How Do I Make My Team...Be a Team?

Team Building Activities

When choosing the types of team building activities you want to undertake in your efforts to build and strengthen a powerful team to meet your goals, consider the type of team that you are working to build with, an existing team or one that you are starting from scratch. Whichever is the case, there will be particular struggles and challenges as well as benefits and opportunities.

With an established team (or at least a group that has already been working together, if not working as a true team), you need to know what the existing dynamics of the group are. If you are encountering this team as a new person (such as being hired to manage a team at a company that is new to you), give yourself a little bit of time to evaluate. Watch and interact with the team, while identifying and evaluating particular challenges as well as potential areas of opportunity. If there is existing friction between team members, try to assess the individuals involved to determine what may be to blame such as a simple personality conflict, miscommunication, personal issues, and so forth.
Take note of any team members that seem to be left out of the overall group and see if you can find out the reasons for this, which might include whether that team member is simply quiet or shy, if that team member is viewed as too weak, if the team member has been determined to be a threat, or something else. The evaluation process for this may take some time but is very important, so start working on it quickly and, until you have a better gauge of what the team dynamics are, stick with simpler or light and enjoyable team building activities (see below).
If you are building a team from scratch, you have a horse of a different color on your hands. The psychological need for teams remains the same, whether the team is already in existence or not. How you go about developing a sense of team, however, is likely to be somewhat different. Instead of working to overcome existing problems, you have a unique opportunity to work towards preventing certain problems from ever coming to fruition. Alternatively, you will not have an opportunity to observe and study the team prior to starting in your efforts to build and develop their sense of teamwork and team identity. You will probably want to explore the personalities, communication styles, and other key factors in determining each person's style of teamwork. Certain team building activities will help you make solid early assessments which will then help you adapt your team building methods appropriately.
Lastly, it is possible that you will be working with a team that you know. It may be that you have taken a position in your same company or organization and you are now supervising a team composed of former coworkers. You may even be stepping into the role of team leader of a team that you were on yourself and now directing your former teammates. In any scenario, to be an effective team leader you will need, during your assessment, to perform some significant and potentially challenging self-analysis in addition to evaluating team members. Some members of your team may not like you, or may not trust you, and may be hesitant working to build a team under your purview.
While this kind of conflict may develop into something that is unrealistic to overcome with the existing team members in place, many of these conflicts can be resolved through effective team building. Such team building will need to include yourself as team leader or to be completely separate from the team building, start with a strong black or white approach and alter appropriately as you move forward. Either way, be sure to put in the time and effort to give them an opportunity to accept you in your position.

Now that you have designed and created your ideal team, it is time to get to work outfitting it with the experience, time, and effort that will make it a cohesive unit fully able to process information and provide all the benefits a team can give. Team building activities can be very simple or very complex and chances are that you will need to utilize a wide range of activities to meet the individual and collective needs of your particular group.

The most basic team building activities focus on time spent together rather than on developing the team's overall capacity to perform. While this tactic can produce successful results, it does have its limitations. Most importantly, time spent together as a team should still have some basic rules or direction to prevent certain complications. Consider the following examples.

Playing an "official" or common game together. Game playing has long been a favorite tool for team building activities. Some games are complex and also work to develop the team while others are simply used as a method to help team members enjoy each other's company. In any case, it should be relatively evident that clearcut rules should be established, even when playing established games that already have rules such as common board or card games. Most families that do a lot of game playing have a certain level of house rules, those rules that either alter the existing game rules or add to them and are expected to be followed when playing with family members or at that residence. A coach, manager, or other type of team leader may need to set up some basic "house rules" to ensure that time spent together on this type of team building activity serves its purpose.
Some people grew up in an environment where cheating at game play was considered part of the fun of playing the game while for others, cheating was taboo and considered offensive. Two coworkers or teammates playing a game with each other coming from these different perspectives is unlikely to yield a positive result unless the team leader has established ahead of time, and communicated, any guidance as to whether cheating is allowed. All team members need to be equally aware of the expectations and guidelines or you are likely to have major problems that can actually do far more harm than good to a team.
Engaging in celebrations. One of the most common methods of team building that is used from classrooms to boardrooms is to encourage appropriate celebration. Whether it is someone's birthday or that a special achievement has been met, fostering a shared celebration can be great encouragement to get teammates more comfortable with spending time with each other, learning about each other, and improving communications. In some situations, it may not be very realistic to have this celebration during the "workday" however, if possible, it is ideal to do so. Whether it is closing the office an hour early to catch a drink together or canceling the day's practice, rewards and celebrations feel more special when they are able to replace a regular, everyday activity.
When this occurs, employees feel more comfortable in participating in the celebration even if they are not in the usual habit of socializing with teammates outside of work. At the same time, it shows the team that meeting their needs and sharing in their successes and celebrations is a value that their team leader and organization has. It is also worth noting that a team that is resistant to being a team (as sometimes happens) who is expected to engage in team building activities on personal time are likely to be met with hostility or hesitancy which sometimes cannot be overcome and consequently damages the entire purpose of the team building activities.

Traveling. In school, what do kids usually get the most excited about? Field trips! Sometimes a field trip might mean something particularly fun or engaging, but most often it is simply the change of venue that appeals so strongly. As adults, we sometimes lose this element of fun in our day to day, humdrum lives. But the vast majority of American adults enjoy a a break in the routine. Whether you take your team on a work related "field trip," or simply something fun that they can all do together (even if it has nothing to do with the team itself), can be great for team building. It allows the team members an opportunity to see each other as human beings and not just coworkers or fellow team members. It allows them plenty of opportunity to communicate, discover common ground, and learn to genuinely enjoy time together, and overlook differences or past mistakes. This consequently builds up trust and makes your overall team dynamic much more positive and engaging.

Breaking the routine. Similar to a field trip, a business trip, or some other fun activity away from the office or regular team meeting space, altering the routine does not have to be as dramatic or expensive as traveling together might be. Sometimes, a simple change in the routine can breathe new life into team members. Instead of running drills for a soccer team, have the team divide up, put on some loud music, and just let them play without any coaching. If your team has been working hard on a special event, after it ends give them a day off; even time spent apart can be great for the team, as it will help them refresh before coming back together. If there is a training event your team is dreading, provide team members with a small goodie bag consisting of some snacks, a bottle of water, a can of play dough, or some similar items.

Interested in learning more? Why not take an online Team Building course?
Your team will work best together when it feels confident in your abilities to lead and to recognize the work that they are doing. If you genuinely are committed to turning your group into a team, you will have to invest the time and effort, but it does not have to be bad or boring.

Team Building Activities 2

A lesser discussed but excellent form of team building is a more emotional, simple activity as opposed to the more fun activities. So much of team building is about people coming together to realize that they share a common goal and to realize that they can meet their common goal while meeting personal ones as well. In fact, the best teams are composed of people who are engaging in work that they believe is important or meaningful and who develop an emotional connection with either the work or their teammates (or both). When teammates develop an emotional bond, they are more likely to have effective communication with each other and a greater shared interest in achieving the team's goals.

This method of team building is not always appropriate. Professionals working with each other on a professional team may find shared purpose and mission when they share personal stories with each other but they never should be made to feel as though they have to share whether formally or informally. Some people are also very uncomfortable with certain types of disclosure or discussion and creating a safe work environment includes ensuring that people are not made to feel harassed, singled out, or otherwise unnecessarily uncomfortable while at work.
This does not necessarily mean that everything is off the table; rather, that you should make some calculated efforts to discover what would be appropriate and how it should be delivered to minimize any disruption. This is all on the assumption, of course, that it is even possible for it to be appropriate; there are certainly many situations where it would not be at all appropriate. However, what may not be appropriate at one place of employment may be perfectly appropriate at another. Many people would never dream of telling their coworkers about suicide attempts, sexual abuse, homelessness, sexual preference, identity, or other deeply personal information but there lots of people who do so every day, people who work in these (or related) fields. In these situations it may be perfectly appropriate to share that information within a controlled environment and only as desired by the individual making the statement or sharing their story.

Alternatively, if the team you are constructing is not one that operates within a professional or job-related setting, you may not have to be held to the same restrictions. Depending on the nature of the team and the team members, building an emotional bond through voluntarily shared experiences can be extremely successful. Far more people are willing to tell their story than what most people usually believe, often because they do not feel that anyone wants to hear it or that they will be judged for their disclosure. If you can provide a controlled environment that guarantees the safety (emotional, physical, and otherwise) of those both sharing and listening, the response you receive can be incredible. Closely knit sports teams, other extracurricular teams, and those studying or involved in religious or spiritual activities, frequently share a lot of very personal information with each other to build a stronger team. By providing a safe space and prompts that might help people examine the kinds of things they might be interested in hearing about or sharing, you can conceivably pull off an event that can have some of the strongest emotional results that you have ever seen.

Simple team building activities are not the only option out there. Most people who have gone through some sort of formal or institutionalized team building have engaged in more complex, skill building team development activities. These types of activities are designed to further develop soft skills that are absolutely vital to successful team or such as communication, team problem solving, shared responsibility, and so forth. Professional companies that offer these types of activities have become widely used and tremendously successful as more and more companies are learning that investing in teamwork as well as in individual team members can produce fantastic results for their business or other organization. These types of companies tend to use activities that get team members physically interacting with each other to stimulate verbal communication and achieve specific goals for each activity. Different types of team development activities include the following.

  • Planning exercises. The purpose of exercises designed to strengthen planning procedures are self explanatory. Nevertheless, there will always be members of your team that seem to think that "winging it" will be an acceptable plan to reach any given goal. Particularly, those who are hesitant to engage in team building or team development activities will often resist planning during the activities because they undervalue the activity itself and the role it can play in success of the team. For that reason alone, it is always a good idea to incorporate at least some planning activities into your team building agenda. Tried and true team development activities usually are unsuccessful by those who attempt to just wing it and consequently, force people who are resistant or hesitant to plan as a team to do so to achieve success with the specific goal set before them. This is a great way to help identify and address any team members that you suspect are particularly hesitant about being part of a team. If there are existing problems on your team or you are hoping to do some assessment, planning activities tend to show you not only personality and work characteristics of your team members but also their general willingness to operate as a team.

  • Communication exercises. These types of exercises help teammates identify their own communication style, the communication styles of their teammates, and what may be the best method to establish positive and productive communication within your team. By assigning a project or activity that relies heavily on interpersonal communication, such as many problem solving activities that require a wide breadth of knowledge. Activities that require a variety of knowledge or skills means that there is not only a person or two who are able to contribute; your team members can begin learning that they each have a voice and that everyone's voice should be heard, treated with respect, and appreciated for what it can contribute to the overall group. It will also help you during assessment times to determine whether or not people are more or less solution oriented, introverted, extroverted, and more comfortable as a natural leader or follower, and so on.

  • Decision making exercises. Problem solving and decision making exercises are among the most popular team development and team building exercises that there are. After all, one of the main purposes and benefits of having a team is having access to a group of people who are working together to solve a problem, whether that problem is rescuing a hostage, raising enough money for a program, making enough sales to keep a company afloat, or having a winning season. In every activity we undertake, there is constantly some level of problem solving that is inherent. If a team is unable to work together successfully to problem solve, there is no way that it will be able to succeed, whatever its goals may be. There are always complications and there are always new things to consider, problems that come up on the fly, as well as long term problems. By getting a team to practice solving problems together, even if the problem is how to get all 13 members of the team up over a wall, it will easily translate into solving real world problems together.

  • Trust exercises. The physical counterpart to the emotionally vulnerable, simple trust exercises outlined earlier, these types of trust building activities usually involve some measure of physical discomfort. From the old, standard trust fall (where a person on a platform must fall backwards into the arms of their teammates, trusting they will catch them), to much more complex scenarios, trust exercises definitely have a place in the annals of team building. But many people have questioned whether trust exercises are truly helpful taken out of the physical context and put into a more normalized environment, such as working at a bank. For some people, the act of having a teammate support them physically is able to give some measure of comfort or security about other areas of their life where security and trust are are prominent, such as job security and even emotional vulnerability.

That said, some studies have argued that trust building exercises that are physically based have minimal effect on those who work in non-physical environments. While solving a problem together that includes physical challenges still relies on interpersonal skills such as communication, or someone touching your body to keep you from hitting the ground does not necessarily mean they are capable of performing their job nor that you can trust them to do so even if they are capable. Moreover, this type of activity can sometimes cause friction as some people are naturally more careful while others are more free spirited with regard to their personal safety; in this type of situation, it can end up being hurtful or negative when it is very difficult for one person to trust but not for someone else. While trusting your teammates is very important, physical trust exercises are much more effective when the team's regular activities include a physical element such as a sports team, military, dance troupe, and so forth.