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Team Building Events and Exercises

Aug 17, 2007
This document is all about understanding teams and team building training; the purpose of team building activities; why corporate team building events can be effective; planning a team building strategy; building creative teams.

Why have a team building activity or event?

This is a phrase we hear a lot these days: 'we need some kind of teambuilding activity'. Corporate team building events are on the increase: everyone seems to be having them these days. But are they living up to expectations?

See, from our point of view, often the people talking about team building don't really know what they mean.

The reality is, that many, if not most, team building activities don't work. They should. All that thought, effort, money, planning should make your team building event exciting, worthwhile and productive.

It's as if we all know that teams are good. We understand the sum of the parts thing, but we don't quite know how to make a team work in the way we'd like it to, so we think, 'My team isn't working as well as it could; a team building will sort it all out.'

Why a team building event?

When people say they want a team building event their picture is of this perfectly working group of people. But they don't take the time to pin that picture down and really get clear what the issues are. If they did that then their team building activity would certainly help them get their team working more effectively.

So, before you can even tackle the 'how' you need to tackle the 'why'.

Here are some questions that will help you clarify 'why a team building event'.

Do you want people working better together?
Do you want to set new team goals and agreements?
Do you need to iron out communication difficulties that have crept in?
Do you want a jolly - to reward the team for being terrific?
Do you simply want to get everyone's creative juices going and brainstorm new ideas?
Do you need to set clear parameters and boundaries so everyone knows what's expected of them?
Do you want to inject some fresh enthusiasm and energy into a group that's been working too hard and may have lost sight of the goal posts?
Have the goals posts moved and you need to let everyone know that?

Benefits of team building activity

A good corporate team building event can tackle many of the challenges facing your team. There are real payoffs and advantages to being part of a well-functioning team. To begin with, it's just pleasanter being around people who get on.

More importantly, real benefits include:

A feeling of identity
On-going support
Creative pooling of ideas
Increased confidence
Things tend to work better as a result of team effort
You aren't alone
Goals that make sense
You don't have to keep reinventing the wheel
If you do have to reinvent the wheel for some reason, so is everyone else in the team

A team building training can address a huge range of issues you may be facing and certainly make work a better place to be.

How teams work

What is a team?

It may help you decide what your team building activity is going to look like if you understand a bit more about how teams work. And, get this - no matter what the books say (and there are plenty of them) - every single team is different: there is no model you can follow that will create the perfect team.

You'll read that you need ideas people, drivers, completer-finishers, etc., etc., etc. And yes, possibly you do need a variety of 'types'. But for our money, the 'types' are far less important than ensuring that your team knows why it exists and what its aims are.

So let's look first at just exactly what being a team means. You might think that the very word 'team' is clear in and of itself: a group of people working towards shared goals. We wish it were that straightforward. As it isn't, we thought we would unpick it a bit.

Sports teams

The most obvious kind of team that everyone knows about is a sports team. Every team member is on the same side trying to beat the opposition. They train together, get to understand how to make the most of each other's skills, and when working well, they are able to fulfil the manager or coach's strategy.

They know who their opposition is and they have very clear goals. Yes, there may be personality quirks and differences, but the whole truly is greater than the sum of its parts.

Work teams

However, it's not quite so straightforward when it comes to work teams, though, is it? Personalities, which in a sporting context might get absorbed by the team for the good of the game, often take centre stage in the workplace.

The oddest thing of all, of course, is that it's not always clear who the 'opposition' is. You'd think it would be the competition - whoever your closest corporate rival is. Unfortunately, far too often, the opposition turns out to be right at home base: another team or department, the 'management' or someone sitting right beside you.

The common enemy

Now the thing about 'opposition' is that it gives a common focus, a common 'enemy' if you will. Now that's great if it's productive. Creative ideas can pour out of a group when they have to figure out how to handle the competition.

However, when the common enemy is someone or some group or some department, or the 'them' and 'they' are within the same company, the results are divisiveness, gossip, complaining. The end result of this is, of course, a loss of productivity and people working against, not for each other.

Then it's all about 'them' and 'us', with people running around using their energies to get more of 'us' to agree just what's wrong with 'them'. We see this in company after company after company - people are spending vast amounts of time and energy having a 'go' at each other rather than using that same amount of time and energy to make things work better.

This is one of the key reasons why team building is such a hot topic. People can easily recognise that something needs to be done, but they aren't quite sure what.

Defining your team

Kinds of teams

These days we see a lot of 'virtual' teams - people who hardly ever see each other, or even work in the same office or even the same country.

Then there are teams that all sit in an open plan space and chat with each other all day as things arise.

There are teams where people sit in separate spaces and get together once a day/week/fortnight.

There are teams that seem to do all their communicating via e-mail or conference calls.

There are teams that work on projects together and others where people go off and do their own thing and come together every once in a while to report and bring everyone else up to date.

Whatever your team looks like, however, it still has to be able to function well and achieve its goals.

What teams aren't

They don't have to be a family
People don't have to be bosom buddies
People don't even have to like each enough to want to have dinner together
Teams aren't group therapy

Teams can, however, on occasion, be any or all of those things.

Team building training

Effective team building

Teams are complex machines and it's not surprising that they malfunction occasionally or need re-alignment. Every once in a while all teams need an MOT, so of course, you want to ensure that your team building event is as effective as it can be.

The one thing that everyone recognises is that your team building activity needs to be done away from the office environment. The idea is to slow things right down; to get away from e-mails, phone calls, questions and demands, being asked to pop into unscheduled meetings, people dropping by.

It means getting away from all the day-to-day stuff that sometimes makes it hard to see what's going on and what's needed.

Here are a few hints and tips to make planning your team building event more effective:

Everyone needs to have some input into what the team building event should accomplish
Listen carefully to people's concerns and incorporate them in the team building training
No one should ever be put on the spot or humiliated
People shouldn't be forced to do things they don't want to
People learn better when they're having fun
Focus on the positives of the team rather than just what isn't working

Team building activities

Once you know what you want your event to achieve, then you can decide what it's going to look like. You can do the go-carting thing, the throwing people off Welsh mountains thing. You can have the cosy get-away in a country hotel thing. You can have it non-stop fun, be business focused or have a bit of both.

There are hundreds of different team building exercises, games, workshops, courses, all designed to get your team working better and handling the day-to-day challenges in the workplace.

There is no 'right' kind of team building activity, only the one that's right for you.

The key always is to ensure that your event has a positive effect on the morale, motivation, confidence and effectiveness of the team and its individual members.
About the Author
Jo Ellen and Robin run Impact Factory who provide Team Building Presentation Skills, Communications Training, Leadership Development and Executive Coaching for Individuals.
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