In business (or in volunteer work or other groups such as elder care facilities), you’ll often find yourself facing a situation where you need a group of individuals who have different backgrounds, educations, work experiences, lifestyles, and personalities to work together as a cohesive team. You may face challenges as you try to pull people together who don’t like “forced” activities or who don’t have a strong team-oriented work style. Whether you’re dealing with a large group of people or only 3 to 4 people, you can find the time and an activity that will help people work better together.
Getting people to work together as a cohesive, well-oiled machine doesn’t have to be hard, time-consuming or costly.
- First ask yourself why you feel you need a team building exercise. Knowing what is not working will help you choose the right activity and the best way to approach the situation. Do group members not get along together? Have they never worked together before? Has stress and tumult taken a toll on formerly strong friendships? Is there a lack of good communication?
- Set a goal. Now that you know what is not working, or at least why you think that a team building exercise is necessary, set a goal for the exercise. Start with a sentence opening like, “With this team building exercise, our goal is…” The rest of the statement depends on what you determined in step one. Perhaps you might finish the goal statement like this, “With this team building exercise, our goal is to help team members better understand the roles their teammates play in accomplishing the overall business objectives of the company.” Or you might end up with something like, “With this team building exercise, our goal is to help team members think creatively about how they can work with one another to accomplish objectives more efficiently while also saving time.”
- Assess your budget. Figure out how much time and money you have to devote to your team building exercise. If you work for a Fortune 1000 company and you’re trying to get managers of different departments to work more efficiently together, you can probably get at least a small budget approved to spend on materials, reference books, and food and beverages, and it wouldn’t be out in left field to ask that managers devote at least half a day or a full day to an activity. But if you work for a small company, non-profit organization, or other group with limited funding and time, you are more likely looking for an exercise that will take between one and three hours and will cost little to nothing.
- Next, determine the exercise that is right for your group. There is an overabundance of books and websites that have terrific examples of team building exercises. There are even companies that you can pay to bring in and build a whole team building program of exercises for you (do a web search for “team building” and you’ll find these companies). But if you are like most organizations, the cost of bringing in a professional company is too high. So take a walk to the book store or do a bit of online searching for team building exercise ideas. Whether you’re looking for something as simple as a get-to-know-you game or an exercise that will help managers better understand the needs of other departments and teams, you’ll find a ton of suggestions online and in book stores.
The most important thing is to consider your answers to the first three steps to make sure you choose the most appropriate activity. For example, if you need a team building exercise because your group is not getting along well, then you don’t want to throw people into a team building exercise that will require them to work together to solve a problem while seated around a table. You’d be better off choosing an activity that requires less talking and more fun-oriented action, like an obstacle course. If you are looking for an exercise for people that have never worked together, than something that gets them working together while getting to know one another is more appropriate.
- Organizing the exercise. Preparing for your team building exercise is just as important as knowing why you should bother doing the exercise to begin with. Wasting the time of the individual participants will just make unifying the team that much harder, so be sure to prepare properly. First, be sure to schedule the time for everyone (make sure to be on their calendars and to get their commitment to the exercise). Second, be sure that the person who will moderate the exercise has a strong understanding of how the exercise works and shares your goal. Be sure that person is fully prepared to explain to the team exactly why you are all taking the time to do the activity and what you’re hoping to accomplish. Finally, be sure to have all the materials you’ll need ready to go.
- Don’t forget to follow-up! You should be sure to plan for at least a few minutes of time at the end of the exercise for the group to discuss what they experienced. Ask participants what they learned through the exercise and if they feel it was helpful. You may also want to pass out a questionnaire for participants to fill out—some of the participants may not feel that the exercise was helpful and they may not want to share that feeling publicly. Even if those people do feel comfortable speaking in front of the group, you don’t want their negative opinions to leave an impression on those that felt the exercise was helpful. It’s also a good idea to let a bit of time go by, perhaps a week, and ask the participants again how they felt about the activity and if it has helped them work better with the team. Keep track of this information so that the next time you want to do a team building exercise, you can recall this activity’s effectiveness. You might also want to highlight positive outcomes from the exercise in a company newsletter as added encouragement.
- Additional resources:
- Teambuilding, Inc.: An example of a website that has many resources, from free team exercises to team building books, a team building newsletter and more.
- Adventure Associates: An example of a company that develops large-scale, highly-involved team building activities for large companies and organizations.
- Amazon.com: Search for “team building” under books for a nearly endless list of books filled with all types of team building exercises.
The most important thing to remember when conducting team building exercises is that you don’t waste your time trying to force a group of people together for no clear reason to do an exercise that doesn’t make sense or isn’t applicable. If you are well-prepared with an appropriate activity for your type of team and a realistic goal to accomplish (that you clearly explain to the team members), then the actual exercise you do is almost secondary.