What Makes Team Building Activities Effective?

effective team building activities

There are words and phrases that get watered-down, misused, and ultimately can get a bad reputation. Team building is one of those, especially when people discuss team building activities. Now, just about everything is labelled as team building as long as it’s done with a group of people. Thoughts of trust falls gone wrong, “paintballing the boss”, and other horror stories abound. For those of us who have worked in the industry, it is painful to hear about and read about these stories.

Team building is a legitimate and helpful field, when done correctly. There are numerous things that are labelled as team building activities that shouldn’t be. However, there is a vast amount of creativity and ingenuity in the field of team building. If you’re wondering about what makes team building activities effective versus what does not, here are some helpful suggestions:

Effective Team Building Activities are Goal-Oriented

The first step even before choosing these activities (or a company to run them) should be to sit down with your team and set goals for the day. What do you want to accomplish? What issues is your team facing? What changes do you want to see in your team following these activities?

These questions need to be answered as well as looking at what activities will best fit your goals and needs. If you are not sure, hire someone who is. There are some great facilitators and organizations that I could recommend to you.

Legitimate Team Building Exercises are Purpose-Driven.

There is a purpose behind each and every effective team building activity, whether it is an icebreaker, a group challenge or initiative, or a ropes course element. Look at your goals and what purpose will drive each activity. Could “having fun” be a purpose? Sure. But, hopefully it’s not the only one. There are numerous purposes that can be obtained from each activity. Focus on the ones that your team needs the most.

Top-notch Team Building Activities are Results-Focused.

No leader or manager wants to go through a half-day or day-long event and feel like time has been wasted and nothing has been achieved. Top-notch team building companies will focus on results during the day, but also be able to achieve longer-lasting results.

Some facilitators require follow-up sessions as part of their team building packages. Why? Part of it is for sustainability. These coaching sessions can help sustain the work that was done during a day or two and keep teams accountable to maintaining results.

Powerful Team Building Activities are Situation-Specific.

Some companies and facilitators have one-size-fits-all programs that are pre-packaged and confine teams to a specific structure. If these kinds of programs fit your goals, that’s fine. What if they don’t? What if you’re looking to reach Goal A, and they address Goal B (or C or Z?)

The best team building programs are customized to your team and require a bit of both front-end work, lots of work and ability to adjust on the fly during the program, and back-end follow up. Don’t let anyone tell you that the one-size-fits-all process works for everyone (not even those hats fit every one – much less when you’re dealing with a whole team!) 🙂

What other characteristics define an effective team building program? What have you observed in programs in which you’ve participated?

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