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The Reality of Work Team Building and Bonding

In early 2021, I started working for Workwolf. I felt so relieved and lucky. I had found a job in my field that was full-time and flexible on allowing me to work from home. But with that said, I have to admit: there’s nothing like working in the same environment as coworkers you really like. But to my surprise, our Teams meetings felt comfortable and warm, and my coworkers and I began chatting outside of work. While I believe this was in part due to my coworkers being so wonderful, I also believe we were able to connect because the environment the team had created fostered it to do so. And I truly believe that not every team needs a work team building bowling night or camping trip to feel close and work well together.

Instead, check out some of my favourite dos and don’ts of team building exercises and bonding activities.

The Dos and Don’ts of Work Team Building Exercises

Don’t: Try not to invest in special events, but rather, on the teams themselves

According to Carlos Valdes-Dapena, even though events can bring employees together initially, in the long-term, and under pressure, an escape room won’t do enough. Instead, Valdes-Dapena suggests investing time and energy in fostering collaboration and trust. A study conducted for the article demonstrated that most teams shared the same problem when team building. Many said: “I really like and value my teammates. And I know we should collaborate more. We just don’t (2018)”. This tends to be the case with many teams because often working in teams becomes “messy”.

To improve this, of course, calls not for a karaoke night (as fun as they are), but rather, a focus on communication and collaboration in settings that count. Create low-stakes collaborative tasks that can be done as a team. Divide the tasks amongst the team, then hold each other accountable for each. Eventually, the team will find a rhythm in collaborating, and will be more inclined to work together.

Don’t: You should never expect your employees to do so on time off

This is common and something I think that goes overlooked a lot of the time. Mainstream media seems to have made it acceptable to expect employees to dedicate weekends and evenings to bonding with their coworkers. Of course, team building can be fun. And most of the time, bonding activities are purposely chosen to not directly relate to one’s everyday work responsibilities. However, asking employees to dedicate more time to their work rather than their families can make them resentful and less inclined to participate. What’s more, asking employees to stay beyond their agreed upon hours of the day can even be illegal. Instead, holding them during working hours can get individuals excited and enthusiastic for a change of pace.

Don’t: Never assume your team wants to/is able to bond over the same activities you like

We’ve all heard of the team bonding events that employees have been reluctant to go to, not only because they happen on their time off, but further because the events are uninteresting to them. A camping trip may be one team member’s ideal bonding event, while another may find it taxing and unpleasant. Even more importantly, all team bonding events should focus on the team as a whole and their abilities and likes. If you are investing in a team experience together, even as a treat, make sure it meets all of your team’s needs. This means ensuring a building is wheelchair-accessible, or even that an event can be held virtually. The more you include your team in your plans, the more likely they are to be excited to participate.

Do: Always communicate with the team to discover what they feel and what they need

The truth is, not all team members will be a perfect match with one another. Workers are complex and unique in their predispositions and workplace preferences. Some prefer to work alone, and find group work difficult as a whole, and as such may be hesitant to rely on others. Some aspects, like these, may be those that are ingrained in a worker and that’s okay. Other aspects, however, like methods of communication and asking for help may simply require the employer’s leadership. Make it a point to meet regularly with teams, both individually and as a team to check in. Start by asking what they think is working, what they think is not working, and what they may need to better succeed in their role. This will help them address any issues within the team, as well, and allow you to navigate any sticky points within the team’s clockwork.

Do: Offer accessible and equitable activities and events that can be done bi-modally

For reasons previously established, make sure to always think of all of your employees before planning a team building event. These can be as elaborate as online escape rooms, where teams have to work together to solve a complex puzzle in a race against the clock. On the other hand, they can be as low-key as dividing into teams to play a round of trivia or Jackbox. For an added incentive, offer a small prize to encourage team effort and morale, even when working together online.

Do: Check in regularly with your teams and employees one-on-one, and ask that they do the same with one another

Team building relies on both making sure teams work cohesively as a group and as the sums of its parts. If one team member is finding their work overwhelming, other team members may be able to divide some extra work amongst themselves to lighten the load. If one employee is struggling to feel included when working from home when others are working in-person, ensure the person has their voice heard. Addressing individual needs, especially on a regular basis can normalize reaching out for help. As well, if team members feel comfortable doing so, encourage them to check in with one another. Team members may begin to feel more comfortable asking and offering each other help without prompted.

Make Work Team Building Part of Your Regular Routine

One of the biggest problems with team building is that it’s only done periodically. Make sure your team feels connected all year round without the hassle of booking events every season. Make team building part of your weekly routine, even if it’s a single round of trivia before 4pm on Friday afternoon. Check in regularly to show your support for their position on the team. More importantly, show the team as a whole you believe in their collective efforts. After all, a confident team will work collaboratively.