Look, we all know the best team-building activities involve building rafts to cross small rivers, like some sort of tired metaphor that’s been so overdone no one really remembers what it was supposed to mean. Right?
Well… actually, no.
Building a raft is a really odd way to go about things. Time and time again, the same story plays out. Familiar hierarchies come into play and the team who has the person with the most team raft-building experience wins while the other team yells at each other and watches their vessel sink into the shallows.
It’s unnecessarily competitive, and restrictive in terms of location - everyone has to be not only offsite, but also at the same location. And it’s pointless (unless the summer party is on the opposite shore).
If only there was a better way.
Well, good news. In the long and illustrious history of kick-ass teams, none of them started with a makeshift raft. Well, none that spring immediately to mind.
What do they start with? All kinds of things! Just not rafts. For example:
- Bonding over a common purpose (or, more often, problem)
- Trust-building activities
- Shared, meaningful experiences
- Mutual respect and appreciation for diverse skills
They sound almost as cheesy, sure. But they’re super effective ways to build rapport and psychological safety, which is what we really mean when we say we want to do some team building. Isn’t it?
What is the purpose of a team-building activity?
Team building is, according to Forbes, the most important investment you’ll make. And it comes in many different flavours. We’ve touched on two of the key benefits already, but they’re part of a longer list. Team building can:
- Build rapport and empathy
- Increase psychological safety
- Showcase team members’ skills
- Lead to skill sharing
- Inspire new ways of working together
- Increase morale and engagement
- Encourage creativity and innovative thinking
- Improve communication
There are tonnes of different activities you can do, depending on what it is you want to achieve. We’ve set out a few examples below. But first! You don’t have to wait for the next company offsite or a big event. You can work team-building activities into your day-to-day work, too. Just because it’s ‘fun’ doesn’t mean it can’t serve a purpose. Have you ever considered a team-building workshop?
If you lead a team, workshops can be a really effective way to help you all bond. Working together to achieve a common goal by making the most of each person’s individual skills and experience is (believe it or not) the heart of all the best group bonding exercises! Check out some of these Pip Deck tactics to get you started.
There’s nothing like a bit of Team Appreciation to bring a group together! This feel-good session gives everyone the opportunity to recognise, and be recognised for, great work. It’s simple, but it’s really, really effective!
As a team, use Team Charter to explore and decide on all of the things that have an impact on how you work, such as:
- People and roles
- Your purpose
- Goals (individual and team-wide)
- Shared values
- Need and expectations
- Strengths and weaknesses
You can adapt this session to include other important elements of your ‘teamness’, too, or bring in additional Team Tactics to help you solidify things like shared values and rules.
Get your team sharing their current, hidden and desired skills - and then working out if there’s any room for cross training between them. Skills Market is a great way to get people talking about the skills they’ve acquired during their careers and thinking about how they can support each other to grow further. It’s nice because you can be creative with the ‘market stalls’, and it works well online or in person.
This is also part of the Team Time series of tactics, which is a longer session made up of five tactics that are especially useful if you want to align a new team around a common goal.
My User Manual
My User Manual is a great session to help your team members learn a little more about each other. It requires a little pre-work, but the results are well worth it! You’ll all leave the session with a better understanding of how each other works: when you’re most productive, how you respond to stress and how you prefer to receive feedback, for example.
In fact, most of the Team Tactics sessions are great for team building, both during the sessions and as standard practice within your organisation.
Other team-building activities
Fun, social activities
It’s a lot easier to get budget for serious activities with a business-related purpose. But, as we all know, the best team friendships can be formed during parties, lunches and other social or fun events. And things like friendships, team spirit and companionship are vitally important for morale.
So, don’t be afraid to try things like scavenger hunts, escape rooms and quizzes - which can all be done online or in person. Just make sure that your team members are all comfortable with whatever you plan to do. Or, you know, you can just get the team together for a meal or some socialising (paid for by the company and inside of work hours so you don't exclude anyone who can't hang around after hours, or doesn't have the cashflow to join in).
Encourage employee networks, both formal (diversity networks, skills sharing groups) and informal (sports teams, hobby groups) - it can lead to fantastic, organic team-building opportunities. From joining a local running event or playing against another company’s softball team to photography trips or ‘lunch and learn’ sessions with external speakers, you’ll be surprised how much team building some teams end up organising for themselves!
There are all kinds of charities that allow you to rock up as a team and help out for a day. For example, organisations in London allow corporates to come along and:
- Help maintain and improve inner city farms
- Create and look after new green spaces in the city
- Work together to serve food to people experiencing homelessness
But a really powerful way to help inspire your people to work together to make a difference is to get them using the skills you hired them for. For example:
- Get your marketing team together with a charity to devise a content calendar
- Get your analysts to help a charity gain insights from their data
- Give your L&D team to a day to support and advise their charity counterparts
In fact, large companies are increasingly organising hackathon events where they do all of the above, helping one or more charities out with all their functions, creating a whole lot of impact for the charity, but also their own employees.
So, no raft building?
Look, activities like raft building do have some positives. They get people outside and having fun, and allow people to really switch off from work!
But they aren’t fun for everyone, and can exclude people with physical or mental disabilities, for example. So if you are going to get the team together to build a raft, make sure it truly works for everyone involved first. And even if it does, give some of the team-building workshops a go, too! You’ll be surprised at how much a seemingly simple ‘meeting’ can help your team to gel.