How to plan team-building activities that don’t stink

Employee engagement

If you’ve ever rolled your eyes at an invitation to a team-building activity, you’re not alone. But team-building activities can be a good way to boost employee engagement, and research proves that engaged employees perform better. A study of more than 111,000 employee surveys found that organizations with engaged employees have less absenteeism, greater productivity, greater customer satisfaction, and 100% more unsolicited job applications.

Another study by MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory collected data on communication behaviour, like tone of voice and body language, and found that productivity could be best predicted by how energetic and engaged a team is outside of formal meetings.

In short, people who like where they work perform better. So how do you get your employees engaged and excited to come to work? It’s not as hard as it seems.

Here are some tips on how you can plan team-building activities that will actually appeal to your team.

Start with the basics 

Forget the egg and spoon race — simply building in social opportunities to everyday office life can have a big impact.

For example, the MIT Human Dynamics Lab study found that making lunchroom tables longer at a software company had a measurable positive impact on how employees communicated, simply because strangers were sitting together at lunch. In another example from the same study, call centre employee breaks were scheduled at the same time so that people could socialize with their teammates away from their desks.

It worked; management forecasted $15 million per year in productivity increases, and the change was rolled out to all of the bank’s call centres (about 25,000 employees).

By simply encouraging your employees to interact outside their cubicles on a daily basis, you could make a measurable and cost-effective impact on engagement and productivity.

Know your audience (and buck the trends)

At the same software company mentioned above, managers also hosted “beer meets” to improve communication among employees, but the events had little or no positive effect. Perks like free booze and ping pong tables are trendy employee engagement tactics, but not everyone’s definition of fun is the same.

To find out what might work for your team, get right to the source. Send out a short anonymous survey, speak to staff one-on-one, or casually ask your employees about memorable (good or bad) team-building activities they’ve participated in.

Aim to give your staff what they want, not what’s been done before at your company or what’s popular in your industry. Not only will the activity be more enjoyable, it will also have a much greater impact on your employees.

Know what you want to achieve

Just what do you want to achieve? Do you want to promote bonding? Repair tense relationships? Break the ice among new team members? There are an endless number of team-building activities you could choose from (including weekly socials, full-day or weekend retreats, escape rooms, charity work, learning lunches and office Olympics, to name a few), so defining clear goals can help you make your choice.

Once you’ve got your team’s input, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What change do you hope to achieve?
  • Is the activity inclusive? Can everyone participate?
  • Is there a psychological risk? (i.e. humiliation or potential for conflict or anger)
  • How much time away from work is manageable for my employees?
  • When will staff want to attend an event?
  • How will you evaluate success? How will you know what worked and what didn’t work?

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for team-building activities. But by paying attention to the everyday routine of your team, getting employees involved in planning, and asking strategic questions, you can keep the eye rolls to a minimum.

See also:
5 steps to setting goals with your team
The 4 golden rules of successful team building

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