Many people would agree that working together as part of a team can be extremely challenging, especially when you have a wide range of personalities, goals, and work ethics among everybody. Because of this, many businesses do not operate as successful teams, as they are lacking in the teamwork-practicing department. Sure, co-workers may talk to each other on lunch breaks and may be working to get similar jobs completed, but overall, these people work as individuals on a daily basis. This is very unfortunate, as many experts in today’s business world believe that teamwork is critical to corporate productivity and profitability.
According to Shawn Dunning, director of the corporate team-building firm Adventure Associates Inc. in El Cerrito, California, “A team-building activity is any positive, shared experience that reinforces positive, team skills. It has to have some form of structure and someone who has put it together with clearly defined goals.”
In terms of teamwork, there are several rather typical characteristics seen among productive teams. Here are five of the extremely important characteristics that can be found among teams who utilize successful teamwork:
- Openness, forthrightness, and trust. When team members feel that they can be open, honest, and straightforward with each other, it means that they can trust each other. Conversely, the more reluctant people are to express their true feelings with each other, the more likely distrust and suspicion will arise. Generally, despite the occasional inevitable conflict, members get along well, enjoy each other’s company, cooperate with each other, and get the work done when there is an open and trusting work environment.
- Acceptance of responsibilities. Although we’d all like to choose our own work, this is simply unrealistic in the business world. Therefore, we must willingly accept our assignments and tasks, in order to create real sense of motivation and teamwork.
- Understanding of overall goals. In order to be successful, all teams need purpose, direction, and goals. These should be explained by a manager in a larger, more corporate sense, so that team members fully understand why it is so important for the goals and deadlines to be met. Typically, knowing how important one’s job really is will actually motivate them further.
- Assessment of progress and results. Teamwork requires that members be results-driven. In other words, members should focus on their objectives, and their activities should be directed toward achieving those objectives. This may require periodic progress assessment by the team, under direction of a leader, to serve as a guide for future team action.
- Involvement and participation. Teamwork requires that all members be involved in their work and participate in team activities. Whether they believe it or not, what they say and do counts just like everybody else. Furthermore, most work environments that utilize successful teamwork involve their team members in any necessary decision making.
Overall, similarly productive teams generally share these five characteristics. Each member is committed to a specific purpose, while still working together and staying involved until the objective is completed; the members care about each other and are concerned about how their actions and attitudes affect others; they listen to each other and are sensitive and respectful of all ideas and points-of-view; and their leaders encourage everyone's participation and involvement in decision-making.
Why is teamwork so important?
Seriously, though… why is it? Why can’t we all just do our own work in the office and then go home at the end of the day, knowing that we did what we were supposed to do? Afterall, tomorrow is going to be the exact same thing right? Well, yes, if this is your attitude, it probably will be the exact same thing every single day.
Believe it or not, in actuality, belonging to a team sets you up for greater effectiveness and success than you could ever accomplish on your own. In other words, great teamwork makes things happen more than anything else does within an organization. Evidence shows that organizations and groups that promote teamwork create environments that lead to greater productivity, creativity, and overall enjoyment.
Furthermore, these types of environments provide team members with a rightfully deserved feeling of accomplishment and empowerment; and empowered teams typically receive the best results. Empowering people is all about attitude and behavior, rather than simply processes and tools; It is about respect, encouragement, care, and enthusiasm, rather than exploitation or dictation.
Typically, there are three major benefits of successful teamwork:
- Better problem solving.
- Greater productivity.
- More effective use of resources.
Beyond these major business benefits, there are also a number of benefits of teamwork that greatly enhance the workplace:
- People enjoy working together and teamwork satisfies a need for socialization.
- Working together helps people grow, as they learn from each other and develop important skills.
- Working together toward a common goal provides a motivating and fulfilling sense of purpose.
When people work together in a pleasant and relaxed atmosphere filled with trust, reliability, and accountability, it is easier to put aside or overlook any personal issues that may exist. Rather, co-workers are able to overcome barriers to identify new opportunities and to simply focus on the tasks that need to be completed. If a business fails to have a sense of teamwork among its employees, there will be no shared performance goals, no joint work efforts, and no mutual accountability. This will, in effect, decrease overall productivity for the business.
So why do some common team-building exercises not work?
Facilitating a team-building exercise for your company can be a challenging task, as these occasions have come to develop a tainted reputation for being either too boring to too extreme to even be effective. Managers these days are really struggling to make their team-building events positive, enjoyable, and meaningful for their employees. Before we discuss ways to improve or increase teamwork in an effective way, let’s first take a look at some of the things companies are doing wrong in terms of corporate team-building.
- Too boring, or unrelated. If members of a team are being told that they have to engage in something that really has nothing to do with anything, what are they actually going to gain from the experience? Under this category, falls the good old trust fall, and other team-building exercises along these lines. Think about it, how often are you really going to have to catch someone falling at work. Okay, this exercise isn’t really about having to catch somebody falling at work, but it is supposed to build trust between team members. But come on… does this really seem like the right kind of trust to be teaching for the work environment? There must be something more exhilarating that is actually work-related in one way or another!
- Too extreme, or dangerous. Taking the work team to a paintball range as a team-building event may sound like a good idea at first, but there have been occasions in which this has been done, and as it turns out, employees’ emotions and poor judgement tend to get the best of them. To put it simply, many supervisors went home covered in welts. As a general piece of advice, team-building exercises should never simulate violence, endanger colleagues, or humiliate anyone in anyway.
- Too irresponsible, or risky. This category typically consists of any event involving alcohol, dancing, late nights, or even overnights. It is very important to know where to draw the line between fun and irresponsible risk, as well as working relationships (or even friendships) and intimacy. Not having appropriate boundaries could lead to romantic relations between staff, stresses on families excluded from social events, issues arising from alcohol, and risks of bad publicity stemming from any of the factors previously mentioned.
How can we strengthen and increase teamwork?
Luckily, there are tons of ways to practice teamwork and strengthen business teams that don’t include paintball guns or making a drunken fool of yourself.
First, it is important to recognize what exactly your purpose is in facilitating a team-building event. For example, are you aiming to improve overall employee relations, or are you simply trying to help your staff develop a new skill? Target your specific goal and then go from here.
Next, let your team have a say in the team-building event. In order to do this, you’ll have to explain your end goal to them, and then ask them what sorts of activities they enjoy and what they would prefer to engage in as a team in order to reach this end goal. For example, would they like to play games, or would they rather partake in a skills workshop? It has been evidenced in the past that people are best motivated when they are involved in the deciding, planning, and designing of the project or activity.
Furthermore, involving your team in the planning will not only be empowering and motivating for them, but it will also be helpful for you as well, as it will lighten your workload and management responsibilities.
If you get more than one suggestion from your team - which is likely among a large group of people - consider combining the suggestions into one activity, if possible. If there is no way to do this with all of the different suggestions, you may even consider hosting an all-day event, with a collection of activities for your employees to engage in on a rotating basis throughout the day.
No matter what activity or event you plan to use, remember that it is important for your employees to recognize the relationship between the activity and the workplace. As a reference, keep in mind that if your team takes what they did or learned back to the workplace with them, then the team-building event was a success. In addition, it is important for them to be appropriately challenged, as learning typically happens most effectively when one steps outside of one’s comfort zone.
Taking things a bit further, here is a list of several basic factors to keep in mind when facilitating an effective team-building exercise:
- One main goal. The success of the group relies heavily on having a clear single goal. Often times, failure occurs when there are multiple agendas, making it difficult to communicate and focus on the one main goal.
- Good communication. Clear and frequent communication is key for successful teamwork, as it keeps team members on track and from straying away from the main goal due to lack of understanding.
- Commitment. In order to function as a team, each team member needs to be 100% committed. If some members rely on others to carry their weight, it could lead to a downfall of the whole team.
- Do what you do best. The purpose of forming a team is to group together individuals that have specific skills needed to accomplish a specific project. If everybody had the same skills, there would be skill areas not covered, right? This is why it is important to keep in mind the reason you are part of the team, and simply do what you do best.
- Remember, it’s not about you. In this case, it doesn’t matter what others think of you; it matters what others think of the group as a whole. While it may be difficult, it is critical to set aside your own personal ambitions when trying to work as a team, in order to accomplish the goal of the entire group. And remember, not everybody can lead. Although you should feel free to speak your mind when appropriate, you may not always be able to hold a leadership position when working as a group.
- Work as a team, play as a team. Often times, it is clear when teams have spent time together outside of work, in more of a social environment. The most successful teams are able to anticipate what other team members will do and how they will respond to various situations, and this typically only happens by spending extra time together. This is where team-building exercises come into play. By hosting frequent bonding events for your business team, eventually this type of tight-knit successful team will form.
Need some team-building event ideas?
If you feel like you don’t have the time, energy, or creativity to organize your own team-building activity, the organization mentioned above, Adventure Associates Inc., specializes in facilitating nationwide team-building events for others. Many of the events that Adventure Associates Inc. hosts are fun, physical activities, such as indoor rock climbing, geocaching, and scavenger hunts. Despite these being physical activities, nothing is considered to be too strenuous for those who are not as athletic as others.
Another organization, called TrivWorks, facilitates live trivia events for team-building purposes. TrivWorks believes that a little good-natured competition is a crucial component of effective team-building. This may be another appropriate option for you and your team.
On the other hand, if you’re looking to facilitate your own team-building event, there is an endless list of activities you can try. One unique idea is to include something about personality types and how this affects work teams, learning styles, styles of management required, and the like.
Another one-of-a-kind idea is a real-life puzzle, or escape room, such as Room to Escape, in which the team members must use all of the different teamwork skills - leadership, cooperation, communication, planning, time-management, etc. - to solve the puzzle or escape the room.
There are also more traditional, outdoor games such as cricket, relay races, tough rugby, and the like, that are great for demonstrating team various dynamics. In addition, these types of activities are excellent for releasing endorphins and relieving stress.
On an end note, if you decide to go with one of the easier, more conventional team building activities, here are some basic tips to keep in mind:
- Practice your exercise before hand to ensure that it will run smoothly when the actual time comes: check that it works, check the timing, make sure you have enough materials, make sure you know how all of the materials and equipment operate, and ensure that you have all of the correct answers.
- Be sure that all instructions are clear and complete, as this will be essential for your team members. This will also help you to stay in control and remain credible throughout the event.
- Always have an extra supply of materials and equipment just incase. You never know… you may have more team members than you had originally predicted, breakages of materials, malfunctions or equipment, etc.