Team building with a conscience
What reaction did you get the last time you told your attendees or fellow team members that you were planning another team building event? Did you get the enthusiasm and support you expected? Or did people roll their eyes and mumble about how lame the last event was?
Look around and you’ll find lots of theories about why team building activities don't work. Some say it’s because we focus on the wrong problem – that it’s not the team, it’s the leader. Others say it’s because there’s no clear goal set for the activity and no follow up. It’s just an excuse to get away from the daily grind.
Does that mean team building activities are not worth the effort or resources required to organize them? Not at all. The key is to make sure the participants in the activity are engaged in it and take ownership of the goals they are asked to accomplish. Start by involving the team in setting the goals and choosing the activity they think will help them accomplish those goals. It shows them that teamwork should be part of what we do every day.
Encouraging and sustaining engagement in the activity is the real challenge. In many cases, people do little more than go through the motions of completing the activity. To make the activity meaningful you need to find a way to make them care about the outcome. If the end result means something to them, they’re all-in.
One solution we’ve seen used at Q Center is to include a community project as part of the team building effort. For example, one of our clients structured a team exercise around making teddy bears for a children’s hospital. Our on-site team building group offers a construct-a-bike activity, which results in brand new bicycles being donated to needy kids in our community. Here's a link to the video.
One of the compelling advantages of community projects as team building activities is that they produce real, tangible results. Most widely-used team building activities involve a hypothetical situation or problem that needs to be solved. In the end, you may have learned some new skills or interacted with team members in a new way, but often those lessons fade once you get back to the day-to-day. A well-structured community-focused activity can teach the same lessons as conventional activities, but the fact that you made a difference in someone’s life while learning those lessons has a significantly greater impact. You’ll never forget the look on that kid’s face when he’s given the bicycle you just made with your team.
Beyond improvements in productivity and team work that come from the activity itself, organizations see improvements in morale and engagement. People value the sense of pride they get from working for a socially responsible organization. According to a study performed by Deloitte & Touche in 2007, nearly two-thirds of Gen Y employees prefer to work for companies that provide volunteer opportunities. Organizations that do good also do well.
What types of community involvement activities are you doing? What would you like to see your company do at its next team building event? Let us know what you think by leaving a comment.