Why Your Company’s Team Building Weekends Fail (And How To Make Them Successful)

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Somewhere in the world this afternoon, a group of office mates are strapping on safety equipment and preparing to scale the side of a cliff together. In another city, another group of mates is engaged in a retreat designed to foster their sense of teamwork. Late into the wee hours in another city, six men who usually compete in the office are focused on collaboration to on build a robot. What do they all have in common?

The common thread here is team building, and it has come to describe a way of doing business that considers the strengths and weaknesses of each member of a work-related team.The basic premise of team building weekends is to bring a group of team members together and, by exposing them to various hardships, events, or activities, cement them into a team that is well-equipped to work together toward a common objective.

The only issues with team building weekends is that they usually aren’t effective. Once the team returns to the office, they fall back into old habits, leaving that fun team building activity nothing but a fond memory. The gap is not with the concept of team building, but in the assumption that it can be achieved within a weekend, no matter what those few days entail. It’s not that team building weekends are a bad idea – it’s that they’re expected to do a job that should be undertaken in your office every day.

The purpose of a team building event should be to introduce, reinforce and reward, not to single-handedly forge a group of coworkers into a team. If it’s used to replace the work your company (or you as a manager) should be doing every day, then you’re missing out on some important points – and the benefits of dragging everyone away from their loved ones for a weekend of team building activities.

So how do you forge the bonds of a team if not by dipping them into the crucible of a team building weekend? The answer is simple: you can’t just talk the talk – you have to walk the walk. If you want to instill your staff with the principles of teamwork and collaboration, then treat them as a team, with you as an important member of it.

Effective communication is essential to building a team.

One of the biggest mistakes that management teams make is the failure to communicate. Your company doesn’t have to be an open book to all employees, but sharing goals and intentions gives employees a sense that they are a part of a larger team working toward a specific purpose.

Build teamwork into the workflow.

Again, to reinforce teamwork, your team members need to be treated as a group. Initiate each project with a team meeting to define and/or redefine project goals. Design your office in a way to facilitate teamwork by creating a central area where team members are comfortable grabbing coffee or other beverages during the day. This presents serendipitous moments for your team members to catch up with each other and exchange insights. Facilitate regular team meetings where individuals can report progress, delays, and micro, daily objectives so that no one feels left out of the loop. A good model to follow here is the SCRUM methodology.

Make recognition of achievement a priority.

Recognizing achievement can play a critical role in helping your team members feel part of a team. This activity doesn’t need to be formal.  In fact, informal and unexpected recognition at spontaneous opportunities can be powerful. Leveraging micro moments such as mentioning positive client feedback in the hallway or over a cup of coffee, passing on praise for individual work performance improvements, or recognizing a job well done on an important proposal are all opportune moments for achievement recognition.

Make time to play as a team, too.

Whether the play is a softball team, a bowling league or a semi-annual weekend where the team members can really stretch their wings, teams work best when they have something in common besides their work. A trek up a snowy mountainside builds shared memories that help cement the bonds that have formed throughout the year.

These are all effective ways to build camaraderie and teamwork within your organization. Often times, these changes may be part of a larger culture change for your company.

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