We’ve all suffered through team-building exercises that were more morale-buster than morale-booster. Here’s how to make sure your company icebreakers actually engage your employees.
No matter how much technology develops or how modern our workplaces become, it seems that bad team-building exercises never change. It’s gotten to the point where just hearing the words “team building” is enough to induce epic eye-rolling and stifled groans of displeasure. But why?
Shouldn’t these bonding rituals be fun opportunities to get to know our colleagues and take a break from our workaday duties?
They should be. But they usually aren’t.
Unfortunately, activities that are meant to build camaraderie are often just exercises in frustration and boredom. The solution is not to do away with these activities, but to revamp them so you can actually start building valuable bonds in your team. ( to tweet this thought.)
The worst of the worst
Before we tackle what to do to improve your team-building efforts, let’s take a brief look at the kinds of activities that are the least effective at bringing people together.
1. Child’s play
As cute as it may seem while you’re planning, any activity that insults the intelligence of the adults participating is not a good idea. Mature professionals don’t want to hold hands, sing or make animal noises. Kids love that stuff but, unless it’s in the context of an improv comedy class, nearly all adults hate that stuff.
2. Personal bubble
Americans like more personal space than people from most other countries. Studies have shown that we prefer to have about 1.5 to 4 feet of space between ourselves and even close friends and acquaintances. So, when planning team-building exercises, think about how close they’ll require people to be to one another.
3. Performance anxiety
ranks up there with fear of spiders and axe murderers. In fact, some studies have shown that 75 percent of Americans fear it. That means three out of every four people sitting in the conference room listening to the “fun” activity you’re describing are internally freaking out about being forced into the spotlight.
4. Too much information
Never plan activities that ask people to share of their personal life — this isn’t a college dorm, it’s a professional workplace. Sure, there are probably a few colleagues to whom you divulge your secrets, but that’s by choice. Games like “Never Have I Ever” or “Two Truths and a Lie” feel intrusive and inappropriate, so they’re best left out of the office.
5. Fixing what’s broken
This may be the worst sin of them all. Oftentimes, team-building exercises will be employed to repair damaged relationships. Let me assure you that cheesy games and activities will not solve these problems. If anything, they will exacerbate problems because they force employees to interact closely with people they resent. Any child can tell you that games aren’t fun with your enemies. If there are real problems among team members, you need to use real, problem-solving mediation suited to intelligent, opinionated adults.
It gets better
Don’t let the frequency of bad activities deter you from your team-building efforts — you can make it work with the right planning. Ultimately, you know your people and what they like, but here are a few tips to help guide you:
1. Add some competition
As long as the stakes are low, the teams are fair and the race is fun, competition can be a great way to bring people together and get them to let loose. Just make sure that the activity is something that everyone is capable of participating in.
For example, a physical challenge might not be a good idea. Also, the prize should be attractive but not so valuable that it breeds resentment among the non-winners.
2. Pay employees for their time
Required bonding should not take place after work hours. No one likes being forced to have fun when they could actually be having fun with their own friends and family. If team-building is part of the job, it should take place on the job.
3. Don’t beat a dead horse
If you’re in the middle of an activity that isn’t going well and it’s obvious that people are not engaged, just stop. There’s no use forcing the issue when it could be detrimental for . Plus, your team will respect you for admitting that it’s tanking as opposed to watching you fake-smile as you soldier on.
If you’re not sure what your team will enjoy doing, the solution is simple: Ask them! Why not tap a few influential employees for their opinions? They’ll tell you if your idea is cringe-worthy or not. If that’s the case, elicit their ideas. You might be surprised at what they tell you.
If team-building happens on a regular basis, consider assigning the planning to a different department or committee each week. It will be fun to see what each group comes up with, and you may find that people are more likely to happily participate when they’re being led by their peers.
When it comes to workplace bonding, go back to the drawing board and find a new approach. The best way to see if your idea is a dud or not is to have a practice run-through. Something that seems good on paper may actually be painfully awkward in action.
Despite how aware we are of the failure of most of these kinds of activities, many companies continue to recycle the same tired, hated games year after year. For once, it’s actually time that we reinvent the wheel.
Rod Miller is the Head of New Program Development of Corporate Award Source, an online supplier of , and is also a frequent contributor to several career blogs. For more information, visit or connect with Ron on .