Fun and practical team building

How "practical" should team building events be?

There two key aspects to this question. The first involves the actual team bonding exercises or games chosen. The second involves post- or mid-event debriefing and discussion.

Make the team building event fun, regardless

No matter how "serious" the nature of your team building outing, participants will have a better experience if they spend the day smiling and laughing than if they end the day with a stress headache. Activities should be engaging, fun, active without being overly strenuous, and stretch people out of their comfort zone without putting anyone in danger of physical or emotional injury.

"Fun" and "beneficial" are not mutually exclusive. Engaging both left and right sides of the brain with activities that require some thinking and some creativity can yield positive benefits in each employee's future productivity while entertaining them immensely. For example, scavenger hunts and build-a-bike activities get people moving physically without giving anyone a heart attack, involve both analytical and creative faculties, and are just plain fun - yet they are educational, improve communication, and create strong team bonds.

Debriefing and discussion:  how much?

How much serious talk and debriefing should you include in your team building event? This will depend on a number of factors:

Culture of the organization

Does your organization expect (or even require) participants to discuss "lessons learned" from any sort of corporate event you might conduct? Does the organization expect documented results, return on investment (ROI), or similar analysis from your team bonding experience?

For example, some government organizations feel that watchdog groups might excoriate them for conducting a purely fun team building event unless some solid proof of downstream benefit can be supplied. On the other hand, some might shy away from such documentation for the very same reason.

Goal of the team building event

Event planners should decide in advance what they are trying to achieve with their team building event. Typical objectives include:

  • Better group cohesion
  • Improving communication
  • Corporate social responsibility
  • Greater familiarity across the organization ("getting to know you")
  • Reward for a job well done
  • Morale building

Compare that list to your own objectives. The more your objectives fall closer to the top of the list, the more debriefing and "lessons learned" discussion you'll want to include in your team bonding event. The closer to the bottom your objectives land, the more you'll just want to go with a game that's just plain fun.

Time available

Do you have time to "debrief"? If you have only a few hours for your outing, time spent talking about what you're doing or what you've learned not only limits the amount of time you have to actually engage in the activity, but can kill the energy and excitement you've worked so hard to build. "Lessons learned" in such cases are best reserved for post-event discussion, if at all.

By contrast, an all-day or multi-day team building event practically begs for discussion between activities. Face it, nobody can sustain the high levels of activity and enthusiasm for eight hours straight. Building in some well-facilitated discussion time can help pace the event and prevent participants from getting exhausted before it's over.

End on a high note

Whether you want to add a serious element to your company event or just have a fun corporate outing, don't let the discussion period drag down the energy. Remember to always end on a high emotional note with a fun wrap-up activity, such as an "awards ceremony," sharing of high moments that occurred during the day, or another high-energy game. (My personal preference is to end with dessert, preferably chocolate, or one of Portland's fine microbrews.) If you end with a smile, no matter what else happened during the day, most participants will rate it a success.

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