Improve morale. Tap into hidden potential. Break down the barriers that stifle creativity. Boost productivity and your bottom line profits… The providers of structured team building activities certainly promise a lot – and sceptics may question the value of some of the ‘solutions’ on offer. Most of us regard team building as important as a general concept – but what form should an effective team-building programme take? We take a look…

Team building: why bother? 

To help drive your business forward, you’ve put together a group of outstanding individuals. Each of them comes with an impressive track record and each promises to bring something unique to the table. No matter how good your eye for talent though, there remains one big area of uncertainty: is this team going to ‘click’? With statistics showing that as many as 89% of hiring failures are due to “poor cultural fit”, failure to gel is a real issue.

Even with a team that appears to be functioning adequately, you may still be faced with nagging doubts. Is there room for improvement in the way the group functions on a day-to-day level? Is everyone engaged? How do my employees fare on the ‘discretionary effort’ front? Against this backdrop, it may be worth thinking seriously about implementing measures designed to help identify and address areas that need improvement and to build on what’s working well already.

External solutions

From outward-bound breaks to mini bake-offs and interactive code-breaking challenges, you don’t have to go far to find ever more novel ways to get your team out of the office. Such events may be a break from the norm – but do employees consider them valuable? Not always, it seems. A 1000-strong survey by YouGov and Vodafone UK showed 66% of employees had taken part in some form of structured team-building activity – and more than half of those didn’t feel that doing more would improve the way they worked with colleagues. Adrenaline-charged events were deemed least effective.

The key, it seems, is to make sure that the activity is designed to meet defined objectives. Which problem areas, specifically, are you seeking to address? How will the activity in question help with this? If the purpose and potential value of the activity are both ill-defined, you may find it hard to identify any long-term benefits from it – other than giving your staff a ‘day out’.

An alternative approach: ‘doing something useful’ 

The same research suggested a much higher employee approval rating for community-based activities. Partnering with charities and community organisations provides the opportunity to build team cohesion, to demonstrate a real commitment to the idea of corporate social responsibility and for individuals to widen their skillsets. This approach is not without its potential pitfalls, however: businesses should make sure, for instance, that the organisations they partner up with are transparent and well run with charity insurance in place so as to eliminate the risk of reputational issues arising. Consult with your staff from the outset – both in terms of choice of charity to work with and the type of activities your employees will be doing.

Businesses need to take team building seriously – but this is not necessarily achieved by choosing the first external and potentially costly solution that comes your way. Define the problem first and consider what nature of activities are most likely to address that problem.

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