Team building exercises. Just the words can bring up strong feelings and long memories, from awkward exercises and superficial “feel-good” activities to other tasks that have questionable—if any—lasting business value.
But we know that teams are essential to getting work done in today’s business environment. A large majority of the workplace now spends a high percentage of its time in team-related activities, and this trend is only expected to escalate.
But as we also know from our own team experiences, you don’t automatically get the results you’re looking for just by bringing people together. Communication breakdowns, competing priorities, conflict and a lack of trust are just a few of the obstacles that can, and often do, get in the way of the team’s success.
And so we end up back at those team building exercises. In fact, entire industries have been developed to try to help people overcome the challenges of working on a team. There are retreats and sensitivity trainings, personality and productivity workshops, trust challenges and games. In spite of, or possibly because of, these exercises and workshops, you can now also find ideas for “team building activities your employees won’t hate.”
Why does everyone hate workplace team building exercises?
The answer is simple: teams don’t want to waste their time, and their managers don’t want them to, either. For their part, learning and development professionals don’t want to waste their resources on time-consuming exercises that don’t work, aren’t practical to implement, or don’t drive business outcomes.
This problem can become self-perpetuating, because when team building exercise are ineffective, they can actually end up discouraging teams from pursuing any more development. So not only does performance continue to lag, the frustrations and internal divides can get worse.
Be smart about how you use team building time.
Let’s talk results: To get the most from the time and resources spent, team building exercises should be applicable to the business and take into account what drives the behaviors and actions necessary for higher performance. In any team situation, but particularly when the people involved are knowledge workers, that performance ultimately starts with how the team thinks, both as individuals and as a group.
While the typical team building exercises can build camaraderie, and personality and sensitivity workshops can develop some mutual, interpersonal understanding to help improve communications, none of these can really take hold without a foundation and specific processes that help the team leverage its collective intelligence to fuel business outcomes.
Put simply, when you start with better thinking, you end up with better results.
What’s more, once team members understand the importance of a breadth of thinking and how each person’s thinking adds value, differences will be viewed in a nonjudgmental way, and the team will have new context for how they can tackle the inevitable challenges the come up.
This isn’t superficial stuff. This is getting to the root of what engages people in the team experience at work and enables them to perform at their peak.
Set your sights higher than on just finding activities they won’t hate. Here are 4 steps for integrating thinking into your team building plans so that everyone can get more value out of the time, money and effort spent:
- Set the stage. Everyone needs to recognize how different thinking styles contribute to overall objectives, as well as where the team’s thinking strengths are and where there may be gaps.
- Give the team tools to put its brainpower to work. Not only can team members learn and benefit from each others’ preferences, they can use the Whole Brain® Model as an organizing principle to ensure they’re “covering the thinking bases” for better problem solving and decision making.
- Build Whole Brain® communication skills, making it clear that no matter how you prefer to think, it’s everyone’s responsibility to communicate and listen in a way that respects each others’ thinking preferences.
- Bring it all together with good leadership and management. The more diverse a team is, the more important it is to have a skilled leader in place who can manage, facilitate and incorporate Whole Brain® Thinking into the team’s day-to-day practices. Someone whose own thinking preferences are fairly balanced is ideal, but there are also tools and methods anyone can use to take on this role.
Not your classic team building exercise, this is a business-relevant, application-oriented process that does more than create familiarity and camaraderie; it helps the team get more done by really putting its thinking to work.