Managers and workplace experts alike agree that in concept, corporate team building activities are an important part of team development. In reality, the meeting planner is often overwhelmed by the wide array of team building ideas from which to choose. Without understanding the specific team building objectives of their group, it becomes virtually impossible to create a successful event.
Let’s say we take the parallel cases of Steve and Sally. Steve and Sally were both assigned the same task in different departments: find a team building activity for the afternoon that fits their budget. Each manager added the only other condition: “it should be fun”.
But once Steve and Sally began to dig into the options they realized that their groups could do everything from shoot paintballs at each other, do a scavenger hunt, solve crimes, scale walls and climb ropes courses, go kayaking or canoeing, ride horses or cook a four-course meal. How would they decide?
Steve, hoping to make a choice that would please his boss, thought that since his manager liked golf, and since the golf course nearby had a nice restaurant, this would make a good afternoon outing. His group could play some holes, have dinner and award a trophy to the winning team.
Sally realized that with so many choices she needed more information. She downloaded our team building planner’s resource guide called I Love Team Building (ask us if you want a copy). This guide helped her clarify her group’s objectives. She went back to her manager with a few key questions:
- “What is the number one reason that we are holding a team building session?”
- “Are there any additional reasons?”
- “Who will be participating in this team building session?
- “What do we want them to get out of it?”
- “What did we like about our last team building session and what didn’t work?”
Asking these questions got Sally more detailed feedback. Sally’s manager Sarah reflected that the department had recently been through a stressful period where everyone had worked long hours. Inter-office tensions had mounted and while they’d pulled through okay, she felt that that some of the group’s easy camaraderie had been compromised under the pressure. Sarah’s number one goal for this activity was that everyone, including herself, could have a friendly competition that got people energized and joking around again.
As Sarah thought about it some more, she added it would be nice if they could do something around making strategic choices under tight time constraints. “I’d love it if we could do an activity that could allow us to practice that without taking away the fun,” she said, “And Sally, please get us out of the office because we’ve been stuck inside for what feels like forever”.
Sally also learned that their last team building activity, a game of laser tag, had been high on energy but low on actual team spirit and specific takeaway learning. While there were teams, it was in actuality an “everyone-out-for-themselves” activity. Some co-workers had loved it but others had given up early because they weren’t fit or fast enough to win.
Now Sally had a set of objectives to work from when considering team building ideas. This was her list:
- An activity that first and foremost brings some fun and relaxation back into our group after a stressful time
- An activity that is both competitive and fun
- An activity that would ideally give our group a chance to practice making choices under pressure
Additional parameters to consider:
- A group activity that includes everyone including our manager
- A group activity that everyone is able to physically do
- A group activity that gets everyone out of the office
With those objectives, Sally found it much easier to sift and eliminate team building activities that didn’t meet her requirements.
What she discovered was a corporate scavenger hunt. There were multiple levels of activity – everything from answering trivia questions based on visiting specified parts of the city to working together to form human sculptures and writing a poem about their experience. It reminded her a bit of the popular TV show “The Amazing Race” except it was right in her city and had other elements that made it appropriate for a corporate team building event.
How did Steve and Sally’s events go?
Steve’s event pleased his manager on a personal level, but he expressed disappointment that “not everyone seemed to be into it”. Everyone enjoyed a nice dinner and the trophy went to the avid golfers in the office. When they got back work, there was nothing Steve’s manager could draw from the experience to apply in their daily tasks. The memory of the event faded and everyone went on as before.
Sally’s group on the other hand got into the scavenger hunt before it started, making up silly names for their assigned groups such as “Mistress Melinda and her Malevolent Minions” and “Baldy and the Cubicle Dudes”. When they got to the event, the scavenger hunt leader presented them with a list of activities and mandatory checkpoints; it was just like a being on a reality show. The leader also noted that they wouldn’t be able to finish everything in time – they would have to make strategic choices based on what each group thought would bring them the most points. They were off!
After the event was complete, the leader took time to debrief the experience of making difficult choices under time constraints. Group members shared about their experiences and compared notes. Now everyone had the same event to reference when similar situations arose at work. Groups then had a chance to present their on-the-fly poetry to much laughter. Finding out the winning team was hotly anticipated and was the subject to much good-natured razzing. The scavenger hunt team building game was not only a hit with the group; it had achieved all of Sally’s team building objectives in one afternoon.
Being in charge of creating meaningful and fun group events isn’t easy. By taking the time to think beyond the first blush of “team building” as an objective and deepening the understanding of what your team wants and needs from a team building game, you can achieve positive reviews, tangible results and a grateful pat on the back from your boss.