The Secrets to Successful Team Building Activities
Are team-building activities worth the investment? Done well, my answer is YES! However, the return on team building is not always easily quantifiable. Do you remember the old MasterCard commercials where people used their card to pay for flights, hotels, or dinner with friends and family? The commercial ends the same way each time ... "priceless." I feel the same way about the return on team building. It may be difficult to quantify skills like increased trust, motivation, energy, and camaraderie, but it’s obvious after a team building activity that we are better because of it.
As I plan my team building activities for the SCU Women’s Soccer Team, I wanted to share my thoughts on a few key ingredients to ensure successful team building.
Take away time from work
This demonstrates to the group that you believe in the investment so much you're willing to spend company resources. We take off two to three days in the middle of preseason training when I'm quite sure every other Division I team is training. We're only allowed a little more than two weeks to work with our team prior to the first match of the season, so every day is critical. Taking this time during our short preseason preparation sends a clear message about the value we see from the outcomes of team building.
Get off site
There's nothing like a good road trip! Get away from the grind. Get away from technology that keeps you distracted. Get away from a place where there may be real or perceived barriers to communication. There's something very different about conversations had while looking out over the Pacific, up in the mountains, on a lake, or staring at a campfire. These venues allow you to let go of the small stuff and gain perspective. Truth be told, just setting up tents can be quite humorous, stressful, and challenging for a group and will provide good team building opportunities.
Do something out of your comfort zone
Make it uncomfortable, fun, challenging and/or competitive. We choose sporting events that are outside the skills developed in the student athlete’s sport. For example, the women’s soccer team recently competed in a swimming relay race, which was out of many of their comfort zones. Doing this allows us to evaluate things like stress management, composure, leadership, fear of failure ... and yes, we have lifeguards at the ready.
Celebrate the winners
One of the secrets of a successful team building activity is to really celebrate the winners. This provides great positive reinforcement and it’s really fun to own the “bragging rights” within the group. In our most recent competition the winning team gets the big prize like choosing the music and/or desert for the night, second place a smaller prize, third place neither wins nor loses anything, fourth has a consequence like waking up early to make breakfast for the group, and last place suffers the worst consequence like having to perform a camp skit for the entire group.
End the activity by discussing what you learned
At the end of an event, we come together and share what we've learned to appreciate about each other. We talk about what we've learned about effective communication, problem solving, and teamwork. We set new individual, group, and team goals, as well as renew our commitments to each other. We talk about embracing the opportunities in front of us and leave with a renewed sense of purpose, perspective, and energy.
Understanding how to organize and run successful team building activities can pay great dividends for any group. I truly believe our investment in the many team-building activities we have during a year is one of our secrets to success.