Team building activities is a term used so often in our industry, so I wanted to investigate its real affect and long term usefulness in today´s workplace. These activities are a part of psychological discipline and should inspire employees to perform better. They can help you to stay ahead of the competitors what is so important in nowadays´ rough economic climate.
It is known that employees produce their best work when they are satisfied with their working environment and it´s not only about the physical environment (coffee machine in the canteen) but also about the emotional environment (company culture and work teams). Work and Well-Being Ltd (November 2011) writes about the positive impact of wellbeing and employee assistance programs. According to the article, employees who have low levels of psychological wellbeing can cost companies $75 (£46) per person per week in productivity, which would equate to about $4,000 (£2,500) per year.
Feeling worthy, being part of a team and achieving the goals with your teammates are important elements of happiness. This insures productivity and motivation of an individual but, in an ideal scenario, also transmits to the others. When positive action is followed by positive feedback it is like a circle of rewards, efficient way to have efficient workers.
For Steve Jobs, co-founder and CEO of Apple Inc, team building was always a critical component of a successful business. He was used to “shake up” the team structures and put employees from complementary departments together. Jobs´ idea was to create new lines of communication in order to bring creativity and discussion about product development and marketing strategies.
Another famous business man, Henry Ford, said “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” For Casey Stegel, American Major League Baseball manager, the hard part wasn´t to get good players but to get them play together.
Team building term is often confused with three other terms – team bonding, incentive and hospitality. Let´s separate and explain them. Team bonding doesn´t usually include any theoretical content, it´s about team spirit, belonging and getting to know each other. It focuses on relationships not performance. These events are designed to create team experience that will be long remembered. Team building usually has a primary goal, team bonding, on the other hand, doesn´t.
Incentives are rewards, recognition that are used to change behavior to improve profit and employee engagement. They are supposed to motivate an individual or a group of people to perform better. Incentives don´t necessarily include any common events for the whole group and aim to just be fun and relaxing.
Hospitality is the act of being friendly and kind to the guest or partner. It aims to create and strengthen the relationship between the host and the visitor. In business, hospitality is used, for example to close the deal or to promote a product or service.
Team building is an effective tool to achieve quick improvement in team´s trust and accountability. These activities aim to show how everyone´s position effects other members and the company overall. Everyone has to have the same goal and understand company´s target. This kind of exercises break down personal barriers and eliminate distractions in a pleasant way. No one wants to sit in a room listening to a high-priced guru´s lecture about teamwork, so taking employees out of the office is much more fun.
Vanessa Merit Nornberg, the owner of Metal Mafia that sells jewelry to retail chains in 23 countries, says she was quit skeptical before organizing a team building activity. After finally implementing it, Nornberg states that the best thing was watching her employees change in a little ways. Every single one of them brought something new back to the office.
I am sure you have heard the successful stories about groups that are enjoying superior teamwork. But have you ever experienced it yourself? That sense of unity and feeling of being “on the same page”. The article from Work and Well-Being Ltd advises to take a long, hard look at the factors that might be affecting employees´ wellbeing and having an impact on the organizational outcomes. After that, companies should come out with a proper program and include team building activities into companies´ developing strategies and standard training curriculum.
Unfortunately, activities are often planed with no real goal or thought in mind. It tends to be just a waste of time and, at its worst, may cause the manager loss of respect. The exercises have to be planned and carried out strategically. It means that there must be a real purpose, for example improving team´s problem-solving or creativity skills. The activities should help to identify the areas that can be improved, and the ones that can separate you from the competitors. It is all done in a safe and kind environment without getting it wrong.
Cultural differences should be taken into account when planning a team building activity. Istvan Mellau, Senior Trainer & Consultant has an experience of working with German and Chinese companies. He says that, in general, Chinese are more cooperative and their attitude is “I want to learn”. The problem with Germans is often that they think they already know everything and this state of mind can be seen in other Western countries, as well. Mellau points out that people in different countries just have different ways of handling the problems.
A research made in one Finnish company about the team building activity and its influence shows that the employees increased their willingness to participate in company´s development and became more active. The participants felt that this experience added the sense of unity. It has to be mentioned that the research was made as a questionnaire, so there are no proved facts about the increase in productivity, only employees´ answers.
As a DMC company, our greatest challenge is to know if we are doing the right thing. We often get requests from one team member who has no experience in event organization. The research made in Finland showed that the employees were most concerned about the responsibility of organizing the activity. Companies should pay special attention to the person organizing the activity. S/he may not know the employees, their preferences and previous experiences. By asking the right questions and getting sufficient answers we are able to set up a memorable and beneficial event.
Klein C. (2009) analyzed the data collected form 103 studies conducted between 1950 and 2007. His research with high scientific evidence proved that team building can have measurable and positive effects on team performance. Klein noticed that the goal of the team building activity had a difference. The strongest impact had goal-setting and role-clarifying activities. Team size made also a difference. Teams of 10 or more people achieved much greater benefits than smaller ones. The study indicated that team building is indeed highly effective for improving team member affective outcomes.
It is also summarized in the article from Work and Well-Being Ltd that there is a significant link between job satisfaction and performance. If there are more fundamental problems, don´t be surprised if your team building activities will not foster the teamwork. Make sure to create basic comfortable and successful work culture first.
By Irina Kononenko
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