Why team building activities don't work and what can you do instead
Team building activities are group exercises or games designed to improve collaboration and communication among team members. While most of them are fun and a good break from normal work related conversations, they fail to make a lasting impact.
Anyone who has been a part of these activities knows that even if you have a good time during the event, it's not the same effect after it is over. The connections you form during these activities might not be long lasting. Don't get me wrong, team building activities can be extremely helpful in certain cases, but often they fail to meet long term expectations.
The common reasons why team building activities fail to achieve expected results
1. They feel like a task to be completed
Sometimes, team building activities can feel like another task to be done. Many people have negative experiences with team building activities, which can make them feel forced or unnecessary. Some of the employees might think of it as a distraction when they would rather be working on some other project that is of high priority. It could also be the case that there is no strong purpose binding the team together and that is why a team building activity feels unnecessary.
Here is what you can do instead -
Encourage teams to engage in informal communication - One research found that teams engaging in informal communication perform better as a team. Informal communication within teams can help to build trust, foster a sense of community, and create a more relaxed and collaborative work environment.
It also helps to break down barriers between team members and promotes a more open and honest exchange of ideas. This type of conversations are effective because they allow the exchange of information, ideas, and opinions among team members in a relaxed, casual, manner without any pressure.
2. Poorly executed activities
There are times when it becomes difficult to select the right team building activity according to the needs and goals of the team. If the team building activity is poorly planned and executed, it can lead to confusion, frustration, and even resentment among team members.
This can occur if the activity is too complex or too simplistic, or if it is not aligned with the needs and objectives of the team. Designing the right activities requires a deeper understanding of what issues the team members are facing and then customizing activities based on their needs.
Here is what you can do instead
Consider the feedback of employees - Before developing a team building activity, it is always helpful to do a quick survey and ask employees what issues they are facing while working in the team. This will give you an accurate idea of what kind of team building activities would help them the most. It could be that there are some internal disputes among team members that need to be addressed before going for team building sessions.
If the team building activity is complex or requires specialized knowledge or skills, it may be necessary to provide additional resources, such as training materials, equipment, or expert support. Team building activities may not be successful if they do not address underlying issues that are impacting team performance. This can include issues related to communication, trust, collaboration, or leadership.
3. It's a once in a blue moon event
It is difficult for employees to build trust within the team members if the activities are quite rare. Too much emphasis on team building activities also gives the message that employees need to wait for a special event to happen to bond properly with team members.
Team building activities can be good, but they should not be the ONLY thing that is binding the team together.
There has to be certain rituals that team members do together every single day. That would help them practice healthy communication and building connections naturally on a daily basis.
Here is what you can do instead
Build healthy rituals that foster connection among team members - Regular update meetings, a coffee break together where the team members could interact with each other in a semi-formal or informal way, celebrating certain milestones together, etc can be good ideas for rituals of the team. Cultivating rituals creates a shared identity among team members. When team members have common rituals, it builds a sense of community and fosters a stronger sense of belonging within the team.
Regular rituals provide an opportunity for team members to communicate more effectively. It improves consistency and routine within the team. Cultivating rituals can boost team morale by providing opportunities for team members to celebrate successes and milestones, recognize individual and team achievements, and build a sense of accomplishment and purpose about their work.
Rethink what you do instead of team building activities
The key takeaway is that team building activities can be effective when they are designed and implemented appropriately. However, they should not be the sole strategy for improving team dynamics and performance. Other strategies such as creating a shared vision, providing opportunities for professional development, and encouraging open communication should also be considered.
You may also want to watch this episode of Growth Hacking Culture with Richard Newman on The Science of Storytelling: How it Can Inspire Change at Work