A well-functioning Team can be seen a mile away. Their mutual respect and willingness to help one another is pervasive and their results speak for themselves. You won’t find their members gossiping in the back room or wasting time tearing each other down. A great Team will work together, overcome obstacles, and achieve great results. And they didn’t get to this point with some wonky trust fall-like team building activities.
Nor did they just happen to randomly fall into this amazing cohesive unit.
They were led to this point.
Most likely by someone who cares more about the Team’s success than their own ego and glory-seeking traits would allow.
And if their leader were to take their hands off the wheel for a while, this group would probably remain tight-knit for a while…
But eventually, without someone constantly driving this group toward excellence – they’d veer off the road and crash into normalcy. With the rest of the 80% who manage to do “alright” and produce “decent” results.
There, they’d probably participate in some wonky team building activities (i.e. trust falls, water balloon tosses, and the like).
And while they’d manage to “get by”, they’re not going to change the world.
I don’t know about you, but give me the Team that’s confident, close, bold, and good enough to think they can change the world!
I want that Team.
If you’re trying to build a Team to do great things – rest assured – there are tools for that
Over the last 3 years, my wife and I have been working to build such a Team. One that could grow our profitability to new heights. Not for greed and self-serving reasons, but to share the good fortunes with one another and with our community.
And as we’ve grown and evolved, my wife and I have used a specific set of team building activities to bring our Team closer in order to keep producing amazing results.
And the great thing about these team building activities we’re using – they work.
Not because some hokey guru said they do, but because I’ve seen the results they produce.
The one constant they all need to be implemented, though – is you, the leader. Someone who can continually drive your team toward greatness while avoiding all the pitfalls of normalcy.
If that’s you, you’re in luck.
So today, allow me to open up our playbook so that you can begin (or continue) forging an amazing Team to go out and change your portion of the world for the better!
9 Proven Team Building Activities to Forge an Amazing Team
1- Lead your Team
As referenced in the New York Times Best Seller – Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win (by Jocko and Leif) – Leadership is the most important factor. For the two authors, their leadership was needed first on the battlefield first, then later for the companies they advise through their leadership consulting company.
For us, leadership is what we need to practice in our day to day lives. Both inside the walls of our business and out. As Jocko and Leif say constantly in Extreme Ownership, its follow-up book (The Dichotomy of Leadership), and across multiple platforms, employees will only take directives and willingly submit for a short time.
But when the luster of hearing ‘the word’ from ‘the boss’ wears off – at the end of the day people need to be led. They need to understand the mission and how critical it is to the company. They need to know what the most important goals for the business are, to understand them, and to work toward them. And most importantly, they need to know how those goals affect their bank accounts and the day-to-day lives they lead outside of work.
It’s only one person who can explain why, who can drive their people forward toward a common goal and get the most positive results out of a team. It’s the leader.
So learn continually, develop and hone your skills, and then lead your people toward victory. Don’t expect things to just happen or for someone else to make sure it happens. Make leadership your priority.
2- Challenge your people
Great bonds are formed through overcoming adversity.
Have you ever worked a job that you couldn’t stand but stuck around a little longer than needed because of your coworkers? Have you ever taken your family on a camping/rafting/hiking/etc. trip and come away from the experience with great memories and a tighter cohesion?
If not, here’s some research.
The Association for Psychological Science reports that, “[pain] acts as a social glue that fosters cohesion and solidarity within groups.” The researchers went on to report that, “…shared pain not only increases a sense of solidarity, it can also boost actual group cooperation.”
We’ve chosen to use tactics like setting monthly goals, holding Team workouts, and competing against a cross-town ‘rival’ in some charitable cause, to name a few. All of these challenges have worked to bring our group closer together.
I believe that the struggle of challenges (physically, mentally, and otherwise) work to prove the rewards much greater. And when we look back to discuss some of the difficult times, it does 2 things:
- We look back on the challenging times fondly over time
- The pain of those challenges make the rewards much more valuable in our minds
3- Give them victories (not just through team building activities…)
People love a winner…
It’s one thing to go through those “painful” situations (as the research above put it), come closer together, then lose in the end. Sure, there’s joy in the process. But, c’mon.
However, if you’re able to change only the outcome – from a loss to a victory – now the Team has both process and result to rally behind. And that’s uplifting.
The same is true in sports.
“Everything’s fun when you’re winning…” or “Sure, coach treats the media and fans like they’re a nuisance – but the guy wins games!”
Winning cures many an ailment. Why do you think that is?
Well, research actually tells us that winning positively affects the chemicals in your brain, to the point that you’re literally happier and feel more of a sense of accomplishment after victory. We’re evolutionarily wired to love winning.
A couple of ways we manufacture victories in our office:
- We have 2 monthly goals with an escalating bonus structure. The lower goal is more achievable and has been reached 90% of the months we’ve been in business.
- We reward our Team with free lunches for every 10 online reviews they earn
4- Give a damn
Just like you want your people to care for the work they do in your business, your Team needs to see that you care about them as individuals in addition to building a great environment and culture.
Ask about their families and friends, how they enjoyed the weekend, and then actually listen to their responses.
People don’t follow robots, they follow leaders whom they respect.
Taking it a step further, show your people that you really care about their quality of life at work. Do that by utilizing some of these team building activities and investing your time and resources to improve the workplace environment and the Team’s morale.
If they see you making the extra effort and actually caring to make improvements and about them as people, you’ll go a long way in describing the culture you desire with your actions.
5- Help them grow
Send your people to training, bring them with you to conferences, and otherwise find ways to help them grow professionally.
Two things here…
I’ve heard the positive feedback from our employees both directly and indirectly. We always take them to our annual conference and find training events they’d like to attend and help them with the costs. They love the fact that we continue to take an interest in helping them develop both professionally and personally and I continue receiving that feedback.
When we’re interviewing potential new hires for our office, there is a common theme amongst many of them. “My current employer doesn’t seem to care about helping us grow through training and conferences. I love the fact that your office does this.”
It may be a small sample size, but people tend to perk up when they find out you actually care about helping folks achieve their goals.
And as I’m known to say, “Value comes in many forms.”
6- BBQs and time outside of the office
We have a calendar that hangs on the wall in our break room. On this calendar are events like our monthly potluck lunch, regular book club meetings, cookouts or dinners we have scheduled as a group outside of work, and – my favorite – our Team workouts!
I absolutely love this calendar because we’ve always got something fun and non-traditional coming up to look forward to. Here’s a word about each of the few things I’ve mentioned above.
Potlucks – great food, don’t have to pack or buy, and we’re always learning about some new vegan/Dominican/otherwise cultural dish from our awesome and diverse staff.
Book club – As I’ve written multiple times before, we use the book Extreme Ownership; How US Navy SEALs Lead and Win as our onboarding program. But it doesn’t stop there. We’ve been reading books as a group and discussing them over lunch (sometimes coinciding with our potlucks).
Cookouts/Dinners – Big holidays, summer kickoffs, and many major events are yet another excuse to get the families together and celebrate. Many of our folks have kids who love sports, water balloons, sprinklers, and other awesome ‘kid’ things, so we bring the whole team together and have fun for a few hours. It’s a blast.
Team workouts – In the interest of never missing a Monday, I’ll typically schedule our Team workouts on Mondays. But regardless of the day of the week, whoever is interested in participating joins in a boot camp style workout to promote fitness, boost the endorphins, and have some fun.
Admittedly, we can get a little overboard with these activities – but I have no interest in changing that. Our people seem to love one or many of these and because of each one, we’ve built stronger cohesion and a better-prepared Team.
7- Give back together
Many authors and researchers have touted the benefits of giving your time, talents, or treasure to others. So today I’ll speak from our own experiences.
Each month we give away some prizes to our customers. There are usually 1 to a few adults who win something (i.e. a gift card, flower baskets, tickets, etc.) and a child who wins some free ice cream on us. (The ice cream always produces the biggest smiles)
But more than just giving to our customers as a “Thank you!”, we’ve identified a few groups of people and causes that matter to us and our staff. And then we find ways to help them out.
We’re soon going to roll out a program for Veterans in our community, we’ve adopted families at Christmas time, and we’re working to help some folks in need who don’t otherwise have access to basic nutrition, let alone dental care.
The benefits to the recipients are obvious here, but the benefit to those who give can also be amplified if done through a group. Our Team loves to see something that matters dearly to them be adopted by our group. We’ll then identify ways to help out and finally execute the plans.
There is an evolutionary benefit that has us hard-wired to find joy in helping others, and for our group, those benefits are compounded when done with help from some close friends and our ‘employer’.
8- Remain consistent through the good and bad times
I’ve been a boss at a different company before this one. And while I’d like to think I’m about 50% of the way prepared now, I was about 2% prepared back then.
My ego was out of control, I didn’t communicate well, and I just probably was an ass to work for. One thing that sticks out to me now that I didn’t realize before is that people would completely lose respect for me when I didn’t remain consistent through the good and bad times.
What do I mean?
Nice guy when things are going well immediately flips to the anxious nagging guy at the first sign of trouble. What was my inexperience as a leader in crisis manifested in a terrible time for my direct reports. That guy also tends to introduce a water balloon toss type of team building activities after a rough week at work… let’s not be that guy.
For me, this trait came with time, but I encourage you to map out your long-term goals for the business and keep your eyes on the horizon. It’s so easy to get caught up in the “great day today!! / what went wrong today?!?!” mindset. But don’t do it. It’s neither productive nor healthy for your employees.
As a default and to help me improve in this area, I’ve worked to evaluate the process rather than the results. If we’re doing things the right way, eventually the desired results will follow.
9- Learn from shared experiences (AARs)
After a particularly good or poor day, we’ve started briefing for 3 minutes on what went well/wrong during the day. Taking it a step further, we then talk about what we can change or build upon moving forward.
I lifted this idea from every leadership book I’ve read that was written by a retired service member. They all tout the practice and value of After Action Review’s (AARs).
The point and value of AARs (in my mind) is that these events are still fresh in your mind. You gather for 3 minutes, and as everyone has just lived through these events, they’re top of mind and easy to dissect.
We’ve had some of the most productive conversations and changes come from these quick meetings. Afterward, I’ll make a note of the change or main principle to build upon and reinforce it at our huddle the next workday morning.
Team building activities for the win!
We started our business for many reasons, chief among them was to have complete control over the culture and environment of our office. Those of us still in the workforce have to spend many hours each week at their respective places of business, why not love coming to work as well as the Team you work with?
By employing these 9 team building activities with your group, you’ll be well on your way to building a cohesive and productive Team – who may even enjoy coming to work on Monday.