Truly Together: Teambuilding Events for the 21st Century
Most co-workers are together eight hours a day. That’s 40 hours a week—sometimes more.
Or are we truly “together”? How much time do we really spend with each other, reaping the subtle communication benefits of face-to-face interaction?
In 2017, we are just as likely to email the co-worker down the hall as we are to walk to their office and speak to them. This may save us time, but the tradeoff is a diminished sense of camaraderie and trust among team members.
To compensate, more and more managers and business owners are turning to onsite and offsite teambuilding events. These organized games and excursions usually require colleagues to work together toward some end goal—and to have fun in the process.
“The biggest challenge for teams is communication and trust,” Liz Hafer, founder of Corporate Teams, a team-building company with headquarters in Golden, Colorado, said. Corporate Teams also has field offices in Chicago and Tampa/Miami, Florida.
“With today’s fast-paced environment, reliance on technology as the primary source of communication often results in miscommunication and inefficiencies,” Hafer said. “Bringing a team together and tossing out technology provides the opportunity for team members to communicate, collaborate, and connect.”
Teambuilding activities are geared toward a company’s employees, but they benefit the employer, too. According to David Goldstein, COO of TeamBonding, a Boston-based teambuilding event company with program facilitators in most major U.S. cities, employee engagement and retention top many leaders’ reasons for investing in teambuilding exercises.
“Leaders find it important to retain employees whom they have worked hard to train and integrate into the company,” Goldstein said. “Some studies (such as the Society for Human Resource Management) predict that every time a business replaces a salaried employee, it costs six to nine months’ salary on average.
“Other studies show that happy employees help businesses thrive,” he added. “Teambuilding is used to boost morale as well and can be substituted for summer outings, holiday parties, and orientation.”
The phrase “teambuilding activity” can elicit wariness and even eye rolls from some employees, who envision forced participation in a hokey, unproductive get-to-know-you game. But the options available for teambuilding activities today are as varied and dynamic as the people who compose your organization.
Teambuilding events can range from scavenger hunts and mystery dinners to trampoline parks, zip lining, laser tag, and kayaking and canoeing.
“The most popular events we offer change seasonally,” Goldstein said. “In the warm weather we are often outside with scavenger and treasure hunts, which vary between high and low tech, Amazing Race, and live-action adventures.”
Also popular are escape rooms, where locked-in players must find clues, solve puzzles, and strategize to “escape” from a range of physical, fictionalized locations—such as prisons, secret labs, or dungeons—within a set amount of time.
“We have a mobile escape trailer that comes to offices; escape games that can be done in hotel rooms and large banquet rooms; and a new, high-tech version based on an art heist,” Goldstein said.
Both Goldstein and Hafer stressed that teambuilding events can and should be tailored to the needs of each workplace.
“The unique aspects of teambuilding experiences are in the delivery and not necessarily the ‘program,’” Hafer said. “It takes a skilled facilitator to truly combine an engaging experience with key takeaways that drive performance within a team.”
“Teambuilding is not a one-size-fits-all,” Goldstein agreed. “We do have a number of different offerings, but we work really hard to do a needs assessment so that the program that the client chooses meets the desired outcomes and fits in with the culture of an organization.”
Group outings can be simple, too, such as heading to a sports game or bowling alley or meeting for karaoke nights or painting and cooking classes. For the more artistic or free-spirited, consider ice sculpting, improv workshops, or even board breaking.
Better yet: Use your designated teambuilding time to give back. Group volunteer projects allow employees to bond over a shared charitable experience while also using their skills to benefit their communities. Examples include serving in a soup kitchen, building housing for low-income families, making donations of food or clothing, or offering help at a school or hospital.
“A charitable program is the most heartfelt [activity], where they may be building bikes for kids who have never had a bike,” Goldstein said. “And the tears of joy come at the end when the kids receive the bikes, and the employees feel good about what they accomplished and how their company initiated that event.”
Goldstein said he definitely sees a “bump in morale” after co-workers complete one of Teambonding’s two- to three-hour programs. But as much as a one-time teambuilding session can help improve communication among colleagues, consider making teambuilding activities recurring events to enable the positive effects—increased trust, rapport, and productivity—to take root and flourish in the workplace.
“Long-term changes take more than a short program, and those can be combined with fun, but we suggest that we tie in company goals with communication or leadership workshops, not just the fun in the sun,” he said.
“It is important to build a bridge of experiences,” Hafer said. “‘One-off’ events may be fun, but they often don’t create a foundation of trust building that is essential to achieving the highest level of performance results.
“Creating community within the team is critical in today’s workplace,” she continued. “There is not enough emphasis on authentic communications. Companies that embrace the opportunity to increase understanding of team members’ communication styles and leverage the strengths of different team members are teams that will excel.” BW