Have you ever been at a ‘team away’ day and, when faced with the choice of abseiling down a vertical cliff (supported by your team), raft building (again with said team members), or an archery challenge (at that point perhaps hoping not to be chosen as the target), struggled to recall why it had ever seemed like a great idea?
True, not all team-building activities need to include a venture into the great outdoors, with the compulsion to “bond” as a group whilst hurtling down the rapids on a structure comprised of a couple of floorboards, some dubious buoyancy aids and a rope that has quite frankly seen better days, but the underlying question remains: do team building exercises really work?
To answer that question, you would need to go back to why, as a business, the need to invest in team building initiatives has become a requirement.
Why consider team building?
Businesses are under increasing pressure and yours is probably no different. Maybe a restructure is afoot or a shift in the political climate is affecting your industry, leaving staff tired and overworked. In these situations, businesses might consider turning to team building exercises in an effort to rally the troops and unite everyone, hopefully while having a little fun along the way.
If this is something you are indeed considering, the first thing you need to decide is what you want to get out of the exercise. Having a specific “shopping list” of what you want to get out of the day, the morning or the exercise is very important. Obviously a good business will seek to motivate staff and keep their morale, productivity and performance high. Here are the pros and cons.
Willingness to share ideas
Organising an event where every individual in the team gets to share his or her ideas on an equal platform is very important. This can be done as an indoor or outdoor exercise but you do have to ensure that you are not excluding anyone from taking part. Those who have a disability, for example, should be able to interact with the exercise at exactly the same level as everyone else. Team members then become more willing back at the workplace to share ideas because they feel “safe” in being able to do so, knowing that fellow colleagues will be receptive.
Increase in overall function of the group
British researcher and management theorist Meredith Belbin produced a now well-known behavioural test after studying teams working in Henley Management College, England. He identified nine team roles and his inventory assesses how a person will behave in a team environment. This inventory appeared in 1981 as part of his book Management Teams: Why They Succeed or Fail. The roles that he identified are as follows:
If you can identify within your team which roles (and people can assume more than one) staff prefer to assume, then you can identify gaps in the current team structure. Part of a team building exercise is to explore whether individuals would be able to fill those gaps and if their work role allows them to do this. It can lead to a reorganisation of work but if team members recognise and understand their strengths and those of their work colleagues, then there is an increase in the functionality of the team.
Reduces stress levels
Team building exercises should be fun and involve everyone, and they should take place outside of the normal working environment. Part of evaluating the success of the exercise is reviewing what has taken place, what could be done better, and in a different environment it does kick out some interesting ways of viewing the workplace. Taking a step back from what you are involved in and sharing your concerns or challenges as a team is very therapeutic and does lift some of the pressure from everyone’s shoulders.
Unites the staff team towards a common goal
This is a very important message, i.e. we are all in this together, and we (the management/owners) do not have all the answers. It is very important that employees are treated with honesty and respect. You may have to downsize/merge/change, etc. but you are using this time to see if there is any other structure or process or model that will be fit for purpose that you have not yet identified. Equally, if you have identified a common goal, now is the time to focus staff and unite them in working towards that goal.
Most team building exercises now tend to take place during the working day but it does mean time away from the workplace. You have to balance what you get from the exercise against the downtime experienced in the department.
This really depends on what you decide to do. The most successful team building exercises are best led by an external provider or someone who is not part of the team. They also play the role of objective observer and their insights can be incredibly revealing and helpful. Keeping the exercises local or for a half-day period, or sharing the costs with other departments will help to ensure that it doesn’t have to be very expensive.
Do team building exercises work? For many organisations they absolutely do. They give companies the chance to revisit themselves and their strengths (and weaknesses), and also to take a fresh look at how as a team companies can solve problems together.
In addition, you have to remember that even though you will capture a lot of information and there will be an increase in team cohesion that this momentum does need to be maintained. It is very easy to slip back to the level the team was at before, within a couple of months. So ultimately team building has to be an ongoing process.
About the author
Alina T. is the Head of Customer Services with Dingo Trails. Even though she has a degree in accounting and loves numbers, she has found that she loves interacting with people a whole lot more! Having worked with neoprene products for almost 5 years, she loves being able to introduce customers to a truly high quality product, and enjoys being part of the close-knit team behind Dingo Trails. More importantly, she knows how having a good team can make all the difference when it comes to creating a successful company!