4 Tips for Team Building with Purpose

By Jessica Wishart

We’ve all been in one of those meetings or corporate retreats High Performance Team Building with purposewhere “team building” was on the agenda, Teamworkand everyone cringed. Personally, I’ve done more than my share of painful icebreakers in different workplace settings. Team building has gotten a bad reputation for being cheesy or a waste of time. But, according to an article in Forbes, "Despite its reputation for being, well, lame, team building is the most important investment you can make for your people. It builds trust, mitigates conflict, encourages communication, and increases collaboration. Effective team building means more engaged employees, which is good for company culture and boosting the bottom line.” So, how can you reap the benefits of team building without turning people off from the start? 

Here are some tips for team building with purpose:

  1. Eat together. In a study cited in the Harvard Business Review, firefighters who prepared and ate meals together demonstrated significant improvements in team performance. The act of eating together builds intimacy, and working together to prepare a meal requires important “cooperative behaviors” that translate into the working relationships as well; doing things like collecting money, planning menus, shopping for groceries, talking, and cleaning up all enhance relationships and team problem-solving and collaboration. And, it isn’t cheesy - you’ve got to eat, anyway, right? The article recommends a few ways for teams in any setting to take advantage of this type of team building: "Team leaders can spring for takeout food in a conference room or organize a walk to a nearby lunch place. Another way to leverage the findings: When planning your next offsite, ditch the trust falls and have team members cook an elaborate meal together instead.”
  2. Follow a 4 step process. Leadership expert Marshall Goldsmith recommends a simple 4 step process for “team building without time wasting.” He claims that "teams who practice this very efficient process can gain more improvement in teamwork – in very little time – than teams that spend hours (or even days) on traditional ‘team building’ activities.” The process works for teams who are in person or working remotely and involves asking each person to rate “How well are we doing?” vs. “How well do we need to be doing?” on teamwork. Then, each person lists behaviors that could close the gap and meets with each of the other team members briefly to ask for a few positive changes each person can make individually to help the team. Finally, there’s a regular monthly follow-up process where team members can provide feedback to each other.
  3. Connect to the real work. According to a different HBR article, "Team building doesn’t necessarily require an outside facilitator or a special time or place. Good managers incorporate elements of team-building activities into their teams’ day-to-day work.” Do this by presenting real-world problems and scenarios for the team to work through together. Recognize learning opportunities for the team and spend time working through them together. As you do this, don't just have your normal problem-solving hat on, also pay attention to how the team is communicating and working together, and point those things out as you see them.
  4. Do what’s right for your team. We all have different personalities and styles, and your team might love a team paintball competition (while other teams might hate this.) As Liz detailed in a recent blog post, some of our clients do extreme team-building like hiking the Narrows in Zion National Park. Others simply enjoy a meal together after a quarterly planning session. Get to know your team, and be authentic to your company culture when planning team building activities.

Here are some tips to jumpstart your team building ideas:

  • Keep it simple. Start all meetings with good news or victories to break the ice and build team cohesiveness. Or, once a month have each person share something they’ve learned (personally or professionally) with the team.
  • Get out of the office. A change of scenery can help people think differently and open up new lines of communication. Schedule your next planning session somewhere other than your conference room, or plan a field trip or fun event for the team.
  • Volunteer together. Choose something that’s meaningful for your team or that connects to your Core Purpose.
  • Learn together. Take your team to a conference or bring in an outside facilitator to train you on something work-related. Kill two birds with one stone - professional development and team building.
  • Learn about each other. Have the team take a personality or work style inventory like Myers-Briggs, DISC, StrengthsFinder, or McQuaig. Then, spend time processing the results together and learning about yourselves and each other and how you best work as a team.

There are lots of great team building options out there, even if you don’t have a big budget and Jenga or “2 truths and a lie" just aren’t for you. Break up the routine and introduce some intentional team building exercises. You might be pleasantly surprised by your team’s increased productivity, collaboration, engagement, and performance.

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Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images

Jessica Wishart


Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images