Team Building That Actually Builds Teams

If you work in an office, you’ve probably been involved in a team-building exercise a least once. Team-building exercises can be a powerful way to improve a team’s communication, problem solving or decision-making skills. They can increase the adaptability or creativity of a team, and even build trust amongst team members.

So why do so many of us dread them?

One obvious reason is because there are some really bad team-building ideas out there. One blogger asked her readers to submit their worst experiences with team-building exercises and some of them (like going around the room and telling everyone what you dislike about them) are truly horrifying.

However, another reason is that even when team-building activities are a good experience for everyone, once back at the office, it’s way too easy to revert back to “normal” behavior. Have you noticed that too? That ‘day of fun’ may have been a nice break from business, but if nothing lasting is accomplished, it can leave everyone feeling like it was kind of pointless.

One of the issues here is that team-building exercises are often viewed as an end unto themselves. Team-building exercises are a powerful way to increase group effectiveness, but only if there is a strategic reason for the exercises. There should be a real purpose behind the activity, such as improving problem solving skills or creative thinking, and clear goals for how these new skills will be applied in real-world tasks.

From this perspective, the most important part of planning team-building exercises is to first figure out what challenges your team is facing right now. Only then can you plan activities that will support their success in working through these issues.

Ask yourself a few questions to identify root issues of current problems, such as:

  • Do the members of the team know each other well or do they need to know and understand each other better?
  • Are the members of the team resistant to change? Or, are there specific members that are holding back progress because of their resistance to change?
  • Are there conflicts that are causing divisions? Are there members of the team that are conflict makers?
  • Are the members of the team primarily focused on their own success or the success of the team as a whole?
  • Is poor communication causing unnecessary conflict and slowing down progress?

Once you’ve identified the primary problem to be addressed, a quick Google search will provide you with hundreds and hundreds of ideas for team building exercises. Try to choose activities that will not only accomplish your goal, but also be fun, entertaining and memorable. Try to think outside the box.

For example, David Hornik of August Capital, has been blogging about start ups and the importance of culture for years. In 2004, he was invited to go spelunking with a group of VC backers and the executive team of Splunk Technology. After the successful outing, he wrote, “There is no question that rappelling deep into a cave and crawling around its bowels with lighted helmets has brought the Splunk team closer together. It won’t guarantee that they build a better platform for managing IT infrastructure but it will help the team to work together, united around that goal.”

No matter which activity is selected for team building, the success of your activity will be influenced in no small part by:

  • Congruence between the activity and the required learning outcomes.
  • The environment and the atmosphere the facilitator creates.
  • The attitude and enthusiasm of the facilitator
  • Acknowledgement that some people are more comfortable than others in undertaking activities.
  • Effective debriefing that helps everyone connect the activity to current challenges

I’d like to hear from you. What do you think about team building exercises? Have you participated in any that you felt were particularly beneficial?


About Dan Finerty

Dan Finerty is the Director of Marketing at the Mountain West Credit Union Association, a Credit Union champion, a Credit Union Development Educator (CUDE), and an award-winning marketer. Dan has over 14 years of marketing experience in communications, retail, packaged goods, and, of course, Credit Unions. He believes that Credit Unions have an incredible story to tell and works with some of the brightest Credit Union professionals to help promote Credit Unions to the public. Dan holds two Bachelor’s of Science in Marketing and in Management. He is also a swell guy.


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