How to Create Team Building Activities That Work

Have you ever attempted to create a team building activity and it was a complete flop? An office baby shower perhaps? If I was invited to one again I’d likely work from home that day. What about staff photo day, isn’t that fun? I’m not a much of a fan of that either and I’m not alone. The most disliked office event for male co-workers is an office baby showers (42 percent) while female workers hate staff photos (31 percent). Even if you’ve had a disaster of a team building activity there is still hope.

The right activities can have a positive and productive impact on your group.

In this post you’ll read about my first attempt at a team building exercise, why it didn’t work and what you can learn from it. You’ll also learn why many team building activities don’t work. We’ll provide data that supports team building activities and some helpful next steps.

The wrong activities are not beneficial to you, the group or your business.

Once I had designed “the best” team building exercise. It was with one of the first groups that I managed, there was five us altogether. I started the event talking about the importance of communication. I had built excitement about the event for a few weeks. I had everyone’s attention. A room of productive professionals and I dumped a box of Legos on the table. To top it off it was the large Lego pieces meant for young children. The looks on the faces around the table were priceless. Now I realize the group wasn’t looking at me out of curiosity. It was out of complete terror. It was all designed around using Legos to build small towers. First on your own, then together without talking and finally together while talking. I was attempting to emphasize communication. All it emphasized was that I had no idea how to create an effective team building activity.

The group didn’t hate the activity, but it certainly didn’t get the results I wanted.

It wasn’t the worst activity I could have planned, compared to a team building exercise in the form of near torture, for a sales group in Utah (that resulted in a lawsuit). Or the activities that involved paddling also, resulting in a lawsuit. My Lego activity may not have ended in a lawsuit still, it could have been much more effective.

A good team building exercise is planned with purpose.

A properly planned exercise can have measurable benefits. For example, a properly designed activity can improve motivation and can help connect individuals in the group. This, based on a Harvard Business School publication that illustrates that a connected team is a motivated team. One organization that was studied was able to increase productivity by 20% for their lowest performing teams and overall 8%, with simple team building activities.

The facts show team building activities do work.

The Small Group Research journal paper “ Does Team Building Work? ” analyzed data from 103 studies, this demonstrates the strongest scientific evidence to that team building can have measurable, positive effects on group performance.

Related: What's the Cost of a Bad Hiring Process?

I’ve seen the power of team building in action.

I ran a small exercise with a quarter of my group. I was specifically bringing this small group together to solve a problem and to trial a new activity. I thought the best way to get this large problem solved was to ensure the team had created a bond. I also was trying to avoid a second Lego incident. It was safest to trial the activity with a small group first. Over two days I ran a series of team building activities combined with problem-solving activities. To this day, members of the group are still connected, even now that many have moved on to new roles, groups and companies. I could see the difference between the small group that was part of this trial and the larger organization.

There is science behind why some team building activities work and others don’t.