Peer to peer: Team building must serve a purpose

What team-building activities have proven to be highly effective?   

From left, Roger Killen, Philip Keen, Rachel Scott

Roger Killen - Producer, TEDxStanleyPark

During my four decades as a serial entrepreneur I have participated in many team-building exercises. Three of these stand out as being highly effective.

The first exercise cost less than $20 per participant. The three-person management team of a new financial planning firm was having “issues.” One Saturday morning, with a loose agenda, we walked around Stanley Park on the seawall. Something about looking forward and not at each other made our conversation easy. We listened respectfully. We seldom interrupted. There were no angry outbursts. Then we had lunch at Hon’s on Robson Street. We started that walk as three individuals with diverse agendas. By the end of lunch we were well on our way to becoming a unified team.

The second exercise cost around $100 per participant. The team behind a reality web series breakfasted together on Granville Street and then attended a daylong TEDx event. We laughed, cried and cringed together. This shared emotional experience triggered deep conversations for months afterwards. These forged a bond that played a positive role in our team dynamics from that day forward.

The third exercise cost around $1,000 per team member. Over a long weekend we took a repositioning cruise with our respective partners. We cruised non-stop from Vancouver to Los Angeles. During those three days at sea we talked our way through our agenda. Business talk was banned at mealtimes when our partners joined us. Something about that environment made it easy to build consensus around our business vision, mission, goals, beliefs and values.

Team building can be expensive or it can be creative. Either way, it is crucial because a good team is far more capable than the sum of its members.

Philip Keen - Director of corporate development, Canadian Outback Adventures & Events

When I talk to people about what I do, they often challenge me and ask, “Does team building really work?” Most of these people either have had a bad experience or just think team building is too often used as a Band-Aid solution for business problems. Low office morale? Try a team-building activity. Want to improve productivity? Let’s do some team building! The water cooler isn’t working? Two words: team building.

In my experience, team building is not a quick fix, or really any type of a fix at all. It’s an investment in your most valuable business asset – your people.

Although we can’t always measure the benefits of team building as a dollar value, we can measure employee satisfaction. Often, the most beneficial outcome is that teams are motivated and get to have fun, explore a city and create memories together. Happier employees help create a better work environment, and that in turn helps create a more successful business.

Simply put, the most effective team-building activities are fun. But they also need to have purpose.

One purpose we see a trend towards is philanthropy, from the classic The Apprentice-style event, where teams build bicycles for children in need, to our modern smartphone activity Play It Forward, where employees give back to the community. A sense of purpose and value is often what teams are looking for.

However, purpose can also be about having fun, celebrating hard work and getting to know each other better. Activities that use smartphones have become popular because they’re easy to run, take advantage of everyday technology and bring teams around the world closer together. It’s probably why we’ve seen the popularity of these activities increase by more than 50% in the last year.

Rachel Scott - Marketing strategist, Paysavvy

I’ve found that the best team-building activities are ones that allow smaller teams within the company to bond around a shared goal or activity, while also involving the company as a whole.

A great example of this was Tech’s Got Talent, an initiative I participated in earlier this year. Tech’s Got Talent is a lip-sync battle between various Vancouver tech companies. The initiative asks businesses across the city to raise money for a charity of their choice – the more they raise, the more time on stage their lip-sync team gets to impress the panel of local celebrity judges with their choreographed routine. The winning company receives $2,500 towards the charity of its choice.

Because our success in the competition depended on our ability to raise money, we were motivated to engage the entire team in our fundraising efforts. In allowing us to lead extracurricular fundraising efforts, Tech’s Got Talent created leadership opportunities outside of our day-to-day positions and increased interaction among people in different departments. Preparing for the event also strengthened my bond with my fellow performers.

A similar event with a different focus is TechPong. It’s essentially the same idea, except built around a Ping-Pong tournament instead of a lip-sync competition. For this event, we set fundraising targets for each department and an overall goal for the company. Departmental fundraising ideas ranged from 50/50 raffles and discounted movie tickets to company-wide beer pong and poker tournaments.

Any time we rally around a common cause, from charitable giving to wellness initiatives, we find ourselves coming together in ways outside the day-to-day routine and reaffirming our cohesiveness as a team.