team-building exercise is single someone out for not being able to play.

5. Practice Work Skills through Play

When people think of team building exercises, they typically think of being forced to play silly games or trust exercises. But there’s still a way to encourage play without seeming cheesy.

Research has repeatedly found that adults should play more. Stuart Brown, psychiatrist and author of the book Play, finds that play has a wide variety of benefits, from reducing the chances of criminal behavior to forging meaningful relationships between strangers.

But adults are more likely to view play as a waste of time, rather than time well spent. Before trying any of the following activities, it’s important to frame your corporate team building games properly. Explain the skills you want teams to use during the exercise or encourage them to use it as a way to relax or de-stress. You’ll want to vary your explanation depending on your company culture and employees’ motivation.

Try these small fun activities for employees:

  • Creative problem-solving scenario (i.e. zombie apocalypse, deserted island)
  • Escape rooms (create your own clues or find them online)
  • Collaborative artwork (freestyle or based on a theme)
  • Structure building contest (i.e. with office supplies or toothpicks and marshmallows)

Don’t forget to debrief after the activity, whether by sharing everyone’s work, reviewing the skills used, or discussing takeaways as a group.

Takeaways

Team building for work can seem tricky, but it doesn’t have to be. Since they can come attached with a negative stigma, the most important thing to remember is to make team building activities as natural as possible. Chances for informal socializing are the most natural and least structured. Activities structured around a clear goal, like a volunteer project or afternoon hike provide more structure but still read as very natural. Finally, you can apply small fun activities for employees for more traditional team building, but be clear about the purpose of these exercises to reduce any cynicism.

Don’t be swayed by unmotivated employees. Team building activities can be fun and offer a wide range of benefits for individual employees, teams, and across your company. For more information on team building and corporate strategy, visit our resources.

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