When you hear the phrase team building, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? For many, the term evokes images of trust falls and awkward icebreakers. However, when done right, team building dives deep into the intricacies of team dynamics and group dynamics.
It’s not just about fun activities; it’s about fostering collaboration, enhancing communication skills, and building trust among team members. Despite the occasional eyeroll or look of dread, team building is all about results.
In this guide, we will explore the what, why, who, when, where, and how of team building, emphasizing its role in improving team morale, promoting team synergy, and overcoming teamwork challenges.
What is Team Building?
In the most general sense, team building encompasses anything that you can do as a team to make it more effective. Team building targets one specific component that is absolutely foundational to their performance – relationships.
The Importance of Relationships
Relationships are fundamental to team effectiveness. Google’s two-years of research into their teams led to their discovery that ‘psychological safety’ (i.e., whether teams feel interpersonally safe enough to take risks) was the fundamental predictor of whether their teams would succeed. Similarly, best-selling author and business guru Patrick Lencioni’s model of team performance emphasizes trust as the foundational element of high-performance teams. The one element that is even more foundational to both psychological safety and trust are relationships. Strong, connected teams built on positive, trusting relationships are the key to high performing and resilient employees.
Relationships as the Foundation
Positive relationships between colleagues within an organization, regardless of position, are fundamental to every other part of the team performance equation. As we say all the time here at Summit, members of high performing teams and organizations do things for each other not because they have to but because they want to.
Why is Team Building Important?
Team building is important for several reasons: it cultivates the key elements of high performing teams, it cultivates psychological safety and trust, it builds connectedness, which, in turn, can be a source of innovation, it promotes resilience, and finally, it can establish corporate social responsibility as a cultural norm.
Research supports the assertion that team building can significantly benefit teams’ knowledge and competencies, their trust in one another, their ability to function effectively, and their performance. All of these outcomes – as you know – are critical components of high-performance teams.
Trust, Networks, and Innovation
Team building events – especially those that include teams from across the organization – also play a key role in cultivating organizations that have strong networks. There has been some fascinating research that suggests that it is the networks and connections between employees in a company that give rise to innovative ideas and strategic collaboration that significantly impact companies’ bottom lines.
Resilience and Well-Being
Another often under-recognized reason that team building is important for organizations is its impact on employees’ resilience and well-being. Actively disengaged employees cost the United States up to $550 billion in one estimate, which works out to approximately $1,700 per American citizen. To fix this issue, we’ve seen companies around the world beginning to value and invest in employee wellness programs in recent decades. Yet, connectedness and social relationships – critical pieces of employee well-being – often get neglected in these programs, which largely emphasize physical well-being.
Corporate Social Responsibility
Finally, many organizations often don’t realize the potential that these events can have as a way of practicing corporate social responsibility (CSR). Though not all programs include elements of corporate social responsibility, the ones that do can tremendously impact participants and organizations.
Who Needs Team Building?
The short answer is – all teams. Small teams, big teams. Office teams, remote teams. Marketing teams, sales teams…you get the point. But here’s our longer answer…
New and Existing Teams
Given the outcomes that we discussed above, any team that needs to develop those specific outcomes should consider team building. Existing teams may want to re-establish, or strengthen, interpersonal relationships and trust. While, for new teams, within which social relationships, trust, and psychological safety have yet to be developed.
Most importantly, the organizations that need it the most are the ones with a learning-oriented culture. These are the ones that are eager to learn and grow, and strive to empower their employees to constantly improve their ideas, strategies, and work. Organizations with a learning-oriented culture share and co-construct ideas, engage in constructive and healthy conflict, are reflexive and self-aware, learn by doing and activity, and value intentionally seeking various perspectives.
When Do You Need Team Building?
Building a team is a continuous process. Unlike physical structures, teams are dynamic and constantly evolving, so they require continuous building and growth.
So, practically speaking, and as a general rule of thumb, informal building (e.g., dinners, socials, etc.) should be occurring every month or two, while formal building should be occurring monthly, quarterly, or bi-annually depending upon the stage of the team’s development and the development goals.
Throughout the Stages of Group Development
Team building should also be taking place in every stage of a team’s development, though for different reasons. Let’s take a look at Tuckman’s stages of group development, and consider why it is necessary at each stage.
Where Can Team Building Take Place?
While most people think of corporate team building as taking place in the office, the truth is that it can take place just about anywhere. In our more than two decades of working with clients from various sectors, we’ve facilitated our programs both indoors and outdoors, from Europe to South America, from parks to recreation centres, and from offices to warehouses.
In-House or Off-Site?
In general, though, it can take place either in-house, online or off-site. There are pros and cons to both options. While running a team building event in-house would be cheaper, it would allow for more distractions and interruptions. You also run the risk of losing different members of your team at various points to phone calls or urgent tasks, and the entire event may be limited in its impact and memorability.
Consider the Provider
When you’re looking to run an event at a hotel or conference centre, however, it’s important that you consider a provider that has the experience to know how to work well with the venue to deliver an outstanding program. Companies that have sufficient credibility and experience know what issues to anticipate and mitigate when preparing for an event at various venues, which then allows you to trust that they would be able to deliver the experience to your team without issue or disappointment.
How Do You Build a Team?
Truthfully, this is a big question that many authors and researchers have tried to answer in their work over the past few decades. Although there’s a lot that can be said in response to this question, we won’t try to write a novel here. Instead, we’ll boil it down to what we believe are the foundational elements of team building based on our experience here at Summit.
Ultimately, our experience has taught us that it all starts with the leader. Effective leaders create an environment that fosters and promotes trust, communication, and strong interpersonal relationships. Leaders shape and determine the culture of the organization and team – whether they recognize it or not –and their actions and behaviors set the tone for the rest of the team.
Communication is the lifeblood of any team. Effective communication ensures that everyone is on the same page and moving in the same direction. It helps to prevent misunderstandings and conflicts, and it fosters a culture of openness and transparency.
Trust is the foundation of any successful team. When team members trust each other, they are more likely to take risks, share ideas, and work together effectively. Building trust takes time and effort, but it is well worth the investment.
Collaboration is the key to achieving common goals. When team members work together, they can accomplish more than they could individually. Collaboration fosters creativity, innovation, and problem-solving.
Respect is crucial for maintaining positive relationships within a team. When team members respect each other, they value each other’s opinions and contributions, which leads to a more inclusive and productive work environment.
What is the Main Purpose of a Team Building Event?
The main goal of team building events, therefore, is relationship-building. By taking teams outside of their usual workplace context, events can give everyone a chance to see their teammates in a new light. They offer participants an opportunity to face some low-stakes challenges together and succeed, which can be a massive morale booster, especially for new teams.
Informal or Formal?
Events can take one of two forms: informal and formal. Informal events include experiences like dinners and light social events, such as golfing or bowling. Formal events often utilize external facilitators, and they are intentionally designed to achieve specific objectives, including relationship-building, fostering communication, and enhancing trust.
Curriculum-Driven or Experience-Based?
One last consideration for team building events is whether they are curriculum-driven or experience-based. Curriculum-driven events usually take the form of a workshop, and they often focus on developing a specific team skill or competency. An experienced-based event, on the other hand, will use a theme-based or scenario-driven team challenge to provide participants an environment and opportunity for guided interaction.
Types of Team Building Activities and Workshops
Team building activities and workshops come in various forms, each designed to address specific needs and objectives. Here are some types of activities and workshops that you might consider for your team:
Problem-solving activities are designed to challenge your team to work together to find solutions to complex problems. These activities can help to improve critical thinking skills, foster creativity, and enhance teamwork. An example from Summit Team Building is the “Everest” activity, where teams embark on a simulated ascent of Mount Everest, making critical decisions that will lead them to the top.
Communication activities focus on improving interpersonal and interdepartmental communication. These activities can help to break down barriers, improve understanding, and foster a culture of openness and transparency. Summit Team Building offers an interpersonal and interdepartmental communication workshop that includes personal styles assessments and a series of interactive challenges.
Trust-building activities are designed to foster trust and mutual respect within a team. These activities can help to build strong, positive relationships, which are crucial for effective teamwork. Summit Team Building’s “Trust” workshop takes participants out of their comfort zones in a safe, supportive environment to build trust.
Fun and Engaging Activities
Fun and engaging activities are designed to boost morale, foster camaraderie, and provide a break from the usual routine. These activities can range from games and competitions to creative challenges. An example from Summit Team Building is the “Ice Cream Making Challenge“, a fun-filled, competitive workshop that combines knowledge gained from various expert workshops with the unique experiential facilitation of Summit Team Building to produce an unforgettable and delicious team building adventure.
In addition to activities, workshops provide in-depth and interactive training that cultivates essential skills for individuals, teams, and leaders. These workshops cover a wide range of topics including High Performance Teamwork, Change Management, Emotional Intelligence, and more. Summit Team Building offers a variety of workshops, such as the “Navigating Change” workshop, which explores the link between the need for innovation and the challenge of coping with the change it inevitably causes.
What Makes a Successful Team Building Activity?
A successful team building activity is one that achieves its intended outcomes. It should be fun, engaging, and meaningful, challenging team members and providing opportunities for learning and growth. It should also foster the key elements of high performing teams: communication, collaboration, trust, and respect. Ultimately, the success of a team building activity is measured by its impact on the team’s performance and the improvement of the team’s dynamics.
Case Studies: Successful Team Building Activities
- The Young Presidents’ Association, a global network of young chief executives, sought to improve their leadership skills and team dynamics. Summit Team Building provided a program that included a series of team challenges and a keynote presentation on leadership. The program was a success, with participants reporting improved leadership skills and team cohesion. | Full case study.
- Heritage Bank of Nigeria wanted to improve the leadership skills of their staff. Summit Team Building provided a leadership development program that included a series of team challenges and a keynote presentation on leadership. The program was a success, with participants reporting improved leadership skills and team cohesion. | Full case study.
- Bird Construction, a leading Canadian construction company, partnered with Summit Team Building to develop a leadership and team development module for their 18-month leadership development program. The program was a success, with participants reporting improved leadership skills and team cohesion. | Full case study.
- The Rotman School of Management was looking for an instructor to teach their Leadership Presence course in their EMBA and International Omnium EMBA programs. Scott Kress began to teach the Leadership Presence course with a mix of models, tools, and strategies to allow the students to reflect upon leadership. | Full case study.
- Robert Half International, the world’s largest staffing agency, partnered with Summit Team Building to deliver a 4-hour keynote workshop based on Scott Kress’ Learning In Thin Air book. The workshop was a success, with participants reporting improved leadership skills and team cohesion. | Full case study.
- Toronto Hydro, a large electricity distribution company, partnered with Summit Team Building to design a Safety Reflection session with a focus on Job Planning. The session was a success, with participants reporting improved safety awareness and team cohesion. | More here.
- The Northern Ontario School of Medicine was planning a conference for a group of 150 participants, all in varying years of their residencies. Summit delivered an extended version of their Survive or Thrive program. This competitive challenge begins with a conversation about the difference between teams that thrive vs ones that simply survive, as well as what it takes to become a high performing team. | Read it here.
- The Four Seasons Capital Planning & Procurement Team and Hotel Relations Team were facing a high number of new facility openings and things were moving quickly. Summit designed a full-day program for 45 members of the team who were based in Toronto. The training was active and engaging and included team activities, theory, discussion, and application pertaining to effective face-to-face and written communications. | Full case study.
Team Building Activities for Different Settings
Whether your team is working in-person, remotely, or at a unique destination, there are a variety of team building activities available to suit your needs.
In-Person Team Building Activities
In-person team building activities are a great way to foster communication, trust, and collaboration among team members. Summit Team Building offers a variety of unique activities that can be tailored to your team’s needs. For instance, teams can participate in the Blue Mountain Quest, a fun and engaging scavenger hunt that encourages creativity and problem-solving. At Hockley Valley Resort, teams can take part in a thrilling high ropes experience that promotes trust and mutual support.
Destination Team Building Experiences
For teams looking for a unique team building experience, Summit offers destination team building activities in various locations. In Muskoka, teams can enjoy a series of cottage-themed challenges like giant jenga and giant beer pong. In Niagara Falls, teams can participate in the Niagara Falls Adventure Quest, a scavenger hunt that takes teams throughout the incredible Niagara Falls area. In Niagara-on-the-Lake, teams can enjoy a series of fun and engaging team challenges in the beautiful and historic region. In Toronto, teams can participate in the Toronto Quest, a competitive adventure race that unites team members as they work towards a common goal. In Whistler, teams can engage in a full-day team building adventure with breathtaking views, fresh air, and lasting team bonding. Finally, take your team to Collingwood and have some fun at Blue Mountain.
Virtual Team Building Activities
Virtual team building activities are essential in today’s remote work environment. Summit’s virtual programs are designed to be fun and engaging, helping team members connect in a deliberate way to enhance communication, trust, problem solving, and collaboration. Activities include virtual adventure races and problem-solving challenges that simulate real-world scenarios.
Incorporating Motivational Speaking into a Team Building Activity
Motivational speaking can be a powerful tool to energize your team and leaders. Scott Kress, a motivational speaker at Summit Team Building, uses stories drawn from his adventures and expeditions, combined with lessons from team building and leadership research, to inspire and motivate teams.
Scott is not only a masterful storyteller but also a leadership trainer and a team building expert. He has led corporate team building workshops for over 25 years and has taught at some of the leading Executive MBA schools. What sets Scott apart from other leadership and team building speakers is his ability to climb mountains. He has climbed Mount Everest, the 7 Summits, and many other mountains worldwide. Scott is also a certified Polar Guide and has led expeditions to the South and North Poles.
Scott’s keynotes contain gripping stories from his adventures, but he also uses his team building and leadership expertise to connect these dramatic stories to the challenges your team is striving to overcome and the goals you want to achieve. His presentations are dynamic, fun, interesting, insightful, and applicable.
Incorporating motivational speaking into a team building activity can provide an extra layer of inspiration and motivation for your team. It can help to reinforce the lessons learned during the activity, inspire team members to strive for excellence, and provide a memorable experience that team members can draw upon in their future work.
Selecting a Team Building Company
Choosing the right team building company is a crucial step in ensuring the success of your team building event. Here are some factors to consider when making your selection:
Factors to Consider
- Experience: Look for a company with a track record of successful team building events. They should have experience working with teams of your size and industry.
- Customization: Every team is unique, and your team building event should reflect that. The company should be able to tailor their activities to meet your specific needs and objectives.
- Facilitators: The facilitators play a crucial role in the success of the event. They should be skilled, engaging, and able to manage group dynamics effectively.
- Reviews and Testimonials: Check out reviews and testimonials from previous clients. This can give you a sense of the company’s reliability and effectiveness.
Questions to Ask
Before selecting a team building company, consider asking the following questions:
- What types of team building activities do you offer?
- Can you customize activities to meet our specific needs and objectives?
- What is your experience with teams of our size and industry?
- Can you provide references or testimonials from previous clients?
- What qualifications do your facilitators have?
Evaluating the Company’s Track Record
When evaluating a company’s track record, look for evidence of successful team building events. This could include positive reviews and testimonials, case studies, or examples of previous events.
Understanding the Company’s Approach to Team Building
Finally, it’s important to understand the company’s approach to team building. Do they focus on fun and games, or do they incorporate elements of team development and learning? A balance of both is often the most effective approach.
Choosing the right team building company can make all the difference in the success of your event. Take the time to do your research, ask the right questions, and choose a company that aligns with your team’s needs and objectives.
Team building is a crucial aspect of any successful organization. It fosters strong relationships, improves communication and collaboration, and boosts morale and engagement. Whether you’re a new team looking to establish a strong foundation, or an existing team aiming to enhance performance, team building can provide the tools and experiences necessary for success. Remember, the key to successful team building lies in understanding your team’s needs, choosing the right activities, and fostering an environment of trust, respect, and open communication.