a group making music at a team building event

Team building events often get a bad rap as forced fun or cheesy exercises. But done right, they can be transformative experiences that strengthen your team, boost morale, and even improve performance. Let’s explore why team building events work, address the criticisms, and offer practical tips to help you plan effective team programs.

Why Team Building Works

  • Improved communication and collaboration: Activities that require teamwork force people to communicate, listen, and problem-solve together. This helps break down silos and improve communication. Practicing communication and collaboration outside of your normal work tasks will help you perform better at the office.
  • Enhanced trust and rapport: Shared experiences create genuine connections and helps to build trust. With increased trust you’ll be willing to ask for advice or give advice without fear of being judged unfairly. And increased trust also increases the ability to take risks which can lead to better problem solving!
  • More creativity and innovation: If you choose team building sessions that include creative activities, you’ll get to practice out-of-the-box thinking in a safe, controlled environment. Anytime you’re solving a problem in your business life, you’re being creative. If you can practice creative problem solving skills in a team setting, you’ll increase everyone’s ability to generate new ideas.
  • Increased morale and engagement: Let’s face it, fun is important. Having fun together simply makes you feel better. A fun out of the office team program will help you see your colleagues in a different way. You’ll learn about each other and bond. This will lift spirits, reduce stress, and make coming to work more enjoyable.
  • Development of key skills: Well designed activities can hone specific skills like leadership, critical thinking, and conflict resolution. You can choose specific team programs to meet specific goals and see some real development.

The Common Criticisms of Team Building

The home page of our website used to say, “We know…you hate team building.” We were acknowledging that group activities do have have a bad wrap; often seen as a waste of time or even uncomfortable. To help discover if team building events work, let’s look at the criticism and see how it can be overcome.

Criticism 1: Ineffectiveness: Critics argue that team building activities lack scientific evidence for improving collaboration, communication, or performance.

Example: A company conducts a one day trust building exercise through a ropes course. While it might be fun, the skills learned might not translate directly to daily work challenges.

Overcoming it:

  • Create context: I get it. A ropes course may not seem translatable to your work life. But to successfully navigate a ropes course as a team, you’ll need to take risks and build trust with each other. You’ll experience the challenge and fear of doing something new. You’ll also experience the thrill and confidence that comes with succeeding at a challenge. All of the above can be highlighted and used as a guide to bring back to your work place. You’ll build trust, share success together and be able to bring that experience back to the office.
  • Set clear goals: Define what you want to achieve with the activity and ensure it aligns with your team’s objectives.
  • Follow up and debrief: To ensure that you’ll get value from your team session beyond the experience itself, you’ll want to work with a professional facilitator who can help you create context. Creating context means talking about what you’ve experienced and discussing how it relates to your work life. A debrief to talk about ideas and plans to implement what’s been accomplished is really valuable.

Criticism 2: Cost and Time Commitment: Team building can be expensive. Taking employees away from work also disrupts flow and can be seen as a waste of time.

Example: A company hires a facilitator for a retreat which includes expensive activities. This could cause time away from ongoing projects and will require spending some money.

Overcoming it:

  • Maybe You Can’t Afford Not To Do This: Taking a break from the every day work routine will cut down on negative energy. It can also create efficiency and enthusiasm when you return to work. Don’t underestimate the importance of a meaningful break to recharge and gain new perspective. Think of how productive and focused we all feel after returning from a personal vacation. A well-planned, productive team building program, much like a personal vacation, helps us feel renewed and gives us opportunity to identify what’s really important to our organizations.

    What Team Programs Are Best?

    There are lots of great team programs. And of course, as we all know, lots of sucky programs too! Here are some good team building exercises that are worth considering.

    1. Story Slam: All you need for a story slam is a bit of time and someone who’s brave enough to go first. Sit around a table or pull chairs into a circle so that no one feels pushed to the front or singled out. Give each person gets five minutes to tell a story. It could be a true story or complete fiction. In fact, you may want to have people guess if a story is fact or fiction. Allow a few minutes after each story for people to ask questions. You’ll gain insight into each other and share laughs along the way.
    2. Scavenger Hunt: Whether physically exploring your city or participating in a virtual format, scavenger hunts can be customized to your location and team interests. They encourage exploration, communication, and creative thinking as teams work together to complete tasks and find hidden clues. While scavenger hunts have been around forever, there’s a reason they won’t go away. They can be interesting, informative and fun. And to succeed, you’ll need to be highly collaborative.
    3. Volunteer Activity: Giving back to the community can be a powerful team building experience. Choosing a cause relevant to your company’s values fosters a sense of purpose, collaboration, and social responsibility. It also allows your team to connect outside the workplace and build positive memories together.
    4. Drum Circle: Drumming programs are high energy, highly engaging fun. A main take-away is learning how to collaborate and work together to achieve a unified result. But before you get to the take-away, you’ll get to let off steam as you literally bang some drums. People always start tentatively, but as you’re guided by a professional drum leader you’ll learn new skills, gain confidence and end up being part of the band.
    5. Other Workshops: Learning new skills together can be a great way to build teamwork while having fun. There are places in almost every town to do things like pottery, painting or group cooking. You may be surprised to see that your local cooking store offers corporate team events. What could be better than wine, food and shared experience? Another example would be a guided hike through a historic landmark or nature preserve. To find more ideas, think of what you might do with your friends or family and then see if that activity is offered for teams.

    These are just a few examples. The best activity for your team will depend on your specific goals, budget, and preferences. Remember to consider factors like:

    • Team size and dynamics: Choose an activity that caters to the size and personality types within your team.
    • Available resources: Consider your budget and what resources are readily available to you.
    • Alignment with goals: Ensure the activity aligns with your goals, whether it’s improving communication, fostering creativity, or building trust. And if your goal is simply to have fun together, that’s quite worthwhile!

    Are There Metrics To Prove Team Building Works?

    As a musician and teambuilder, I’m not big on metrics but I am big on results. There may be scientific studies about the specific effectiveness of team building, but that’s not my area of expertise. However, I can give you a guide to help judge success.

    Here’s a few examples of how team performance improves after a collaborative program:

    Improved Communication and Collaboration:

    • More frequent and open communication: Your employees will feel more comfortable expressing themselves, sharing ideas, and asking questions across different levels of hierarchy.
    • Increased collaboration on projects: You’ll work together effectively, share resources and information without as much hesitation, and actively seek input from colleagues.
    • Decreased conflict and improved problem-solving: You should be able to address disagreements constructively, work through challenges collaboratively, and find solutions together.

    Enhanced Trust and Morale:

    • Increased willingness to help and support others: With increased trust, team members will offer assistance more readily and be more willing to celebrate each other’s successes. The camaraderie of a team building program will carry over.
    • Reduced stress and improved well-being: With increased trust and a renewed attitude you’ll see less workplace stress. And you should see more job satisfaction and engagement.

    What Should You Do Now?

    I sincerely believe all of the above results are real. We hear from our clients that they see a difference in team performance after our programs. But it doesn’t last forever. And that answers the primary question in a realistic way. Do team building events work? Yes! But you’ll need to rinse and repeat. Once a year, is a good starting point.

    About Billy Kirsch

    Billy is a Grammy & Emmy nominated, CMA & ACM award winning songwriter with numerous Top 10 hits to his credit. His team building programs and keynote speaking presentations help people tap into their creative abilities to become more innovative and engaged in their work. Clients include Fortune 100 companies and organizations throughout the world.