Team Building At Work: Ideas To Produce More Successful Teams

Office employees learning to collaborate and playing with pieces of jigsaw puzzle during team building activity

Team building at work is a loaded topic. For many, a mere mention of the phrase ‘team building exercise’ is enough to induce groans and conjure up images of the cringe-worthy “beach day” episode of The Office. 

But when done correctly–that is, strategically, with purpose, in an inclusive way team-building exercises can be an effective tool to build more collaborative, creative teams of colleagues. 

Here, we’ll discuss some reasons for implementing team building at work, offer some ideas for activities employees will actually enjoy, and share best practices for making your team building events as successful as possible.  

What Is Team Building?

In the workplace, team building is the planning of structured events that encourage groups of colleagues to work together to accomplish a task or learn something new. Typically taking place outside the office, team building exercises allow coworkers to interact during an activity that’s unrelated to work in a new setting, from an obstacle course to a national park and anywhere in between. The goal of team building is to create teams that work more seamlessly together. 

Effective team building isn’t just a one-off event. Rather, it’s a series of intentional activities scheduled at regular intervals that’s part of a larger employee engagement and retention strategy. 

When To Use Team Building At Work

So, when should you use team building? Here are a few ideal use cases.

Bridging the gap between remote and onsite workers

With so many companies moving to a hybrid model, team-building exercises can be a great opportunity to connect with colleagues that don’t get a chance to regularly interact face to face. This can help offsite workers feel included and allow onsite employees to put a face to names they might only know from an email signature or Zoom thumbnail image. 

Onboarding new employees

Introduce new employees to the fold and help them get acquainted with their coworkers in an informal, low-stakes setting. For bigger organizations that regularly onboard large groups of workers, team building that’s specifically geared toward new hires can help create a sense of camaraderie among them right from the start.

Related: New Hire Checklist: The Easiest Way To Onboard

Leading up to an important goal

Use team-building to build momentum before the start of the busy season or inspire staffers ahead of a challenging project. Holding a kickoff event can help get the creative juices flowing and put employees in the mindset of working together toward a shared objective.

Regularly to maintain engagement

Employees will be more enthusiastic about team-building activities if they’re a part of your regularly scheduled programming. Just be sure not to overdo it–we’ll talk more about the appropriate frequency for team building in the tips below. 

Related: Employee Incentive Programs To Motivate and Engage Your Staff

Benefits Of Team Building At Work

Build connections between colleagues

At work, most of us interact with the same few people day after day. Team building is an opportunity for workers to connect with people outside their normal professional circle, including staffers in different departments. Building cross-company, inter-departmental relationships leads to a stronger overall workforce. 

Practice communicating

People communicate in all kinds of different ways; it’s only natural, but using disparate communication styles can complicate teamwork. Team building exercises give colleagues a chance to test out different communication styles in an environment where the end result doesn’t have a direct bearing on business outcomes. 

Promote creative thinking

There’s a reason going for a walk is the remedy of choice for everything from writer’s block to fatigue; breaking out of your usual box is a surefire way to gain fresh perspective and get more innovative ideas flowing. In the same vein, getting out of the office and into a novel space can help team members discover new and creative ways to solve problems, which will have a residual impact even when workers are back in the office. 

Better understand one another

Interacting in an atypical setting can help employees see their colleagues beyond their job titles and get to know one another as people. When coworkers feel a stronger relationship with each other, they’re more likely to be invested in working together successfully than colleagues who are just that–colleagues only. 

Related: How to Improve Collaboration in The Workplace

Discover development opportunities

Team building exercises can unearth employee characteristics that might not be apparent in the office, like leadership and creativity. This can help managers identify opportunities for employee development, which is a key factor in retaining top talent.

Related: Ways to Invest in Employee Development

Have fun

There’s something to be said for lightening the mood–you know that old adage about “all work and no play.” Having fun with one’s coworkers contributes to a strong company culture, boosts morale, and gives employees something to look forward to, all of which can make a company a more desirable place to work. 

Tips For Successful Team Building

1. Make it inclusive

The best team-building activities are those that everyone on the team can comfortably participate in. Planning such activities means you need to think about exclusionary factors that might not be immediately obvious. 

For example, a physically strenuous event (which caters to non-disabled employees), events that involve alcohol (which isolate non-drinkers), and so on.

2. Don’t encroach on personal time

Some organizations think they’re doing employees a favor by planning “fun” events after hours or on weekends, but the fact is that most employees resent it when their employer usurps their personal time, if even for a good cause. It’s not just that employees don’t want to go to a job-related event during their time off; many have prior personal commitments that are non-negotiable and asking that they shuffle them around for a non-urgent work activity creates an undue and unnecessary burden.

Mandated team-building activities need to happen on company time. In most cases, the same goes for non-mandatory events, which many employees will feel obligated to attend even if they’re billed as optional. 

3. Don’t overschedule

When it comes to effective team building, frequency matters. If you don’t do it often enough, it won’t have a big enough payoff to make it worth your while. Do it too often, though, and you risk employees getting burned out on too much bonding. 

In a study on how workers feel about team bonding activities, participants said they most preferred activities to take place monthly or quarterly. Volunteering events, company retreats, and food-related events were the top-ranked types of activities for effectiveness and value. 

Ideas For Team Building At Work

The study we cited a moment ago revealed important insight into the types of team-building activities employees see as worthwhile. Activities that had a purpose–giving back to a good cause or working together to solve a problem, for example–were seen as much more valuable than events that were held for their own sake, like potlucks, which many saw as unnecessary use of company time. 

With that in mind, here are some ideas for team building at work that serves a purpose. 

Supporting a cause

A charitable event like a road cleanup or fundraising walk gives employees a chance to get to know each other while giving back. Cause-based events lend themselves to regular repetition and can also help the company build goodwill in the community. It’s a win for all involved. 

Escape room

Ideal for smaller teams, this activity sees staffers working against a ticking clock to get out of a locked room by uncovering and piecing together a series of clues. On the surface, it’s a whole lot of fun, but look a little deeper and the skills involved are a close match to the ones employees need in order to work together successfully: collaborative problem solving, creative thinking, and time management. 

Build the best paper airplane

To do this simple team-building exercise, you don’t need to go past the parking lot. Break employees into teams of two or three and task them with creating a functional and aesthetically pleasing aircraft using only the provided materials, like paper, cardboard, and tape. The team with the aircraft that flies the farthest wins bragging rights.

Take a class

When groups learn to do something new together, like cooking a gourmet meal or making a piece of pottery, it increases social connections between employees and builds a sense of trust that facilitates stronger teamwork. 

To summarize, team building in a professional setting works best when it serves a purpose, is inclusive to all employees, and takes place during company time. When executed correctly, it can strengthen your company culture and enhance the skills colleagues need to work together effectively, ultimately leading to more productive teams. 

Resources and sources

Pete Newsome

About Pete Newsome

Pete Newsome is the President of 4 Corner Resources, the staffing and recruiting firm he founded in 2005. 4 Corner is a member of the American Staffing Association and TechServe Alliance, and the top-rated staffing company in Central Florida. Recent awards and recognition include being named to Forbes’ Best Recruiting Firms in America, The Seminole 100, and The Golden 100. Pete also founded zengig, to offer comprehensive career advice, tools, and resources for students and professionals. He hosts two podcasts, Hire Calling and Finding Career Zen, and is blazing new trails in recruitment marketing with the latest artificial intelligence (AI) technology. Connect with Pete on LinkedIn